Political Savvy – Average Employee

What does political savvy mean to the average employee?

If you have ever watched the TV sitcom The Office you probably have a good idea of what political savvy is not about. While the politics of The Office employees may seem funny on TV, in the real world of work these behaviors could kill your career or even get you fired.

When office politics and political savvy are mentioned, many imagine an individual who is selfish, deceitful, deceptive, sneaky, conniving and who are doing things like:

  • Snitching to management
  • Spreading gossip about coworkers
  • Faking a romantic involvement
  • Lying or covering the truth
  • Discounting coworkers or supervisors opinions or ideas
  • Spying on coworkers
  • Taking undue credit for work

You get the idea!

Yes, there are people who do exhibit these behaviors. More than we may think. However, individuals who practice such devious politics do so at considerable risk of life and limb. Practicing unethical office politics may lead to being ostracized, put in dead-end jobs, fired, sued or even punched in the face. The average employee just wants to be productive and get paid working in an environment where merit is awarded. However, to ignore office politics is to ignore those underlying factors that account for the differences in success between equally talented people or even being manipulated by others.

There is another way of looking at office politics and the meaning of political savvy and the associated behaviors. According to the author Andrew DuBrin in Winning at Office Politics, political savvy is the ability to practice sensible and ethical office politics. And yes, it is all about power – the power to control your career, people, resources and to get others to do things you want done.

The following are suggestions that people in all job levels can use to gain a competitive edge or just to survive the politics of others. Pick and choose from the political strategies presented. Decide which strategies are best suited to your skills, position, style and your boss’s style.

1. Understand your supervisor, check out the chemistry between

you and your supervisor and try to keep it positive

2. Support and compliment your supervisor but don’t be phony

3. Avoid upstaging your supervisor, especially in meetings

4. Show loyalty to your supervisor and the organization (please

don’t criticize the pet projects of the top players)

5. Shine at Meetings

  • Appear articulate, poised and successful
  • Ask questions
  • Allow others to talk
  • Take notes when influential people speak
  • Avoid daydreaming

6. Understand and show an interest in your organization mission

and vision

7. Always display business manners and etiquette

  • Respect people’s culture, space and senses
  • Dress appropriately
  • Show proper etiquette at lunch and social affairs
  • Remember names
  • Make appointments to talk with high-ranking people (never try to just drop in)
  • Be diplomatic – use tack and diplomacy (for some of you it will mean keeping your mouth shut)
  • Do not spread malicious gossip or snoop
  • Use compliments when appropriate (compliment a person’s behaviors rather than a person’s traits and characteristics

8. Get your name in front of influential people

  • Send copy or memo of your significant achievements
  • Be associated with a special project, major committee or task force

9. Be a team player

  • Be supportive of others
  • Share the credit
  • Make use of humor
  • Share information
  • Touch base with co-workers before presenting ideas
  • Be willing to do menial work in a pinch to get the job done

11. Share information with coworkers

  • Be a “go to” person for work related matters
  • Exchange favors

12. Be perceived as a fire fighter (problem solver) and not a drama

king or queen

Political savvy is about using ethical strategies. It is about cultivating relationships and establishing your brand as a professional, team player and leader. It is the totality of your skills for successfully navigating the political dynamics of an organization to accomplish one’s goals. It is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, when to take action, know who is going to resist your agenda, and whom you need to get on your side. It means mapping out the political terrain and getting others to side with you, as well as leading coalitions. Most of all it means applying subtle and informal ethical methods of gaining power or a competitive edge.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

You’ve generated a great list, Dianne.

The one thing about political savvy is that it’s one of those skill sets that can be used in a manipulative way. The very phrase conjures up images of someone making backdoor deals and biting their tongue when bad decisions are being made so that they can advance…potentially at the expense of the organization.

I think a parallel word to consider that bears much of the same intent, but adds a little gravitas and ethics built into it is “wisdom.”

Corey McCarren

Those The Office type office politics may help out in the very short term but people will eventually catch on. I think most of the positive political savvy is a lot of common sense that people don’t use because it can be a little more difficult in the short term but pays off huge in the long run.

Nina A. Hall

I think the last paragraph sums up the post best. It’s also something that should be taught as a college course or college seminar because often the company vision and mission does not align with office politics and if you are young person and your first job, it may take a minute to grasp office politics and what you need to do to navigate and survive.

Chris Higginbotham

Excellent, excellent advice.

One thing that has helped me a lot is not letting my client or my supervisor ever be surprised by anything. If something goes wrong, the people who depend on me know that they’ll hear from me before the proverbial mess hits the fan. That gives everyone a chance to take a deep breath and strategize before anything gets out of hand.

Another key tip: watch those emails. Re-read everything that could ever be archived. Enough said.

Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci

“Remember names” goes SUCH a long way … not just in business, but in life. I have learned over the years that success or failure of a project can sometimes hinge on this and this alone.

Dianne Floyd Sutton

Thank you for your comments. In answer to Jaime comment:

You must show your value. If you have contributed to the value of the organization let them know. If you were sent to training, thank the people who authorized your training and let them know it will improve your knowledge of the organization and your value as an employee.