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If you’ve taken the PMP certification, you’ll know that PMI assumes that the Program Manager is at the top of the project pyramid.  PMs ostensibly have a great deal of legitimate power: the organization has agreed that the PM can make decisions on behalf of the organization, and direct the activities of team members.  For most of us who manage programs in the technology industry, however, legitimate power doesn’t come with our job description, and we can find ourselves struggling to be effective in the face of decisions made beyond our sphere of influence.

To bring ourselves back into a power position,  we ironically need to acknowledge that we aren’t in charge of everything, and that’s just the way it is. But once we accept that we don’t have ultimate authority, we can begin to create our own power base.

Perhaps we are expert in our field, have lots of degrees, or have worked on large and complex projects at this or other organizations.  Our reputation precedes us into our team meetings, and people are pre-disposed to accept that we know what we’re doing, and to take our advice to heart.  Expert power comes to us directly from what we have done in the past, from what we know, and from our ability to provide that knowledge and service to the problem at hand.

But most of us are not “experts.”  We’ve done good work, and we know our stuff, but Oprah has never interviewed us on the fine points of our latest book.  So we can’t play the expert card.  What we do have is the opportunity to develop possibly the most potent form of power – referent power — the power without which even the CEO is a non-entity, the power that is available to anyone ready and willing to take themselves on and develop self awareness and interpersonal skills.