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Types of Power


Explanations > Power > Types of Power

Ownership | Position | Access control | Knowledge | Skill | Obligation | Trust | Self-determination | So what?


Although the French and Raven list is common, here is a composite and extended list that is perhaps easier to use.


If you own something then you can also use it in any way I like. If you own a chair, you can set fire to it, which I couldn't do if I had borrowed it from you. If you own money, you can spend it any way you choose (unlike when you borrow it from a bank).


Where you occupy a recognized position, then I will obey the rules regarding that position (rather than obeying you, per se). Using position power gives the ability to issue commands, with the back up

Formal positions include managers, policemen, and so on. These may well have formal authority vested in them by the company or the country.

Informal positions also exist, such as social leaders or team roles such as the Belbin Team Types. If you hold a creative social position such as a 'plant' then I will listen carefully to your ideas.

Access control

Another form of ownership is where you are the gatekeeper to something that is desired. Bouncers at night clubs and company receptionists are gatekeepers to entire organizations. Personal assistants control access to the managers they serve. Librarians control access to knowledge.


Knowledge is power, as they say. If you know something, then you can use it to your advantage. Knowledge may come in several forms, including:

  • Know-what: Factual knowledge is knowledge of simple facts. It is the power of academics and librarians.
  • Know-how: Technical knowledge is knowing how things work. It is the power of experts and engineers.
  • Know-who: Social knowledge is knowing things about people and people you can use. This may include secrets that could be used for blackmail. It is the power of relaters and other 'social animals'.

The degree of power that a knowledge user has depends even more than other forms of power on a supply and demand situation. If nobody wants the knowledge or cares about it, then there is little power. But if the world is being invaded by aliens and I know how to repel them, I can demand a high price for my services.


Skill is closely related to knowledge, but is the ability to do something rather than just know it.

As with knowledge, there is technical skill and social skill. Engineers have technical skills. Sales people have social skills, which include the ability to communicate and the ability to persuade others.


If I feel obligation towards you, you can tip the scales by reminding me of that obligation. Obligations may come from:

  • Favors you did me in the past and which I must now repay.
  • Rules that I must follow, such as social rules to help a person in distress.
  • Responsibilities that I feel, for example as a parent, friend or a manager.


If you earn my respect then I will trust you and this gives you far greater power to ask me for things, as I will not need to wonder whether you may take advantage of me.

Self determination

I am the only person who can decide what I say and do. As such I have power, which can be much greater than is suspected. I can, for example, always choose to say no and to walk out. This is of course, the basic power of Trade Unions.

So what?

So use these categories as a checklist to determine what forms of power you and others have available. It is a common mistake to assume you are powerless or have less power than the other person.


Power, Three Dimensions of Power, Toffler's Three Forms of Power, French and Raven's


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