Power and Influence? Yes, Nurses Have Them

It can often feel like we nurses don’t have a lot of power in our work. We have to follow the orders of physicians and our own decisions are often questioned by others. Even in nursing managerial positions, we are still seen as lacking true authority. What is usually more the case, though, is that we simply have a hard time recognizing the power and influence that we do have. And because we don’t recognize it ourselves, it’s hard to act in a way that helps others see it as well.

Practicing our power and influence can be hard, especially if we truly feel that we don’t have any, to begin with. If you feel like you’re at a loss when it comes to exercising any kind of power at work, here are a few things you need to know.

What is Power?

There are a few different types of power that aren’t just related to how important we are. In fact, there are five main sources of power than pretty much anyone can have.

  1. Positional Power – This is what is usually thought of when we say the word “power.” In fact, it is also called legitimate power, insinuating that this is the ideal type of true power. This is held by people in authoritative positions. Due to the nature of the duties of their job, they have power. For example, a manager has positional power. He or she has certain duties and responsibilities and part of that is managing a team of other people. Thus, the very nature of their position gives them power.
  2. Referent Power – This brand of power is not given to individuals. Rather, it is earned through personal means. In essence, referent power is held by people whose charisma and personality demand it. You’ve probably met people like this. Any easy comparison is the “popular kid” in school. They were a student just like everyone else, but something about their personality and the way they interacted with others gave them power. They didn’t necessarily earn it, but it was given by others.
  3. Expert Power – If you’ve ever met an expert in their field, you know that they have some degree of power. They know more than others, perhaps can do more than others, and it is this expertise that gives them influence over others. They are often well-respected professionally, even if they aren’t personally.
  4. Reward Power – This type of power depends on the ability to give material benefits to others. A committee in charge of selected a top-performing artist has reward power. Their opinions matter since they have the ability to confer something positive to someone else.
  5. Coercive Power – Coercive power is the type of power held by bad leaders. Coercing means getting someone to do something that they don’t want to do through threats or force. This is usually a negative pressure. When we were younger, this was referred to as peer pressure. Those who used this coercive power might have indicated that something negative would happen if their directions weren’t followed. This type of power is based on punishment.

What is Influence?

Having influence over another person means that you have the ability to affect what they do or think. There is an innate human need to belong to the group, so influence is key in how we interact with others. Like power, there are a few different types of influence.

  1. Compliance – Compliance doesn’t necessarily require that others personally agree with the person doing the influencing, just that they go along with it. For example, as a child, you may have been compliant with your mother’s request that you clean your room or make your bed, even though you didn’t want to, didn’t like to, and didn’t believe it was important. The fact is that you complied with your mother’s request.
  2. Identification – In this type of influence, a person can go along with a request because the person is respected or liked. A very modern-day comparison would be to social media “influencers.” They hold that power over their followers because people have gotten to know them and like what they offer. Followers will then buy the merchandise or join the presented lifestyle because they recognize, like, and respect the influencer.
  3. Internalization – This is the most pure form of influencing. Internalization is when people are influenced by someone because the belief or action is generally agreed upon. If the thing is internalized, that means the followers truly believe it to be true, both outwardly and privately. Many religious beliefs are internalized.

Power and Influence as a Nurse

With so many different types of power and influence, it is clear that nurses possess various amounts of it. Even if you don’t have positional power, you might have referent power, especially if you have a charming personality and get along well with others. Once others identify with you, you can then exercise some influence over them.

Keep in mind that it is your duty as a nurse to improve the lives of others. While it’s your job to do that for patients, don’t forget that with the power and influence you do have, this can also be practiced with coworkers and even superiors.