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How can you tell if a leader has political skills? The answer: if they appear not to have any such skills at all.

Gerald Ferris, a management and psychology professor at Florida State University, says that behaviors that are genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective are associated with political savvy. Leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving, he explains.

Politically skilled managers are masters of 4 behaviors, says Ferris: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability, and apparent sincerity. Research from the Center for Creative Leadership has identified 2 additional dimensions of political skill: thinking before speaking and “managing up.”

According to CCL’s Jean Leslie, co-author of a research study on workplace politics and career derailment, here are 6 key skills to help develop your political savvy:

Number 1: Think before you speak. Politically skilled managers have impulse control. They tend to choose their organizational battles wisely and size up situations before deciding how to present ideas to others. Managers who actually consider whether or not to voice a thought or a feeling, and who are thoughtful about the timing and presentation of what they have to say, are less likely to derail their careers, Leslie says.

Number 2: Manage up – to a point. Leaders need to be able to skillfully communicate with their bosses, higher ups and so on. But political skill also involves maintaining good relationships with people at all levels in the organization. CCL’s research shows that people who are especially skilled at “managing up” tend to put so much energy into their bosses’ needs that they neglect leading their own teams.

Number 3: Practice influence. Effective influencers build stronger interpersonal relationships and have good rapport with others. Managers comfortable with their interpersonal power tend to have good judgment about when to assert themselves, which in turn results in more cooperative relationships. Skilled influencers are not always overtly political; they just play the political game fairly and effortlessly.

Number 4: Hone your powers of perception. Socially astute managers tend to be perceptive observers of others and of social situations. They comprehend social interaction, and in social settings they accurately interpret their own behavior as well as that of others. They have strong powers of discernment and high self-awareness.

Number 5: Learn to network. Effective networking goes well beyond passing out business cards or schmoozing. Leaders who possess a strong networking ability build friendships and beneficial working relationships by garnering support, negotiating and managing conflict. Skilled networkers know when to call on others and are seen as willing to reciprocate.

Number 6: Be sincere. Politically skilled individuals display high levels of integrity, authenticity, sincerity and genuineness. They are – or appear to be – honest, open and forthright, inspiring trust and confidence. So to sharpen your political skills, be genuine with everyone in your organization. If you try too hard, your co-workers will see right through it.


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