Political Savvy 101

I wish someone had told me this when I first started my career in the Federal government.

Political Savvy Means When You Are Just Starting Out

For those who are starting their career it is important for you to understand the importance of developing political savvy skills. It is important not to have a political blind spot – not consciously seeing the extent to which informal influences shapes the decision making process within organizations. Political savvy does not mean you have to sell your soul to the organization. It does not mean you compromise yourself. It means:

  • Developing and using the totality of skills (i.e. listening, asking questions, observing, interpersonal communication skills, etc.) for successfully navigating the political dynamics of the organization to accomplish your career goals
  • Understanding what you can and cannot control, when to take action, who is going to resist your agenda, and whom you need to get on your side
  • Mapping out the political terrain and getting others on your side as well as leading coalitions
  • Understanding how people operate on the job (their strategies and motives).

Political savvy is applying subtle and informal ethical methods of gaining power or a competitive edge. All employees can use political savvy regardless of their position in the organization. At the minimal level of political savvy you engage in several activities without considering yourself a “political person”.

For example:

  • Relationship building
  • Networking
  • Team involvement
  • Persuasive communication

Avoiding or denying its existence can be costly. Don’t underestimate how political behavior can stall or destroy careers, reputations and overall performance. You read about it every day. Another way of looking at political savvy is to understand that you need political savvy in order defend and protect yourself from other’ devious political tactics. Bottom line: Political savvy is using your resources, your power to get things done – to meet with your career objectives. You may be just starting out but it is never too early to start.

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Geoff Downie

This is great advice. In my public health doctoral program (DrPH, UIC School of Public Health), we discuss this in terms of “political management.” Do you know of any good books on this subject?

Dianne Floyd Sutton


There are not a lot of books I would recommend. I have found Political Savvy by Joel DeLuca, Ph.D., Applying Emotional Intellegence by Hank Clemons and The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey to be helpful. Hope this helps.