This blog discusses the importance of being politically skilled within work organizations. Organizational science researchers have highlighted the importance of political skills in being effective in the workplace. There is a body of research to show that those who have strong political skills tend to be better performers and enables the organization to be more effective. This blog describes the behaviors of politically skilled individuals and describes the positive outcomes associated with political skills. The blog also describes how organizations can implement interventions to enable employees to hone political skills.
Political skills are "[t]he ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives”.Ferris, Treadway et al. (2005)
What are political skills?
Political skill is defined as: “The ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives” (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005). Politically skilled individuals display six important behaviors: thinking before speaking, managing up, interpersonal influence, social astuteness, networking ability and sincerity (Ferris, Davidson & Perrewe, 2005).
Thinking before speaking.
First, politically skilled individuals think before they speak and demonstrate impulse control. They choose to engage in organizational conflict that are important and they assess situations before presenting their ideas to team members. Moreover, this skill of considering whether to voice an opinion and be mindful of timing and presentation of ideas is typical of successful employees and they are less likely to derail in their careers (Ferris et al., 2005).
Second, politically skilled individuals who are effective in “managing up” are skilled in communicating with their superiors. However, it is important that politically skilled individuals maintain effective relationships with individuals at all levels in the organization. This is especially true for those in a managerial position. If the manager places too much emphasis on fulfilling their superiors’ needs then they tend to neglect the needs of their subordinates. (Ferris et al., 2005).
Third, politically skilled individuals demonstrate interpersonal influence through building strong relationships with other. They establish good rapport with organizational members and demonstrate good judgment on when to be assertive, resulting in more cooperative relationships. They influence other but are not overtly political. They play the political game in a fair manner and are effortless at doing so. Moreover, politically skilled individuals are successful in the long term because they are not manipulative in their actions but are cooperative in ensuring that all parties win. Ultimately, their actions are aligned with the mission of the organization. (Ferris et al., 2005).
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Fourth, politically skilled individuals demonstrate social astuteness through being perceptive observers of others and of social situations. They understand the dynamics of social interactions and they accurately self-assess their own behavior as well as others so show strong intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. They discern situations and have high self-awareness (Ferris et al., 2005).
Fifth, politically skilled individuals demonstrate networking ability. Employees who possess this skill build friendships and generate effective working relationships by garnering support, negotiating and managing conflict. They appreciate the value of quality relationships rather than garnering acquaintances. Employees who are skilled in networking understand when to ask for favors and are also perceived as willing to reciprocate (Ferris et al., 2005).
Finally, politically skilled individuals are sincere. They display high levels of integrity, authenticity, sincerity, and are genuine. They are honest, open and forthright, and inspire trust and confidence. They are genuine in their interactions with organization members (Ferris et al., 2005).
What are the benefits of political skills?
In a recent review of the effectiveness of political skills, Munyon and colleagues (Munyon, Summer, Thompson & Ferris, 2015) found that political skill was positively related to self-efficacy, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, work productivity, organizational citizen behavior (OCB), career success and negatively related to physiological strain. They also found that political skills were positively related to task performance because of the personal reputation and self-efficacy of the individual, showing partial-mediation. The review also focused on which political skill dimensions predicted task performance and found that networking ability, interpersonal influence, and sincerity predicted task performance although social astuteness did not show a relationship with task performance.
How can we measure political skill?
There are several scales that measure political skill within the workplace. Initially, Ferris and colleagues developed a unidimensional six item scale defined as political skill (Ferris et al., 1999) and then provided a unidimensional seven-item scale defined as social skill (Ferris et al., 2001). The third scale is a multidimensional 18-item scale and is defined as a political inventory (Ferris et al., 2005). Despite the differences in these scales due to the changes in items and terminology, Ferris and colleagues (2012) propose that all these measures essentially measure political skill and should be labelled as such because they all constitute elements of social effectiveness.
Can employees be trained in political skills?
Political skill is an individual difference yet the theoretical framework views political skills as set of behaviors that are malleable and can fluctuate through situational factors. This suggests that employees who lack political skill can develop core behaviors and those who are political skilled can hone their performance. Consequently, organizations can also provide training courses that allow employees and managers to cultivate political skills or also provide formal mentoring programs to enable employees to develop political skill through interpersonal influence (Blass & Ferris, 2007).
Which personality traits predict political skills?
There is evidence that the personality trait of extroversion is a positive predictor of political skill (Liu et al., 2007). Liu and colleagues found that extroversion and proactivity were positively related to political skill. Moreover, political skill also predicted job performance in terms of quantity quality, and accuracy of work output. Liu et al., (2007) also found that those with higher political skill garnered a more positive reputation in the workplace suggesting that political skill is useful for social influence.
What are the downsides of political behavior in organizations?
Political behavior can also have a negative effect on organizations under certain circumstances. When politically skilled individuals have a strong desire to gain personal power they tend to be cunning, manipulative and will use whatever means necessary to gain political power. This extreme form of political behavior is considered one of the dark personality traits called Machiavellianism. Leaders can aviod ineffective organizational politics by selecting the right employees and by providing an environment that emphasizes the overaching goal of the organization. When those negative effects of political behavior are mitigated, organizational politics are rather a blessing than a curse.
In conclusion, the research demonstrates that political skill is useful for social influence. Moreover, political skill is linked to several favorable organizational outcomes, such as job performance. The research also suggests that employees can learn political skills so it is important that organizations provide training interventions that help employees learn and cultivate their political skills.
References and further reading
Ferris, G. R., Berkson, H. M., Kaplan, D. M., Gilmore, D. C., Buckley, M. R., Hochwarter, W. A., & Witt, L. A. 1999. Development and initial validation of the political skill inventory. Paper presented at the Academy of Management, 59th Annual National Meeting, Chicago.
Ferris GR, Witt LA, Hochwarter WA. (2001). Interaction of social skill and general mental ability on job performance and salary. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1075–1082.
Ferris, G. R., Davidson, S. L., & Perrewe, P. L. (2005). Political skill at work: impact on work effectiveness. Mountain View, Calif. : Davies-Black Pub.,
Ferris, G.R., Treadway, D.C, Kolodinsky, R.W., Hochwarter, W.A, Kacmar, C.J, Douglas, C., Frink, D.D. (2005). Development and validation of the political skill inventory. Journal of Management, 31, 126–152.
Ferris, G.R., Treadway, D.C, Brouer, R.L., Munyon, T.P. (2012). Political skill in the organizational sciences. In Ferris GR, Treadway DC. (Eds.), Politics in organizations: Theory and research implications (pp. 487–528). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.
Liu, Y., Ferris, G. R., Zinko, R., Perrewe ́, P. L., Weitz, B., & Xu, J. (2007). Dispositional antecedents and outcomes of political skill in organizations: A four-study investigation with convergence. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71, 146 –165.
Munyon, T. P., Summers, J. K., Thompson, K. M., & Ferris, G. R. (2015). Political Skill and Work Outcomes: A Theoretical Extension, Meta-Analytic Investigation, and Agenda for the Future. Personnel Psychology, (1), 143.
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.