To reach the top of your company, you have to master office politics. So says Linda Holbeche, whose study Politics in Organisations was published last year by British management school Roffey Park.

"Senior managers are often engaged in battles for internal resources and supremacy amongst their peers, so only the strong survive," she explains.

Her study involved 120 managers, a survey, and focus groups. The message she got from managers was that political awareness needs to be a key part of management training.

"There is a general consensus," says Holbeche, "that though some people might have higher aptitudes towards this than others - those who demonstrate high degrees of emotional intelligence, for instance - that political awareness is a skill that can be learned like any other.

"Most respondents believe they learned their own political skills by observation and experience rather than formal training, and feel that such a core skill area should not be left to chance."

So what are the best ways of learning?

The Roffey Park survey canvases other studies on organisational politics and says these are the most commonly-recommended strategies for surviving and thriving in the political playpen.

* Set your course

Work out what you want and don't want, and what you are prepared to trade off in against something more desirable in the longer-term.

* Map the political terrain

Office politics work within informal systems and there are no road maps to that hazardous and shifting territory.

So before entering, identify the channels of communication so you can work out how best to hear and be heard. Then identify those with political clout; these are not always the most senior people.

* Build networks and coalitions

Figure out whose help you need, and develop relationships with these people so that they will be there when you need them.

A memo to your boss is sometimes an effective political strategy, but more often it is a sign of powerlessness and lack of political skill and sophistication.

You need a power base from which to work your strategies, especially as you move up the food chain and your success depends increasingly on the work of others.

* Bargain and negotiate

Horse-trading among different interest groups can be the toughest manager challenge. The best way to search for a win-win outcome is to separate people from a problem; focus on interests, not positions; and search together for creative options.

* Build a power base

Managers should build up their power base by being sensitive to what others consider legitimate behaviour in acquiring and using power.

There are many sorts - among them the power to coerce, the power to reward, the power of the expert, the power to recommend to third parties - and the astute will get a good grip on them and understand when and how to employ them.

* Sell ideas

You need friends and allies to get things done - cheerleaders for your plans. These are your immediate boss, peers, managers of related functions, potential collaborators and perhaps even customers, and it's best to secure their support before seeking approval from higher up the ladder.

Political researchers Simon Baddeley and Kim James are right behind political skill-building - and not just so you can win the battle for supremacy against your equally hungry peers.

"Being interested in political skills solely as a means of survival is not enough," they write in their 1987 paper that gave rise to their owl, fox, donkey or sheep matrix on C11.

"Being politically skilled means being able to manage the requisite variety of your organisation. It means you can make the most of the multiplicity of experiences, abilities and perceptions of the people you work with.

"Politics is not something to which you resort when management fails. It is, on the contrary, at the very heart of management."

They say that the skills required would allow managers to deal with these sorts of questions:

* How can I work out what is going on in a meeting which is supposed to be an open discussion, when most of what happens seems predetermined?

* How do I deal with a manager from another department who will lose in a budget battle if I get what I want?

* How can I raise and keep alive what I consider an important issue which seems to have little support, or, worse, is treated with derision?

So what training to help answer those questions is available in New Zealand?

You won't find any courses bluntly labelled "how to deal with office politics" but the sort of courses that might be useful to individuals deal with management skills, communication, influencing and negotiation issues.

For example, how to recognise power issues, increase your power and combat others' forms part of the Victoria University two-day course Winning Negotiations, to be held in August.

Influencing others forms part of the issues covered by the one-day Auckland Chamber of Commerce course Communication Intelligence: the art of assertion and influence, which runs in July and October.

Next May, the University of Auckland Business School offers a two-day workshop called Power, which covers what power is and how it is exercised. A better bet, if you have a group of managers you'd like to become more politically savvy, is approaching an organisation which can tailor-make a course.

"Customised programmes are often linked to leadership development or a particular issue or problem," says Mike Brooks, programme development manager for the University of Auckland business school.

Auckland University of Technology and universities such as Massey, Victoria, and Canterbury are among other organisations offering such tailor-made training.