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LMX and Subordinate Political Skill: Direct and Interactive

Effects on Turnover Intentions and Job Satisfaction


Kenneth J. Harris1 and
Ranida B. Harris

Robyn L. Brouer
Department of Management
Hofstra University

Department of Management
Indiana University Southeast

Previous research has demonstrated a positive relationship between leadermember


exchange (LMX) quality and positive outcomes. However, little is known about how
the dispositional variable of subordinate political skill impacts LMXconsequence
relationships. Thus, this study investigated this interaction in predicting turnover
intentions and job satisfaction. Additionally, we employed a relatively unexamined
multidimensional measure of LMX, which could then help to establish the generalizability of outcomes related to LMX. We investigated these hypotheses in a sample
of 239 working employees, and found support for the moderating role of subordinate political skill.
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2373..2395

The relationship between supervisors and their subordinates has received


extensive research attention, as exchanges with supervisors are often the most
important workplace relationship for employees (e.g., Manzoni & Barsoux,
2002). Leadermember exchange (LMX) theory, which focuses on the unique
relationship between subordinates and their supervisors, has provided a
useful framework for examining these relationships and has been the focus of
numerous empirical studies (for a meta-analytic review, see Gerstner & Day,
1997). Studies have established that LMX relationship quality is positively
related to a number of desired outcomes (Gerstner & Day, 1997).
However, numerous organizational scholars have suggested that the
effect of LMX on these outcomes is more complicated than direct effects.
Researchers have asked for future investigations to examine important moderators (e.g., Schriesheim, Castro, & Cogliser, 1999). In this study, we
examine subordinate political skill, which is the ability to understand workplace interactions and to use that knowledge to help in influencing the surrounding work environment (Ahearn, Ferris, Hochwarter, Douglas, &
Ammeter, 2004) as a moderator of the relationships between LMX and the
outcomes of turnover intentions and job satisfaction.
1
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kenneth J. Harris, Department of Management, School of Business, Indiana University Southeast, 4201 Grant Line Road,
New Albany, IN 47150. E-mail: harriskj@ius.edu

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Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2009, 39, 10, pp. 23732395.
2009 Copyright the Authors
Journal compilation 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

2374 HARRIS ET AL.


The purpose of our paper is twofold. The primary purpose is to investigate how subordinate political skill impacts the relationships between LMX
and two consequences: intentions to turnover and job satisfaction. Our
second purpose is to investigate a relatively new measure of LMXthat
measure is LMX multidimensional (LMXMDM), which is composed of four
dimensions that are summed to form a single measure (Liden & Maslyn,
1998)and to compare the new scale results to findings from previous
(almost exclusively unidimensional) LMX measures. To test our hypotheses,
we begin by examining the direct relations between LMX and the outcomes
of job satisfaction and intentions to turnover, as these relationships provide
a theoretical basis for the interactions later proposed. We utilized a sample of
239 individuals working at a variety of companies. This diverse sample helps
increase confidence in the generalizability of our results, as those results are
less likely to be company- or sample-specific.

LeaderMember Exchange
Leadermember exchange is a dyadic theory that has its roots in social
exchange theory (Blau, 1964) and role theory (Dienesch & Liden, 1986;
Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964). LMX theory suggests that
exchanges (i.e., social and work interactions) take place between supervisors
and subordinates. From these exchanges, supervisors and subordinates form
relationships of varying quality through the role-making process (Graen &
Uhl-Bien, 1995). Essentially, supervisors use cues such as performance and
likeability to decide which subordinates will fill more important organizational roles, with lesser roles going to those who are viewed as less capable or
less liked. Subordinates who are selected for the more important roles establish high-quality LMX relationships (Dienesch & Liden, 1986).
Social exchange theory also plays a part in the development and continuation of LMX relationships. The basic idea of social exchange theory is that
people are involved in a series of interactions and through these interactions
develop feelings of mutual obligation (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005;
Emerson, 1976). These interactions are guided by the idea of reciprocity, in
which an action by one member of the exchange is either conditional or in
response to the other partys behavior (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005;
Gouldner, 1960).
Although reciprocity is the most common guideline discussed in the
literature of social exchange theory, there are others. Meeker (1971) proposed that there are several rules that guide the social exchange process:
rationality, altruism, group gain, status consistency, and competition.
Although a review of all five of these rules is beyond the scope of the

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present paper, the idea of rationality is important. Meeker posited that


people in social exchange relationships think about the outcomes of their
actions and use this to guide their behaviors and to achieve their desired
goals. In the sections that follow, the theoretical foundation for a number
of our arguments are the reciprocity and rationality components of social
exchange theory.

Outcomes of LMX
Based on reciprocity and rationality, supervisors and subordinates
develop either high- or low-quality relationships with one another (Liden,
Sparrowe, & Wayne, 1997). From high-quality exchanges, subordinates
receive a number of advantages, including increased communication, formal
and informal rewards, ample access to supervisors, and favor-doing (Dienesch & Liden, 1986; Graen & Scandura, 1987; Wayne, Shore, & Liden, 1997).
On the other hand, subordinates in low-quality LMX exchanges have relationships with their supervisors that reflect low levels of emotional support,
trust, and few, if any, benefits outside of the formal employment contract
(e.g., Dienesch & Liden, 1986). In these relationships, the subordinates have
not done anything that the supervisors feel requires any further reciprocation
besides what is dictated in the employment contract.
Since its introduction more than 30 years ago (e.g., Dansereau, Graen, &
Haga, 1975), LMX has received considerable research attention. In fact,
multiple meta-analyses, literature reviews (Gerstner & Day, 1997; Graen &
Uhl-Bien, 1995; Ilies, Nahrgang, & Morgeson, 2007; Liden et al., 1997;
Schriesheim et al., 1999), and even a book series (Graen, 2004) on the subject
have been conducted. The cumulative research has found that high-quality
LMX relationships are positively related to desired organizational and individual outcomes.
Supervisors test subordinates through the role-making process. When
these subordinates go above and beyond during the role-making process, this
creates mutual obligations and increases supervisor reciprocity (Graen,
1976). This process results in better roles, increased communication, higher
levels of trust, and increased access to the supervisor for subordinates in
higher quality relationships. Further, these mutual obligations and reciprocity lead to higher performance ratings, career success, better objective performance, increased organizational commitment, job satisfaction,
organizational citizenship behaviors, and decreased turnover intentions (e.g.,
Gerstner & Day, 1997; Schriesheim et al., 1999; Wayne, Liden, Kraimer, &
Graf, 1999; Wayne et al., 1997). Subordinates in lower quality exchanges
receive fewer benefits and, as a result, experience less positive outcomes.

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Different Measures of LMX
The large majority of previous research has examined a unidimensional
measure of LMX. Although telling, a number of prominent LMX theorists
(e.g., Dienesch & Liden, 1986; Liden & Maslyn, 1998; Maslyn & Uhl-Bien,
2001) have argued that LMX is best conceptualized as a multidimensional
construct, with the dimensions summing to form an overall LMX measure.
In response to these ideas, Liden and Maslyn set out to determine theoretically and empirically the number of dimensions involved in an LMX relationship. They found that LMX was composed of the four dimensions of
affect, contribution, loyalty, and professional respect.
According to Dienesch and Liden (1986), affect is defined as the mutual
affection members of the dyad have for each other, based primarily on
interpersonal attraction, rather than work or professional values (p. 625).
Contribution is defined as the perception of the amount, direction, and
quality of work-oriented activity each member puts forth toward the mutual
goals (explicit or implicit) of the dyad (p. 624). Loyalty refers to the extent
to which leaders and members are loyal to one another, and is formally
defined as the extent to which the member and leader publicly support each
others character and actions (p. 625). Finally, professional respect refers to
the perception of the degree to which each member of the dyad had built a
reputation, within and/or outside the organization, of excelling at his or her
line of work (Liden & Maslyn, 1998, p. 47). In their study, Liden and
Maslyn not only identified the four dimensions of LMX, but they also
developed a measure (i.e., LMXMDM) that tapped the four dimensions; and
when the four dimensions were summed, the result was a more comprehensive, multidimensional measure of the LMX relationship.
Unfortunately, since LMXMDM is relatively new, much less is known
about the relationships between this multidimensional measure of LMX and
important job outcomes. This limits the generalizability of LMX results and
leads to questions about whether the multidimensional measure of LMX is
likewise related to positive outcomes. Additionally, Liden and Maslyn (1998)
found that when examined together, LMXMDM explained more incremental variance beyond a unidimensional measure of LMX than did the unidimensional measure beyond LMXMDM. Thus, there is tentative evidence
that LMXMDM may have stronger associations with important outcome
variables including the two (i.e., job satisfaction and turnover intentions) that
are examined in the present study. Further, the LMXMDM scale taps into
multiple aspects of LMX quality, which is more representative of workplace
relationships than is a unidimensional examination. In terms of the dimensions that make up the LMXMDM measure, social exchange theory would
predict that high-quality LMX relationshipsthose characterized by higher

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levels of support, trust, and communication with the supervisorwould be


negatively related to employees wanting to leave the organization and positively related to positive feelings about the job.
For instance, the unidimensional measure of LMX has been found to be
negatively related to turnover intentions (e.g., Major, Kozlowski, & Chao,
1995; Wayne et al., 1997). Furthermore, most studies have found LMX
relationship quality to be positively related to overall job satisfaction (e.g.,
Dansereau et al., 1975; Gerstner & Day, 1997; Major et al., 1995). In their
scale development study, Liden and Maslyn (1998) examined their first
version of the LMXMDM scale and found it to be positively related to job
satisfaction and negatively related to turnover intentions. Since conducting
that research, however, changes have been made to the LMXMDM scale,
necessitating that these relationships be re-examined. In particular, there
were concerns about the original LMXMDM scale (Liden & Maslyn, 1998),
as it had 11 items, with all dimensions containing 3 items, except for the
contribution dimension, which only had 2 items. In addition, the 2 items
representing the contribution dimension had low reliability estimates (i.e.,
between .56 and .60). To improve the psychometric properties of the contribution dimension, Liden and Maslyn revised the scale by modifying one of
the two contribution items and adding a third item. This new scale had
improved reliability estimates, but was not tested for its relationship with job
satisfaction and turnover intentions. Thus, we predict the following:
Hypothesis 1. LMX relationship quality will be negatively
related to turnover intentions.
Hypothesis 2. LMX relationship quality will be positively
related to job satisfaction.

Political Skill
Political skill is a relatively new construct that taps into the skill sets that
aid in successful workplace influence (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005; Ferris
et al., 2007). Formally defined, political skill is the ability to effectively
understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to
act in ways that enhance ones personal and/or organizational objectives
(Ahearn et al., 2004, p. 311).
At first glance, political skill may sound similar to other social effectiveness measures, such as self-monitoring, social intelligence, or social skill.
However, political skill has been shown to be conceptually distinct from these
constructs, as it relates specifically to interactions at work (Ferris, Treadway
et al., 2005). Further, empirical studies have demonstrated that political skill

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is empirically distinct from self-monitoring and other related variables (Ferris
et al., 1999; Ferris, Treadway, et al., 2005). Thus, political skill is a more
precise construct, appropriate for examining workplace interactions and the
ability individuals have to use their understanding of other people at work
and to accomplish both personal and organizational goals.
Since its recent operationalization, there has been limited research on
political skill, most of which has examined direct relationships. For example,
in a study on leader political skill, Ahearn et al. (2004) found political skill to
be positively related to team performance. Similarly, Treadway et al. (2004)
found that leader political skill positively predicted job satisfaction and trust.
Cumulatively, these studies provide empirical evidence that political skill
plays an important role in directly influencing workplace outcomes. Further
exploring this notion, Ferris, Davidson, and Perrew (2005) discussed a
number of areas in which political skill exhibits an influence at the workplace.
Although many of these studies and discussions have involved political skill
as a main effect, there have been recent advancements in examining political
skill as an important moderator (e.g., Hochwarter et al., 2007; Perrew et al.,
2004, 2005).
For instance, political skill attenuates the effects of role overload, role
conflict, and social stressors (three well known stressors) on job tension, job
satisfaction, general anxiety, physiological strain, and somatic complaints
(Harvey, Harris, Harris, & Wheeler, 2007; Perrew et al., 2004, 2005). In a
different study, political skill was also found to decrease the negative effects
of a political environment (a common stressor) on depressive symptoms
(Brouer, Ferris, Hochwarter, Laird, & Gilmore, 2005).

Political Skill as a Moderator of LMXOutcome Relationships


In exploring LMX relationships, a number of researchers (e.g.,
Schriesheim et al., 1999) have called for examinations of important moderators that will help to explain LMXoutcome relationships better. As noted
previously, political skill has been found to be an important moderator of the
stressorstrain relationship. However, there is reason to believe that subordinate political skill not only helps alleviate the negative reactions of stressors, but also can play a positive role as a moderator between LMX quality
and turnover intentions and job satisfaction.
LMX, political skill, and turnover intentions. As mentioned previously, we
predict that LMX is negatively related to turnover intentions. Further, this
negative relationship is likely to be stronger for those who are higher in
political skill. The reasoning is that individuals in high-quality LMX relationships are likely to have increased access to their supervisors, and thus

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more chances to use their political skill to influence situations. Politically


skilled subordinates are astute and can read their supervisors and the situations in which they find themselves more accurately than can their less
politically skilled counterparts (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005). This ability is
further enhanced when the subordinate is in a high-quality relationship
because he or she has increased access to the supervisor (Dienesch & Liden,
1986). This allows a subordinate high in political skill and in a high-quality
relationship to choose the right influencing tactics for the supervisor and the
situation. Indeed, political skill has been found to increase the effectiveness of
certain influencing techniques, leading to higher ratings of performance by
supervisors (Harris, Kacmar, Zivnuska, & Shaw, 2007).
Moreover, because politically skilled subordinates are able to use their
astuteness, they will have a true understanding of their relationships with
their supervisors, increasing their ability to behave rationally within those
relationships. They will have an accurate understanding of just what their
supervisors want or need from them and can supply this, thus increasing their
supervisors feelings of obligation and need to reciprocate, enabling the
subordinates to get what they want. This greater level and more effective
ability to influence by a subordinate in a high-quality exchange is likely to
lead to fewer thoughts of leaving the organization because the politically
skilled subordinates are likely getting what they desire.
Furthermore, politically skilled subordinates are able to utilize influence
in a manner that seems genuine and sincere (Ferris, Treadway et al.,
2005).They are not seen as manipulative. This, again, gives them the ability to
influence their work situation and their supervisor in a positive manner.
Having the ability to influence the environment successfully gives the politically skilled a sense of control (Brouer et al., 2005), which is likely to decrease
turnover intentions. When combined with the fact that a high-quality LMX
relationship provides subordinates with support, trust, and interaction with
the supervisor, the sense of control that highly politically skilled subordinates
feel will further decrease their intentions to turnover. Because they have a
positive relationship with their supervisors and are able to achieve their
personal and organizational goals, politically skilled subordinates would be
likely to stay in this positive environment. Thus, the lowest levels of turnover
intentions are likely to result when an individual is in a high-quality LMX
relationship and is high in political skill.
Conversely, when an individual is in a low-quality LMX relationship and
is high in political skill, the outcomes are likely to be different. In predicting
turnover intentions, low-quality exchanges are likely to be related to higher
turnover intentions; and those who are highly politically skilled are even
more likely to want to leave the organization. The reason for this is that these
individuals are in low-quality relationships, and they are aware that they are

2380 HARRIS ET AL.


in poor workplace situations, as they have an astute understanding of their
environment (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005). Because they understand the
situation and are able to think about their relationship rationally, they understand that their relationship qualities with their supervisors are unlikely to
change (Liden, Wayne, & Stilwell, 1993), thus they will likely consider leaving
their current workplace situations.
Moreover, subordinates high in political skill are adept at networking and
social capital creation (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005). Because of this, they
are likely to have many connections outside their current company, providing them with more opportunities to leave their position. Therefore, if they
are in a low-quality relationship with their boss, and they have more opportunities to leave their current position, they are more likely to have higher
turnover intentions. Based on these arguments, we predict the following:
Hypothesis 3. Political skill will moderate the negative relationship between LMX and turnover intentions, such that the
highest turnover intentions will occur when LMX quality is low
and political skill is high, and the lowest turnover intentions will
occur when LMX and political skill are high.
LMX, political skill, and job satisfaction. In predicting job satisfaction, we
expect the highest levels of job satisfaction to occur when LMX and political
skill are high. In these situations, subordinates have high-quality relationships with their supervisors and are better able to use their social understanding (i.e., high political skill) to influence work situations and outcomes. The
synergistic benefits of being in both a high-quality relationship and having
high political skill should result in high job satisfaction.
Subordinates in high-quality relationships interact more with their
supervisors and receive more support (Cogliser & Schriesheim, 2000; Dienesch & Liden, 1986). Further, these subordinates feel that they have an
opportunity to voice their viewpoints with their supervisors (Elicker &
Levy, 2006). During the performance review process, the ability to utilize
their voice has been shown to give subordinates in high-quality relationships
higher senses of justice, thus increasing their job satisfaction (Elicker &
Levy, 2006). This, combined with the fact that subordinates high in political
skill will be able to express their views with more ease because they are
adept at reading their supervisors and utilizing influence, will lead to even
higher levels of satisfaction. Essentially, these individuals have more interactions with their supervisors and during those interactions are able to
utilize their political skill to get what they want (Perrew et al., 2004). This
ability to have their supervisors ears and to get what they want should
increase job satisfaction.

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Turning our discussion to subordinates in lower quality LMX relationships, we previously predicted that these relationships would be negatively
related to job satisfaction. However, being high in political skill is likely to
minimize this negative outcome. Essentially, individuals high in political skill
are able to use their social understanding, influencing ability, and networking
abilities to garner important resources that allow for coping with negative
situations (Perrew et al., 2004), such as being in a low-quality LMX relationship. These important resources include increased social support,
control, and information.
Highly politically skilled subordinates think rationally about their
exchanges with both their supervisors and those around them in order to
engage in behaviors that are most beneficial for them. In this way, subordinates are able to garner more resources than are their low politically skilled
counterparts, even in situations of low LMX quality. These resources enable
individuals high in political skill to buffer the negative effects of a low-quality
relationship with their supervisors (Perrew et al., 2004). Thus, for those in
low-quality LMX relationships, the highest levels of job satisfaction are likely
to result when political skill is high.
Conversely, individuals in low-quality LMX relationships who are not
politically skilled will not have the same resources with which to counteract
the lack of resources they receive from their supervisors (Hobfoll, 1989).
Additionally, because they do not have a clear understanding of their relationship or work environment, they may not behave rationally with their
supervisors or may not understand how their behaviors are coming across.
Because of this, less politically skilled subordinates are less likely to achieve
their personal and maybe even their organizational goals. This lack of
achievement will likely lead these individuals to feel frustrated and unsatisfied
with their jobs. Based on these arguments, we predict the following:
Hypothesis 4. Political skill will moderate the positive relationship between LMX and job satisfaction such that the highest
levels of job satisfaction will occur when LMX and political
skill are high, while the lowest levels will occur when LMX and
political skill are low.

Method
Sample and Procedure
The sample was composed of 239 individuals (110 males, 129 females)
who work in a range of organizations. The respondents include a wide range

2382 HARRIS ET AL.


of jobs (e.g., financial analysts, lawyers, accountants, receptionists, state
government workers, teachers). Respondents were recruited by undergraduate students in senior-level management classes in a large southeastern state
university. Students were each given three surveys to have completed by
individuals currently working full-time (i.e., 35 hr or more per week) in
organizations with more than 10 employees. The students received course
credit in exchange for the surveys.
The present research design and data-collection technique have been
used by a number of other researchers (e.g., Liu, Perrew, Hochwarter, &
Kacmar, 2004; Rotondo, Carlson, & Kincaid, 2003; Treadway, Hochwarter,
Kacmar, & Ferris, 2005) with successful results. In recruiting the participants, a cover letter was included with each survey explaining that the participants were being invited to take part in a study on job attitudes and
relationships in the workplace. Respondents provided their phone numbers
on the final page of the survey, as well as their names on the front page of the
survey. To help ensure that the indicated respondent was responsible for
completing the survey, the authors randomly selected respondents, called
them, and asked innocuous questions (e.g., What section of the survey was
the most difficult to complete?). Based on the answers to these innocuous
questions, the researchers asked follow-up questions about objective information in the survey (e.g., number of coworkers). If the researchers had any
doubts as to whether the respondent had answered the questions, the student
would receive no class credit for the assignment. In addition, students were
informed that they would be called. These measures helped to ensure the
truthfulness of the responses we received.
In total, 321 surveys were distributed, and we received complete data from
239 respondents (74.5% response rate). The majority of respondents indicated that they worked in the Southeast and were from all organizational
levels (56% non-management, 26% middle management, 14% professional
workers, and 4% upper management).
With regard to race, 62% of the sample was Caucasian. Respondents ages
ranged from 18 to 60 years (M = 31.2 years). Organizational tenure of
respondents ranged from 1 month to 31.4 years (M = 5.4 years).
Measures
All of the item were measured on 5-point Likert-type scales ranging from
1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Items in each scale were summed
and then averaged to arrive at an overall value for the scale. Higher scores
represent higher levels of each construct.
Leadermember exchange. We measured LMX using Liden and Maslyns
(1998) 12-item LMX multidimensional (LMXMDM) scale (a = .93). This

LMX AND POLITICAL SKILL

2383

scale is composed of the four dimensions of affect, contribution, loyalty, and


professional respect; and the dimensions are summed to form a single LMX
scale. A sample item is My supervisor would defend me to others in the
organization if I made an honest mistake.
Political skill. We tapped political skill by having employees complete
Ahearn et al.s (2004) unidimensional six-item measure (a = .88). A sample
item is I am good at getting others to respond positively to me.
Turnover intentions. Turnover intentions were measured with Seashore,
Lawler, Mirvis, and Cammanns (1982) three-item scale (a = .87). A sample
item is I will probably look for a new job in the near future.
Job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was measured with Cammann,
Fichman, Jenkins, and Kleshs (1979) three-item scale (a = .86) from the
Organizational Assessment Questionnaire. A sample item is All in all, I am
satisfied with my job.
Control variables. In this study, we controlled for the variables of age,
gender, hours worked per week, positive affectivity (PA), and negative affectivity (NA). These controls were included based on theory and prior research,
which has shown these variables to be related to both turnover intentions and
job satisfaction (e.g., Hochwarter, Perrew, Ferris, & Guercio, 1999; Hom &
Griffeth, 1995; Judge & Ilies, 2004; Spector, 1997). Respondents were asked
to enter their age in years, to provide their gender (0 = male, 1 = female), and
to enter the number of hours worked in an average week. PA and NA were
measured with four-item abbreviated scales used previously by Zellars,
Tepper, and Duffy (2002). Scale reliabilities were .91 and .84 for the PA scale
and the NA scale, respectively. A sample item from the PA scale is I often
feel excited, while a sample item from the NA scale is I often feel upset.
Analyses
We used hierarchical moderated regression analysis to test our hypotheses. In the first step, we entered the control variables of age, gender, hours
worked per week, PA, and NA. Following the analysis procedures recommended by Aiken and West (1991), the centered LMX term was entered in
the second step. It was in this step that we tested Hypotheses 1 and 2. The
centered political skill term was entered in the third step. In the fourth and
final step, we entered the interaction term between LMX and political skill. In
this step, we tested Hypotheses 3 and 4.
Results
Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations are presented in
Table 1. As can be seen, turnover intentions and job satisfaction were

Leadermember exchange
Political skill
Turnover intentions
Job satisfaction
Age
Gender
Hours worked per week
Positive affectivity
Negative affectivity

Note. N = 239.
*p < .05. **p < .01.

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

Variable

3.77
3.84
2.61
4.01
31.15
1.54
40.85
4.01
2.25

M
0.76
0.60
1.19
0.78
11.38
0.46
11.03
0.69
0.83

SD

.37**
-.40**
.51**
.09
.01
.27**
.44**
-.25**

Means and Intercorrelations Among Study Variables

Table 1

-.13*
.34**
.07
.07
.13*
.50**
-.23**

-.49**
-.27**
-.07
-.20**
-.24**
.20**

.27**
.06
.26**
.47**
-.26**

.17**
.23**
.14**
-.06

-.07
.10
.01

.19**
-.05

-.25**

2384 HARRIS ET AL.

LMX AND POLITICAL SKILL

2385

moderately related (r = -.49). This finding, which was expected, based on


previous research (Hom & Griffeth, 1995), shows that although the outcomes
were related, they were in opposite directions and empirically distinct.
Table 2 provides the results of our hierarchical moderated regression
analyses. As can be seen in Step 1, the control variables of age, PA, and NA
were significantly related to turnover intention; while age, hours worked per
week, PA, and NA were significantly related to job satisfaction. In Step 2,
LMX was significantly negatively related to turnover intentions and significantly positively related to job satisfaction. These findings provide support
for Hypotheses 1 and 2.
In Step 3, political skill was not significantly related to either dependent
variable. Finally, in the fourth and final step, the interaction between LMX
and political skill was significantly related to both turnover intention and job
satisfaction. However, to determine support for our interaction hypotheses,
we first needed to graph our findings. We did so using a procedure similar to
the one recommended by Stone and Hollenbeck (1989), in which we plotted
two slopes: one at 1 SD below the mean, and one at 1 SD above the mean.
These graphs are presented in Figures 1 and 2.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the highest levels of turnover intentions
resulted when LMX was low and political skill was high, while the lowest
levels of turnover intentions resulted when LMX and political skill were both
high. These results provide full support for Hypothesis 3. Figure 2 illustrates
the interaction on job satisfaction and shows that, as expected, the lowest
levels of job satisfaction occurred when LMX and political skill were low; but
the highest levels of job satisfaction occurred when LMX was high and
political skill was low. Thus, we found only partial support for Hypothesis 4.
Discussion
One purpose of the present study was to examine a relatively new,
more comprehensive measure of LMX. We utilized social exchange theory as
a guiding framework and found that the results examining LMXMDM
(Liden & Maslyn, 1998) were indeed consistent with those previously found
using unidimensional measures almost exclusively (e.g., Gerstner & Day,
1997; Schriesheim et al., 1999). This finding is important, as the results from
different studies using different measures are difficult to compare. Without
constructive replication studies, there is less confidence about the generalizability of the true relationships. However, we hope that future research will
examine both the LMXMDM and unidimensional measures in the same
study to determine better the differential associations, as well as any incremental predictive abilities these measures have with the same outcomes from
the same data.

2386 HARRIS ET AL.


Table 2
Hierarchical Moderated Regression Analysis Results for Interactions Between
LMX and Political Skill
Turnover intentions
b
Step 1: Control variables
Age
Gender
Hours worked per week
Positive affectivity
Negative affectivity
Turnover intention,
F(5, 233) = 7.87*
Job satisfaction,
F(5, 233) = 19.24*
Step 2: LMX
Turnover intention,
F(6, 232) = 11.06*
Job satisfaction,
F(6, 232) = 23.69*
Step 3: Political skill
Turnover intention,
F(7, 231) = 9.64*
Job satisfaction,
F(7, 231) = 20.44*
Step 4: LMX Political Skill
Turnover intention,
F(8, 230) = 9.10*
Job satisfaction,
F(8, 230) = 18.51*

R2

DR2

.15

.15**

-.22**
-.04
-.06
-.07*
.09*

Job satisfaction
b

R2

DR2

.30

.30**

.17**
.01
.08*
.22**
-.11*

-.35**

.23

.08**

.32**

.39

.09**

.03

.23

.00

.03

.39

.00

-.13*

.25

.02*

-.10*

.40

.01*

Note. LMX = Leadermember exchange. N = 239. Standardized betas from final


step.
*p < .05. **p < .01.

LMX AND POLITICAL SKILL

2387

3.30

Turnover Intentions

3.10
2.90
2.70

High Political Skill

2.50

Low Political Skill

2.30
2.10
1.90
Low

High
Levels of LMX

Figure 1. Hypothesized moderating effects of political skill on relationship between leader


member exchange (LMX) and turnover intentions.

4.40

Job satisfaction

4.30
4.20
4.10

Low political skill

4.00

High political skill

3.90
3.80
3.70
3.60
Low

High
Levels of LMX

Figure 2. Hypothesized moderating effects of political skill on relationship between leader


member exchange (LMX) and job satisfaction.

Our finding that political skill moderates the relationships between LMX
and the outcomes of turnover intentions and job satisfaction makes a contribution to the extant literature and has implications for researchers and
practitioners. Of primary importance is the notion that it is not only the
quality of the relationship that an individual has with his or her supervisor,
but also how politically skilled an individual is that determines two key job
outcomes. This finding is important, as numerous LMX researchers have
called for studies examining moderators of LMXoutcome relationships with
the goal of better explaining these associations (e.g., Gerstner & Day, 1997;

2388 HARRIS ET AL.


Schriesheim et al., 1999). High-quality LMX relationships provide employees with increased access, communication, and support (Liden et al., 1997).
Individuals in high-quality exchanges, who are also highly politically skilled,
have more opportunities to use their social understanding and to influence
situations.
On the other hand, highly politically skilled individuals in low-quality
LMX relationships receive fewer benefits from their supervisors (Graen &
Scandura, 1987). Additionally, research has shown that the quality of LMX
relationships is unlikely to change over time (Liden et al., 1993), thus
resulting in these subordinates realizing that they will be at a permanent
disadvantage in the workplace. Employees who are high in political skill
and who are in these low-quality exchanges are likely to understand the
social situation and, therefore, are more likely to examine options for
leaving the organization, perhaps forming a high-quality LMX relationship
at a new company. Further, because highly politically skilled individuals
have vast networks (Ferris et al., 2005), they will likely have more opportunities to leave. In terms of job satisfaction, individuals high in political
skill are likely to be less satisfied because of the lack of benefits from their
supervisors, but they will be happier than their less politically skilled counterparts, as the politically skilled individuals have the ability to influence
job situations.
Interestingly, the highest levels of job satisfaction occurred when
individuals had low political skill and were in high-quality relationships
with their supervisors. Although at first blush this seems surprising, the
tenets of LMX theory provide a possible explanation. Individuals in
high-quality relationships receive many benefits, including support and
interaction (Dienesch & Liden, 1986). These benefits can help low
politically skilled subordinates, who lack social workplace understanding
(i.e., low political skill), to achieve their goals and performance objectives.
As a result, they are likely to be more satisfied. Essentially the high-quality
relationship can help individuals lower in political skill to overcome this
weakness.
The findings that the positive benefits of LMX (i.e., lowered turnover
intentions) are enhanced for individuals high in political skill lead to realworld suggestions. Ferris, Davidson et al. (2005) discussed ideas for
improving employees political skill, with one of those being political skill
training. Additionally, managers should be aware that political skill can
be a good thing (i.e., lowered turnover intentions in a high-quality LMX
relationship), but these same individuals may be the most likely to leave
an organization when they are in a lower quality exchange. Thus,
managers need to be cognizant that high political skill can be a doubleedged sword.

LMX AND POLITICAL SKILL

2389

Strengths and Limitations of the Present Study


The present study has a number of strengths that we would like to highlight. First, we examined two outcome variables, one of which was an attitudinal variable (i.e., job satisfaction) and one that was a behavioral
intention variable (i.e., turnover intentions). Second, we used theory to
propose our interaction hypotheses and found significant interactions for
both outcome variables. Further, the variables and interaction terms in our
analyses explained 25% of the variance in turnover intentions and 40% of the
variance in job satisfaction. Third, we controlled for two important demographic variables (i.e., age, gender), hours worked per week, and PA and NA.
Controlling for these variables provides a stronger, more conservative test of
the proposed relationships. Finally, the diversity of the jobs in our
sampleas opposed to a sample composed of workers all from one
organizationprovides tentative evidence of the generalizability of the
studys results.
Although there are strengths in the present study, there are weaknesses
that must be acknowledged to interpret the studys results properly. First, our
research design may be threatened by common method variance (CMV;
Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003), as all of our measures were
collected from the same individuals using the same method at the same time.
To examine the potential role that CMV played in our findings, we conducted
a Harmon one-factor test (Podsakoff & Organ, 1986). This test factoranalyzes our measures to determine if all of the scales load on one main factor
and whether the main factor accounts for the majority of the explained
variance. If the measures load on one factor or the majority of the variance
is explained by a single main factor, then the results are most likely threatened by CMV. Our results show that CMV was not a pervasive problem, as
the scales loaded on multiple factors and the main (first) factor explained
only 33% of the variance, which is far less than the majority. Additionally,
previous researchers have shown that CMV does not constitute a threat when
testing for interaction effects (e.g., Wall, Jackson, Mullarkey, & Parker,
1996). Nonetheless, we hope that future studies will employ research designs
that minimize or eliminate CMV concerns.
A second limitation is that our interaction terms explained only 1% and
2%, respectively, in our outcome variables. Although relatively small, these
numbers were not unexpected in organizational, non-laboratory research of
non-main effects (e.g., Harvey et al., 2007; Perrew et al., 2005). Utility
analyses have shown that variance explanations of as little as 1% can have
significant monetary impacts (e.g., Fichman, 1999; Rosenthal, 1990).
A third limitation relates to our method for collecting data. Although we
made a number of efforts to ensure the accuracy and honesty of our

2390 HARRIS ET AL.


responses, we must acknowledge that a certain level of control over the
data-collection process is lost when students collect data.
A fourth and final limitation of our study is that the results in this study
did not necessarily reproduce the causality suggested. Although the direction
of the relationships is in line with theory and might seem clear, it is possible
that the associations between the variables are bidirectional. In particular,
individuals who are lower or higher in job satisfaction or turnover intentions
may actually influence the quality of relationships they form with their supervisors. We invite future researchers to examine this possibility.
Directions for Future Research
Our results point to a number of avenues for future research. One is to
investigate the impact of other theoretically important moderators of LMX
outcome relationships. Such research efforts have been called for (e.g.,
Schriesheim et al., 1999), and results such as ours show the utility of examining more complex relationships. In particular, we invite future researchers to
examine the moderating effects of personality, such as core self-evaluations
(Judge & Bono, 2001) and the Big Five dimensions; as well as situational
variables, including social stressors, workplace bullying, and politics.
We also suggest that future research should investigate the interactive
influence of LMX and political skill on other outcomes of interest. We
examined turnover intentions and job satisfaction, but studies on the consequences of job performance, organizational citizenship behaviors, and voluntary turnover would provide us with a better understanding of LMX
relationships and their impact on key organizational outcomes. Further, it
would be interesting to see if there are any nonlinear effects, or if political
skill actually moderates curvilinear effects of LMX on job outcomes (e.g.,
Harris, Kacmar, & Witt, 2005; Hochwarter & Byrne, 2005).
Another avenue for future research is to examine the potential for a direct
relationship between political skill and LMX. In our study, these variables
were correlated at .37, which suggests that there may some sort of interplay
between the constructs. In particular, it would be interesting to examine the
notion that individuals who are higher in political skill might find themselves
in high-quality LMX relationships more frequently than others.
A final direction for future research is to investigate the multidimensional
measure of political skill. In this study, we utilized a six-item unidimensional
measure (Ahearn et al., 2004; Ferris et al., 1999). However, recent research
has theoretically proposed and empirically validated a multidimensional
measure of political skill (Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005). The multidimensional measure, which is strongly related to the unidimensional measure that
was employed in the present study (r = .78; Ferris, Treadway et al., 2005), is

LMX AND POLITICAL SKILL

2391

composed of the four dimensions of social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability, and apparent sincerity (Ferris, Treadway et al.,
2005). Future research should examine these dimensions and determine if
they show differential impacts in moderating LMXoutcome relationships.
For example, it may be that the networking ability dimension is the primary
moderating force of the LMX/job-satisfaction relationship, as those who are
high in networking ability will likely go elsewhere for relationships in the
firm, which would supplement what is lacking in their low-quality LMX
relationship.
In conclusion, our findings are consistent with extant research (e.g., Gerstner & Day, 1997; Schriesheim et al., 1999), as we found that the quality of
LMX relationship is related to key organizational outcomes. A unique contribution of the present study is that we demonstrated the important role
political skill can play in changing the LMXconsequence associations. This
result adds to our cumulative knowledge on these topics, and we hope that
our research will spur future researchers to continue to examine these variables and to find out more about their interactive effects.

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