Soft Power for Success

I found a very interesting article written by Mike Griffin, PMP.  He talks about the importance of using soft power, a concept developed by Joseph Nye of Harvard University.  Nye defines soft power as the “ability to get people to work with you by attracting them to be part of what you stand for; rather than to coerce, force or pay them”  (Griffin).  To force or coerce someone would be an example of using hard power; a project manager using his/her title to get individuals to do what they want.  Either way, at the end both project managers will see results.  The point that Griffin makes is that soft power gives better project results than hard power.  A project manager can exhibit soft power through his/her personality, ethics and values and proven ability to deliver projects successfully.  Griffin states that if you use soft power, people will be more inclined to work with you and even go the extra mile if they believe in the project manager’s ability, ethics/morals or personality.  To his point, he believes you will get better results as a project manager if you exhibit soft power influence over hard power.

As I was reading the article, I found myself nodding my head in agreement.  I am sure many of us can think of examples of when we were faced with hard or soft power project managers.  I know that I have worked with both types.  I remember feeling more involved and motivated when I have a project manager who I liked asked me to do something versus a project manager who sort of wielded their title like a weapon.  I felt forced to provide reports for them versus with the soft power managers where I WANTED to provide the reports… and do a good job with them too!

I saw, albeit not direct, some parallels between Griffin’s article and the accounting firm case study we did in class.  Here we have two different type of project managers trying to get one employee to do work on each of their individual projects.  In the end, it is pretty obvious that Crosby “won” as Olds chose to work on his consulting project full time.  I started to wonder from a power stand point why that was.  In the case, I think Crosby uses soft power to get Olds on board with his consulting project.  It’s almost as if he knew from the beginning when he said he would take the mornings with Olds while Palmer got the afternoon.  He immediately formed more of a relationship with Olds because there was no “pulling” if you will.  Olds was always there first thing in the morning because that was where he was supposed to be.  Because of that Crosby was able to form more of a personal relationship with Olds.  In contrast, Palmer was forced to then “pull” Olds over to him in the afternoon.  He was seen as more of the agitator of the two.  I feel that Palmer was definitely demonstrating more of a hard power technique.  It is almost like since he was a new manager he felt he needed to impress more, wield his power a little more.  Palmer gets paranoid about how Crosby and Olds golf together on the weekend and how Crosby does events for his team.  An example of this would be inviting everyone to the baseball game one afternoon.  Palmer puts his foot down and finally says no, which is an obvious demonstration of hard power.  It should be no surprise that Olds chooses to go work with Crosby full time.  The man showed more interest in him as a person so that Olds was able to rally behind his ideas and consulting project .  Palmer being new to management has not yet acquired the soft skills that Crosby had in order to best get work done from people on his team.

I feel that this accounting firm case study is a great example of hard power versus soft power.  Even though it seems to fit Griffin’s point directly, that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions to the rule.  So given that, here are my questions:

1. Do you agree or disagree with Griffin’s findings that soft power is superior to hard power?

2. What examples have you seen in your workplace where soft and/or hard power has been used effectively or ineffectively?

3. Is there ever a situation where hard power would be more effective?  Make more sense?

4. Any comments, suggestions or ideas?  Feel free to add…


A link to the article by Griffin:


3 thoughts on “Soft Power for Success

  1. Great post and a very interesting topic that has come up in other discussions in management courses. I agree with Griffin’s findings that soft power is superior to hard power. Through working in construction, I’ve worked for plenty of “barkers”, “yellers” and “screamers”, who like to wave around their title. In the long run, team members will only do enough to appease this type of leader. True cohesiveness is formed through soft powers. I feel that team members are truly engaged, working with the leader rather than for the leader. In certain sectors, hard power may be necessary to yield the most effective results. I’m thinking along the lines of a military environment, corrections, or maybe even a shift-orientated manufacturing environment. Although, in the business world, most project team work lends itself to soft power tactics.

  2. Enjoyed your post and the article. While it wasn’t mentioned here I wonder if gender plays a role in this discussion. As a female in business I often struggle with soft power vs. hard power and tend to agree with the article and the old adage that you can “catch more flies with honey than vinegar” but I don’t believe most of the folks in my industry see it that way – yet. Sometimes hard power is necessary – team members cannot come to an agreement for instance and the lead just makes the decision so everyone can move on. But even then, some follow up with soft power would be useful – explaining the decision and how it came to be made would no doubt be beneficial to the team.

  3. I totally agree; soft power is superior. In my opinion, the reason soft power works well is because it forms respectful relationships instead of fearful ones. When I work with people, both inside and outside of my company, that have good work ethic and ask rather than command, I find that their energy is very contagious. In most cases I think soft power is superior, but sometimes you have to fight hard power with hard power. I’ve also noticed that new hires occasionally need a little tough love until they form good working habits.

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