big fish in a small pond
This term refers to an important or highly-ranked person in a small group or organisation.
“He could get a job with a big company but he enjoys being a big fish in a small pond.”
bring to heel
If you force someone to behave in a disciplined manner, you bring them to heel.
“The boy had always behaved badly, but the new headmaster managed to bring him to heel.”
bulldoze (someone) into doing something
A person who is bulldozed into doing something is forced to do it, especially by being bullied or intimidated.
“The immigrants we bulldozed into accepting the work.”
call the shots / call the tune
The person who calls the shots or the tune is the one who makes all the important decisions and is in control of the situation
“He shows a lot of authority but in fact it’s his wife who calls the shots.”
If a person or organisation carries weight, they are influential or important.
“I’m glad she’s on our side – her opinion carries a lot of weight.”
too many chiefs, not enough Indians
This expression refers to a situation where there are too many people giving instructions and not enough people doing the work.
“The business wasn’t successful. There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
corridors of power
This term refers to the higher levels of government or administration where important decisions are made.
“The matter is the subject of much discussion in the corridors of power at the present time.”
crack the whip
If you crack the whip, you use your authority to make someone obey you or work more efficiently, usually by threatening them.
“Every so often I’ll crack the whip to make sure we meet the deadline.”
dance to someone’s tune
If you dance to someone’s tune, you do whatever that person tells you to do.
“He is the company’s major shareholder so the management has to dance to his tune.”
draw a line in the sand
If you draw a line in the sand, you establish a limit beyond which a certain situation or activity will not be accepted.
“That’s it! We’re going to draw a line in the sand and make this our final proposal.”
force someone’s hand
If you force someone’s hand, you make them do something unwillingly or sooner than planned.
“The interviewer forced Brad’s hand and made him reveal his relocation plans.”
friends in high places
If you know important or influential people in business or government, you have friends in high places.
“He wouldn’t have succeeded without help from friends in high places.”
get/have by the short hairs (or: by the short and curlies)
If you get or have someone by the short hairs, you put them in a difficult situation from which they cannot escape, so you have complete control over them.
“They are in no position to refuse; we’ve got them by the short hairs!”
with a heavy hand
Dealing with or treating people with a heavy hand means acting with discipline and severity, with little or no sensitivity.
“He ran the juvenile delinquent centre with a heavy hand.”
hold the reins
The person who holds the reins is someone who is in complete control of a company, firm or organisation.
“He’s been holding the reins for over 20 years and intends to continue for as long as possible.”
(be) in the driving seat
If a person is in charge or in control of a situation, or in a position in which they are able to control what happens, it is said that they are in the driving seat.
“With a new president in the driving seat, the company hopes to improve relations with the shareholders.”
iron fist/hand in a velvet glove
This expression is used to describe someone who, behind an appearance of gentleness, is inflexible and determined.
“To impose the necessary reforms, the leader used persuasion followed by force – an iron fist in a velvet glove.”
knock (some) sense into
When you knock sense into somebody, you use strong words or methods in order to get that person to stop behaving stupidly.
“When Jason announced that he was going to drop out of college, his uncle managed to knock some sense into him.”
lay down the law
Someone who lays down the law tells people very forcefully and firmly what to do.
“The volunteers helped in a disorganised way.They needed someone to lay down the law.”
might is right
This saying expresses the belief that being the most powerful person or country gives you the right to do whatever you want.
“There are many leaders today who believe that might is right.”
my way or the highway
If you say to someone ‘it’s my way or the highway’, you are telling them that either they accept to do as you say or they leave the project.
“You don’t have much choice when someone says: ‘it’s my way or the highway.’!”
This term refers to a person, organisation or country that is less powerful or threatening than they appear to be.
“He threatens to take strong action but he’s just another paper tiger.”
This term refers to the power children exert over their parents by continually nagging or pestering them until they accept to buy advertised toys or fashionable products.
“Pester power leads busy parents to buy more and more for their children.”
power behind the throne
Someone with no apparent authority who has great influence over the person officially in charge is said to be the power behind the throne.
“It’s essential to be on good terms with his wife. Apparently she’s the power behind the throne.”
If someone pulls strings, they use influential friends in order to obtain an advantage.
“David found a job easily – his father just pulled a few strings!”
put someone in their place
If someone causes offence or irritation by speaking or behaving in an inappropriate manner, you put them in their place by letting them know that they are not as important as they seem to believe.
“The new trainee is not in a position to criticise our methods. He needs to be put in his place!”
put the squeeze on
If you put the squeeze on someone, you put pressure on them to force them to do something.
“Bob was reluctant to work with Ben until the boss put the squeeze on him.“
read the riot act
If you declare with force and authority that something must stop, and announce the consequences if it happens again, you read the riot act.
“Dad read us the riot act when we messed up his tool-shed.”
rule the roost
If you rule the roost, you are the most important and powerful person in a group or community.
“Officially David runs the company, but it’s his father who rules the roost“
seal of approval
If a project or contact receives a seal of approval, it receives formal support or approval from higher authorities.
“We can’t conclude the deal without the director’s seal of approval.”
speak softly and carry a big stick
If you speak softly and carry a big stick, you express your views quietly, in a non-aggressive manner, but you make it clear that you are in a position to use force if necessary.
“As a leader he recommends the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick‘ method.”
tail wagging the dog
This expression refers to a situation where there is a reversal of roles, with the small or minor element having a controlling influence on the most important element.
“If you let your children decide on everything, it will be a case of the tail wagging the dog!”
take it upon yourself
If you take it upon yourself to do something, you do it without asking for permission or agreement.
“My colleague took it upon herself to redecorate the office during my absence.”
To say that a person, group or country is top dog means that they are better or more powerful than others.
“She’s top dog in cosmetics today.”
under your thumb
If someone is under your thumb, they are completely under your control or influence.
“Nobody ever protests. He has the whole group under his thumb.”
gain/get the upper hand
If a person or organisation gains or gets the upper hand, especially in a fight or competition, they take control over something.
“We increased our market share and gained the upper hand over our competitors.”
wear the trousers
The partner in a couple who wears the trousers is the one who makes all the important decisions.
“The salesman hesitated before the couple. It was difficult to see who wore the trousers“