A leader may possess or draw on any of the following five types of power to varying degrees: legitimate,
expert, referent, information, and reward/coercive (French Jr. & Raven, 1959). Effective leaders do not
need to possess all five types of power. Instead, competent leaders know how to draw on other group
members who may be better able to exercise a type of power in a given situation.
The very title of leader brings with it legitimate power, which is power that flows from the officially
recognized position, status, or title of a group member. For example, the leader of the “Social Media
Relations Department” of a retail chain receives legitimate power through the title “director of social
media relations.” It is important to note though that being designated as someone with status or a
position of power doesn’t mean that the group members respect or recognize that power. Even with a
title, leaders must still earn the ability to provide leadership. Of the five types of power, however, the
leader alone is most likely to possess legitimate power.
A group member with expertise in an area relevant to the group’s task may draw on expert power to
lead the group. For example, a transplant surgeon may lead a team of other doctors and nurses during
the surgery while a critical care nurse may take the lead during postsurgery recovery.
UCD School of Medicine – Surgery Image 2 – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Expert power comes from knowledge, skill, or expertise that a group member possesses and other group
members do not. For example, even though all the workers in the Social Media Relations Department
have experience with computers, the information technology (IT) officer has expert power when it
comes to computer networking and programming. Because of this, even though the director may have a
higher status, she or he must defer to the IT officer when the office network crashes. A leader who has
legitimate and expert power may be able to take a central role in setting the group’s direction,