The home side had the bulk of the play at Pittodrie but had to wait until the final quarter before making the breakthrough as Pawlett pounced on a loose ball for the game’s decisive moment.
The Dons may have won their last five matches against Kilmarnock – and six of their last seven in the league – but it was the away side who made the brighter start.
Aberdeen had the first sight of goal, though, after Craig Samson blocked Jonny Hayes’ shot, but Adam Rooney could not quite force the rebound home.
Robbie Muirhead and Lee Miller threatened for the visitors but again it was Aberdeen who were profligate shortly after, this time David Goodwillie seeing his shot from 16 yards come back off the crossbar.
Niall McGinn and Pawlett were catching the eye for the home side but despite their best efforts they could not prise open the well-marshalled Killie defence, although they did lose full-back Darryl Westlake to injury before half-time.
Pawlett went close with a cross-shot then Manuel Pascali had to be alert to clear as Ryan Jack threatened as the pressure mounted on Samson’s goal. McGinn was the next to go close before Pawlett finally settled the home fans’ nerves in the 69th minute.
Hayes intercepted Jamie Hamill’s misplaced pass and although his shot was parried by Samson, Pawlett was first to react to the loose ball and slotted home.
Muirhead and Hamill both put late efforts over the crossbar but Aberdeen stood firm to leapfrog Inverness in the standings.