Political Savvy in the Office: What It Really Means

“Political savvy” can get a bad reputation — too often it can conjure up images of backstabbing co-workers and up-and-comers who stop at nothing to get to the top. But political savvy is an important skill to develop, both for yourself and the benefit of your organization.

Here’s what you need to know about political savvy in the workplace.

It Means Understanding, Not Manipulating

Political savvy reflects your ability to understand the environment you’re working in. People who have political savvy are able to read the people and personalities they need to interact with, and they learn how to successfully move through that environment with integrity.

At its core, political savvy is simply a deep understanding of what other people need, born of empathy, listening and honest communication. You know there are people in your own organization who have influence beyond their title or official duties; understanding that influence is political savvy.

It’s Important to Your Career Growth

People sometimes shy away from developing political savvy. They may not want to be seen as a “plotter” or “fake,” and may insist that “what you see is what you get with me.” And it’s true — when political savvy is used for only personal gain rather than the good of a team or organization, it quickly turns into “office politics” or outright manipulation.

But in any workplace, nothing is black and white — there’s always ambiguity, unwritten rules and different personalities to deal with. You need political savvy to deal with those personalities and rules, especially if you’re a leader or manager who works with a wide variety of people. Being confidenceable to read other people and situations and respond accordingly is as important as your skills and experiences. Used wisely, political savvy can help groups and companies reach their goals, while also positioning you as a strong and capable leader.

It’s a Skill Like Any Other — You Can Develop It

Developing political savvy is important as you move up in the ranks and need to understand the kinds of influence other leaders have beyond their job titles. Some of the ways to develop political savvy include:

  • Building self-awareness. Find out what others think about your interpersonal skills, professionalism, composure and other relationships. Do you have trusted relationships at work? When you’re part of a team, are you a team player? Identify the results of the actions you take at work.
  • Listening carefully. Listen to leaders, your peers and your direct reports. Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication. Beware of ascribing intent, but also pay attention to signals you may get before people act.
  • Developing presentation skills. This includes both formal presentations to individuals or groups as well as informal presentations, such as introducing yourself or making introductions to others. Think about the other person’s perspective, needs and concerns. Being attentive to others helps you understand them better.
  • Being sensitive to others. In your work, focus on the issue at hand and the people around it. If someone makes a misstep in a project, depersonalize the issue and be sensitive to their feelings while determining how to prevent a similar issue. Develop give-and-take relationships with others throughout the organization.

Don’t shy away from developing political savvy. Be aware of the benefits it can provide, and develop the skills you need to use it to help the organization as you lead.

Do your company’s managers need guidance on leadership skills? Contact us to learn about our leadership development and coaching offerings.

Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.