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Expert power refers to the ability of an individual to influence other parties or individuals on the basis of specialized skills and knowledge. These skills are already existing when the individual joins the organization and may not be available in the rest of the organization. This lack of same skill set in other employees give a leverage to the expert.
Experts occupy exalted status in any organization. They are paid better and have a bigger say in business decisions. For example noble prize winners are always asked for advice by the governments, especially in economics. The experts may provide new path, modify an existing path or supervise, train and review other employees and figure out ways to increase the productivity, profit and brand value of the organization.
Different forms of power operate within organizations. While some appear formally on organization charts, and exist by virtue of official position or capacity to reward or punish, expert power succeeds because of its ability to persuade people based on what rhetoricians call the ethos of the person doing the persuading.
When, for example, a manager tells an employee to do something a certain way, the employee obeys because the manager has coercive power to fire the employee. Experts work differently. In meeting or corporate communications, experts make recommendations based on their knowledge of a field. People are persuaded to follow those recommendations because they feel that the expert's knowledge and experience make them likely to offer good suggestions.
For example, if an engineer warns a group of managers that a particular design might cause a computer battery to overheat and catch fire, they believe the engineer due to the engineer's credentials, track record, and training. As opposed to managers and salespeople, who may lack technical expertise and are more directed towards the bottom line, technical experts are often assumed to be more objective and impartial, knowing and stating important facts, and often acting as the voice of reason and caution.
Many of the great industrial disasters and tragedies of the modern era have arisen when coercive power overrode expert power. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this was when Roger Boisjoly and his fellow engineers tried to warn management at Morton Thiokol that the seals on their rocket boosters might fail in cold temperatures. Their warnings were ignored, and the space shuttle Challenger broke apart, killing all seven people aboard.
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