Role power might not help you control the sun but you should understand it when leading a team

Role Power and Other Tools for Security Engineering Management


Leadership intricately weaves with the dynamics of power when influencing teams, partner departments, the organization, and even customers, especially in Security Engineering. The Manager Tools podcasts introduced me to this paradigm of role power, highlighting the research by French and Raven on power types. Just as Aunt May wisely stated, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As a budding manager, it’s pivotal to understand the interplay between newfound power and core values. Prioritize empathy, honesty, and transparency – not just because they’re morally right, but because they’re profoundly effective.

The Five Bases of Power: A Brief Overview

French and Raven identified five primary bases of power:

  1. Legitimate Power (Positional Power): Derived from one’s official position or title.
  2. Reward Power: The ability to compensate others.
  3. Coercive Power: The ability to penalize or punish others.
  4. Expert Power: Rooted in one’s skills, expertise, and knowledge.
  5. Referent Power (Relationship Power): Built upon trust and respect.

In our context, we can cluster the first three as ‘Role Power.’ If you’re a manager, your position and your functional ability to reward or sanction grants you power.

For a security or engineering manager, understanding these power dynamics is pivotal:

  1. Legitimate Power (or Role Power): This inherent power underpins every manager-direct report conversation. Recognizing its constant presence, and tempering it with genuine empathy, is vital. Deploy honesty and transparency when rewarding or sanctioning to ensure equity and accountability in your team. Over Reliance on Role Power can estrange team members, resulting in dictatorial rather than collaborative leadership.
  2. Expert Power: This knowledge-based power aligns with usability. Sharing your expertise in an accessible manner fosters trust and catalyzes your team’s professional ascent. It’s essential to grant your team the autonomy they need to flourish. Recall the insights from the ‘Leader’s Intent’ podcast discussed in my previous post.
  3. Referent Power (or Relationship Power): Here, the merit of forging strong relationships comes to the fore. It’s deeply intertwined with empathy. While not the only tool in your arsenal, it should be your go-to.

The Implications of Constant Role Power

Even if you sparingly deploy Legitimate Power, its omnipresence looms. The unchallenged agreement or the hesitation to critique from your team underscores this perpetual power dynamic. Hence, cultivating authentic relationships with team members becomes paramount. Trust transcends mere tasks; it encapsulates understanding, communication, and mutual respect.


For security or engineering managers, recognizing the nuances of power dynamics and wielding them responsibly is the linchpin of impactful leadership. In the spirit of Aunt May, remember that immense power not only bestows vast responsibility but also offers boundless opportunities to drive positive change.

Further Reading

The original work of French and Raven on the bases of social power.

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