In the business world, power refers to a leader’s ability to influence the behavior of other people. People can acquire power from two sources. It can emerge from the position occupied by a person in the organization or from an individual’s characteristics and skills. The former is known as positional power, while the latter is known as personal power.

Power plays a critical part in the workplace. It is important to achieve tasks, fulfill targets and standards, provide satisfaction to employees and achieve profitability. A leader or manager can use either of the two kinds of power mentioned earlier or a combination of both to achieve the greatest impact. However, at times, the kind of power to be used, i.e. positional power or personal power is determined by the specific situations or contexts.

In this article, we will present a definition of the two terms, positional power and personal power. In addition, we will explain how the terms are different from one another.

Definitions and meanings

Positional power

A leader acquires positional power from their status or position in the organization, i.e. it is the authority provided to a person because of the rank they occupy within the organizational structure or hierarchy. People with positional power are bound by the rules and regulations that have been established by the organization or institution to which they belong. The main aim of this kind of power is to make sure that people work together with one another to achieve the goals of the organization. Positional power makes sure that people work in a specific way and towards the same objectives.

Leaders with positional power have the authority to hire and fire people, offer them rewards or punishments and provide instructions and directions to all those who are working under them.

Positional power is awarded to a person because of their rank or title in an organization. Hence, as it is based on external factors, it is possible to take it away from individuals.

Personal power

To be highly effective leaders, one needs something more than just a designation or a title. It needs personal power, which is the power given to an individual because of their personal skills and competencies. It is the power awarded to individuals by others, and is not formally assigned by the organization. Personal power is linked to a person’s integrity and their readiness to live up to their promises. It is essentially a form of power that inspires and motivates other people to be fully involved in achieving the goals and objectives of the organization..

Personal power emerges from the personal characteristics of a person; hence, it is internal in nature, and emerges from internal features of a person, such as credibility, intelligence, skills and experience, self-confidence, etc. Therefore, it cannot be taken away from a person.

Differences between positional power and personal power

The main difference between positional power and personal power is given below:

1. Meaning

Positional power refers to the power or authority that is assigned to a person because of their position or rank in an organization. On the other hand, personal power is obtained by individuals because of the recognition of their followers.

2. Depends on

Positional power depends on external factors as it is awarded to a person because of their rank or title in an organizational hierarchy. Personal power, however, is of an internal nature because it stems from the personal characteristics and qualities of an individual, for example their expertise, skills, knowledge and intelligence.

3. Basis of authority

A person with positional power is supposed to instruct and guide all those who are under them to fulfill their tasks in accordance with the rules and regulations of the organization. They impose their authority through commands and directives. An individual with personal power, however, is able to motivate and inspire others to achieve their targets. These people are able to influence others by forming relationships with them. Instead of just making sure that specified outcomes are achieved, a leader with personal power influences the hearts and minds of people.

4. Permanence

As the organization awards positional power, it is also capable of taking it away from the individual by firing them. Hence, positional power is only temporary, as long as the person remains assigned in a higher rank in the organization. On the other hand, personal power emerges due to the internal characteristics of a person and cannot be taken away.

5. Social skills

Positional power is not based on the personal and social skills of leaders, whereas personal power depends to a large extent on the personal and social skills of the leaders.

Positional power vs personal power – tabular comparison

A comparison of positional power and personal power in tabular for is presented below:

Positional power vs Personal power
The power awarded to others due to their position within the organizational hierarchy The power that is awarded by other people because of their internal qualities.
Depends on
External factors Internal factors
Basis of authority
Command and instruction Inspiring and motivating others
Organization can take away power Power cannot be taken away
Social skills
Low social skills High social skills

Conclusion – positional power vs personal power

The main difference between positional power and personal power is that positional power is possessed by a person because of his/her rank or title in the organization, whereas personal power is a result of the individual’s personal qualities and skills, because of which they manage to acquire a large number of followers.

However, an important point to note is that the two kinds of power are not separate from one another, but are just two distinct ways of influencing. There are many leaders who become visible because of their personal power, after which the organization awards formal authority to them so as to offer them a platform to continue to inspire people to achieve their goals. Similarly, there are many people who go up in an organizational hierarchy because of their skills and then keep on growing by using the authority that they receive from their position. People with positional power need to exhibit personal power to make sure that they continue to influence all those working under them. They need to continue to develop their leadership skills to maintain the power that has been vested to them by the organization.