FSU management professors write the book on ‘political skill’

A coworker soars to success within your company while you continue to toil away in obscurity. Wonder why? Your coworker’s superior “political” skill could be the difference, say two Florida State University researchers.

Gerald R. Ferris and Pamela L. Perrewé, professors of management within FSU’s College of Business, have written the book, literally, on organizational politics. “Political Skill at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness,” just published by Davies-Black Publishing, was cowritten with Sherry L. Davidson, a professor of education at New York University.

“Political Skill at Work” is the first thorough examination of an ability that is as subtle as it is powerful, Ferris said. People who are able to influence and win support from others generally are more successful at getting hired, building their professional reputation, raising their job performance and enhancing their leadership abilities.

Another benefit of political skill is that can help reduce job stress, Perrewé said.

“People with strong political abilities are more likely to have self-confidence and a sense of control over their professional destiny, which makes them more capable of managing the stress in their lives,” she explained.

Four key dimensions of political skill are described in “Political Skill at Work”: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.

“We define political skill as the ability to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives,” Ferris said. “Therefore, individuals high in political skill combine social astuteness with the capacity to adjust behavior to changing situations in a way that appears to be sincere, inspires support and trust, and effectively influences and controls the responses of others.”

“Political Skill at Work” offers a number of examples of well-known individuals who have used political skill to succeed in the corporate world, as well as in government, education and sports. Among those profiled are Bobby Bowden, FSU’s legendary head football coach; FSU President T.K. Wetherell, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives; and J. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Each of these figures has an understated and subtle, but very effective, level of political skill,” Ferris said. “Hastert also happened to be my high school football coach.”

The new book also offers an 18-item “Political Skill Inventory” so that readers can assess their own strengths in these areas. Techniques for improving each ability are discussed, as well as an arsenal of political tactics, such as flattery and bragging, that can contribute to professional success when wielded properly.

“The book is based on years of research we both have done on organizational politics and political skill, but is written in a less scholarly and more accessible way so the typical person on the street hopefully can find something of use in it,” Ferris said.

“It’s not a straight scientific treatment of the subject matter, nor is it a straight ‘how to’ book,” Perrewé added. “It’s somewhere in between.”

Ferris, the Francis Eppes Professor of Management and professor of psychology at FSU, has researched political skill and organizational politics for two decades. He also has written extensively on human-resources issues. Ferris has taught at FSU since 2000.

Perrewé is the Distinguished Research Professor and Jim Moran Professor of Management and has taught at FSU since 1984. She also has spent a number of years in academic administration as a department chair and associate dean in the College of Business.

In addition to teaching at FSU and writing together, Ferris and Perrewé have something else in common: They are husband and wife. Political skill plays an important role in their marriage as well as their professional lives, they say.

“One aspect of political skill that I think has contributed to our relationship is the self-awareness and social astuteness to read each other well and understand the intensity of feelings on certain issues, which then leads to positions of strong vs. more compromising posture,” Ferris said.