Political behavior, while usually associated with electioneering, exists in just about all organizations and is defined as the ability to effectively influence others. And, the people most successful at utilizing political behavior often have the best reputations within the organization. These are among the findings of a recent study compiled by Dr. Pamela Perrewé, a Florida State University industrial-organizational psychologist who specializes in organizational behavior.

 

Perrewé says a common trait of successful leaders is their political adeptness.

 

“They have the ability to understand others and use that knowledge to influence others’ thoughts and actions,” she says.

 

Political skill is about building trust, and her study found that workers are more likely to follow if the leader is someone in whom they have confidence and whom they like.


“Leaders need to inspire the team to work toward a common goal. A leader with good political skills can get employees to go the extra mile because they have been convinced that it will help the organization,” says Perrewé, a co-author of the book “Political Skill at Work.” She will be presenting her findings at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Dallas on May 5-7.

 

“Actually, political skill is useful to anyone within an organization, not just leaders, says Perrewé. But having those abilities are often a key to advancement.

 

“A person rarely gets promoted without having developed strong political skills,” she says.

 

Politically skilled people are good with people and can get them to buy into their ideas and objectives. And, they usually rise to top leadership positions in organizations.

 

Can anyone develop political skills?

 

“Political skill is actually both innate and acquired,” Perrewé points out. It is much easier for people with outgoing personalities, but a person can learn political skills through their experiences.


They can also be taught. Training sessions, executive coaching and reading leadership books can all be helpful to people wanting to acquire political skills.


What does it take to be politically skilled? Perrewé’s research has examined four attributes that define a politically adept individual. The first is social astuteness, which is the ability to comprehend what is going on around you and being able to observe others accurately. A second area is interpersonal influence, which is having a convincing personality and developing a style that is pleasing to others. A third attribute is networking ability. People who have strong political skills are proficient at developing contacts that can help them. And finally, a politically skilled person must be able to convey the impression of sincerity. Perrewé notes that most of the time people are truly sincere, but adds there are others whose veneer of sincerity is not genuine.

 

“Unfortunately, we’ve all heard and maybe are personally aware of instances where a politically adept person is using their abilities to benefit themselves rather than the organization,” she says.

 

Political skill can be a two-edged sword, having the potential to be either advantageous or disadvantageous to the organization, depending upon how an individual uses it, she acknowledges.

 

However, since political behavior is a fact of life in most organizations, employees find it more acceptable when the initiator is perceived to be a reputable person and are more likely to regard the person’s tactics as benefiting others as well as the organization.

 

About the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology:

SIOP is an international group of more than 6,000 industrial-organizational psychologists whose members study and apply scientific principles concerning people in the workplace. For more information, visit http://www.siop.org.