Concepts Of Power In Organizations Management Essay

Power is important part of any organization, institute or individual. The use of power is at discretion of the one who possess it. This paper discusses the concept of power in and organization and its structure and ideology. It also covers the relationship of power with truth, symbolism and culture. Power is linked with different attributes that a person has, those characteristics and traits are also highlighted in this paper.


Power is defined as imposing you will on the behavior of someone else, and this will is resisted by the people on whom it is exerted regardless of the situation or basis of obedience (Clegg, Courpasson, & Phillip, 2006). Power is a source of pleasure for those who impose it on others. However there are also two sides of power; positive and negative. It can be used in positive way to suppress tyrannies, get freedom and establish democracies. But, in our daily lives, we see that even if the causes are good, the means of exerting power for these positive issues are sometimes very cruel and harsh. Usually words like violence, dominance and manipulation are associated with power hence it is perceived to be negative. But it can be made positive and creative by those organizational media which shape power in any organization can shape it either ways (Clegg, Courpasson, & Phillip, 2006).


All organizations require power to establish coordination of will and energies of employees to achieve the goals and establish a reputation in the market. Power for any organization is like oxygen. When we consider power in context of organization then it refers the influence of an individual on the activities of other people. It is essential for smooth running of the organization that power is delegated to employees according to their rank/ position (Clegg, Courpasson, & Phillip, 2006). The most common example of power is that of a manager in any organization. Manager is responsible for coordination of activities, delegation of tasks and handling other details of the activities of their subordinates. However, other employees also affect each other through use of their power. The source of this power are various such as structure and policies of organization, expertise and skills to handle resources and interpersonal skills of an individual.

Sources of Power

Power of a person could be due to professional (formal) position in organization or it could be personal. In any organizational setting there are five sources/kinds of power (Griffin, 2005).

Formal Power

Legitimate Power

The power that any employee has due to his/her position and hierarchy is known as legitimate power. It is also known as positional power. For example a manger can assign any task to his/her subordinate and those who refuse to do them could be reprimanded or terminated. Such a power is possessed by manager, director or chief executives (CEO, CFO etc.)

Coercive Power

When psychological, physical or emotional force is used in order to bend the will of a person then it is known as coercive power. Today, in most organizations the coercive power is shown by verbal/ written reprimands, disciplinary actions, fines, demotion and termination. For example, threatening an employee with termination in case he refuses to work on a holiday. This power can however also be used to ensure that the employees are following the policies of the organization.

Reward Power

The power of a person to give or withhold rewards of subordinates is known as reward power. It arise form the ability of a person to allocate incentives in the organization. For example, a manger may control rewards of his subordinates; these rewards could be salary increments, bonus, praise, job assignment and recommendation for promotion or interesting assignment. The greater number and importance of rewards handled by manager means the higher is rewards power. If it is used properly then it promotes motivation among employees and if favoritism is exercised then it can demoralize them and affect their performance.

Personal Power

Expert power

The power derived from the knowledge of an individual on a specific topic or field is known as expert power. The more exclusive and important the knowledge, is, the fewer the people who have access to such power. These people are valued for their expertise such as problem solving skills. These people have influence on other people and their ideas, opinions and decisions are highly regarded. They are also more likely to be promoted at early stage of their career. Managers with exceptional interpersonal skills or engineers with technical breakthrough are some of the examples of people with expert power.

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Referent Power

As compared to legitimate power and reward power which are relatively based on objective facts, referent power is abstract. The base of referent power is on identification, loyalty or charisma of a person. It is derived from the interpersonal relationship of a person with his/her peers. People admire them and respect their opinion. People with referent power are also influential due to their charisma. It can also be derived from connections of a person with someone at an influential position such as CEO.

Possible Responses of Power

Different type of power stimulates a different response from the receiver. Following are the three basic responses to the types of powers discussed above (Belen, 2008).

Resistance – when the receiver resist the power in an arrogant manner without any apparent cause. This is mostly in response to Coercive power.

Compliance – act in accordance with the power used but withholding extra effort and exerting minimal energies to accomplish the task. It is most likely to be a response of Reward and Legitimate power.

Commitment – using full energy and effort to satisfy the request by leader. It is a response of Referent and Expert power


Organizational chart of any company shows the position of each person in the hierarchy of the company. The more a person is near to the top of the chart is the most power they have in the organization. However, power structure of any organization is not limited to the hierarchy; it is different form the formal organizational structure (Nielsen).

Hierarchical Power Structure

In an organization where power is directly proportional to the position in the hierarchy then it is called hierarchical power structure. Power in an organization usually means ability to give orders, and in hierarchy power is reduced in downward direction throughout the organization. It is the most common power structure used by companies all around the world. In this structure, usually employee report to one manager/superior only (Nielsen).

Flat and Matrix Organizations

Flat and Matrix organization structures follow a system in which many past layers of management have been removed so that the employees also become a member in the decision making power of the company (Nielsen). One employee is answerable to more than one manger. It is followed by companies which function in manufacturing or designing. Due to interaction of different departments, one employee might be accountable to manager operations as well as manager sales. The power structure in these organizations will also be intersecting.

Power Fiefdoms

Irrespective of organizational structure, there are methods and chance for people to create power center or fiefdoms. These can be created by individuals or group of employees. The knowledge about these power centers can help the employee or manager to get things done in the organization. For example, if the design team in any organization have created power center then it will be easier for them to give approval of product ideas despite the fact that they might not have been approved by marketing team after careful consideration. Or if marketing team has disproportionate power then they can insist development of product that might not be suitable for accomplishing organizational goals.


Discourse can be simply defined as conversation or information. For Michel Foucault, disclosure was through knowledge. He says that if an individual is the sum of his/her knowledge then those who have control on the experience of their early life also have greater power. More people in a family means that the knowledge of a child is enriched by many minds, and in isolated family it means is limited to restricted amount of knowledge. We can say that isolated family few people create the personality and identity of the child (Foucault, 1980).

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According to Foucault (1980) other attributes that are created by discourse are truth, morality and meaning. He does not focus on individual power; he says the society also possesses some knowledge. Thus discourse is created when society uses its knowledge. Power spreads in different forms and creates certain knowledge and truth. We can say that power determines truth, and as the system of society change so does the truth. Hence, Foucault’s discourse is related to any information which creates knowledge and knowledge helps in the creation of truth. Thus it is like a ripple effect. But, Foucault admits that this type of truth is neither true nor false. Truth is constructed whereas power is created. Power generated through discourse can allow parents to beat children if they disobey thus discourse is the key. If power changes through resistance of any kind then truth and knowledge also change accordingly. There will always be this connection between them (Foucault, 1980). New Historicism also agree to this concept that truth is fabricated and constructed. For them, knowledge is independent of perspective. The western people create knowledge about non-western people which is totally based on their perceptions only.

Foucault explains in great length what power is and why people do some irrational actions for it. It has some very serious disadvantages. According to him, morality does not exist in absolute form, it is created through power. A discourse is never pure; there always exist some counter -discursive element because without it change will not exist. Change also requires a means of communication and self-representation. Without it, a person will only see what the discourse provides him and it will be limited to the said society (Foucault, 1980). He also believed that truth is the political-economic force that commands the power in society. He explains that:

“‘Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements…….’Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it. A ‘regime’ of truth. (Foucault, 1980)”


In any organization, the activities of employees which are conducted to acquire, develop or use power and other resources to obtain a preferred outcome for a an uncertain and dissent situation or choice (Pfeffer, 1992).

Factors Influencing Political Behavior:

There are two types of factors that influence the behavior of employees towards politices (Fairholm, 2009):

Individual factors:

The individual factors that influence political behavior are:

High self-esteem monitors

Internal locus of control

Organizational investment

Perceived job alternatives

Exceptions of success

Organizational factors:

The organizational factors that influence political behavior are:

Reallocation of resources

Promotion opportunities

Low trust

Role ambiguity

Unclear performance evaluation system

High performance pressure

Self-serving senior managers

Political Tactics

There are several political tactics used in organizations by individuals or groups in order to have their way with the management or achieve a certain outcome. Some people attack or blame others on the mistakes or any other situation. Creating a favorable image of ones-self or a situation so that the person who has the power to approve or make decision can make it in their favor. Some other methods and tactics of politics in organization are consultation, exchange, developing a base of support, inspirational appeal, pressure and coalition (Pfeffer, 1992).

Effect on Management and Managers:

When employees try to take their actions to chief executive suit, then it affects the whole management and managers. Also, when managers interfere and place themselves in other person’s position who is involved in critical situation or event then he is also affected by the tactics.

Limiting the Effects of Political Behavior

Organizations need to take measures in order to minimize the effects of political behavior. Following are some of the steps that can be useful in reducing the effect of political behavior among employees (Fairholm, 2009):

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Create open communication

Provide employees with sufficient resources

Introduce and implement clear policies and rules

Free flowing information

Measure performance of employees not their personalities

Remove political norms from organizations

Judge the level of political behaviour at the time of hiring

Provide opportunities for dialogue regarding peer pressure against politics


Sometimes, politics is used to gain power in the organization. There are many tactics and methods of gaining power through politics but some of them described by Belen are mentioned below (Belen, 2008):

Social Exchange – this type of tactic relies on a continued relationship between two people where both parties feel obligated to repay their social “debt”

Alliances – when two or more people join a long-term group to get desired benefit from it

Identification with Higher Authority – to gain special privileges by getting acquainted or being identified with an influential person in the organization

Selective Service – by bending rules and giving selective service to others for personal gain

Power and Status Symbol – acquiring a social status and power that depicts that you are a powerful person in the organization

Power Play – showing aggressive political behaviour to grab power from others

Networks – forming or joining groups in the organization which have common objectives and operate on contacts and friendships


Every individual has certain characteristics that could serve as the attribute as a source of power. For example, physical appearance and confidence could be the source of referent power. On the other hand judgment, education, training and competence could be the source of expert power. Similarly, trustworthiness, personal drive and friendly behavior could be the reason of having reward power in any organization. An individual with skill and initiative/personal drive could have legitimate power in an organization (Fairholm, 2009). Other individual attributes that are source of gaining power in an organization are energy, endurance, stamina, avoid wasted effort, sensitivity, flexibility, willingness to engage in conflict and confrontation if required, submerge ego temporarily and be a team player (Pfeffer, 1992).


As we established the fact that power is not necessarily a negative thing, the effect is dependent on the use of it. Studies show that if the employees are giving certain power thay will feel competent and will have more eagerness to work. They will be more creative and in control of their work and surroundings. They will also be optimistic and will work for the productivity of the organization. Therefore, managers need take certain measures in order to fulfill the need of social power of his/her employees. Some of these measures are (RHR International, 1997):

Seek their advice and counsel

Include them in briefings and meetings and make them part of decision making

Expand their authority

Let them know that their efforts have a positive impact on the organization

Delegate significant assignments to them

Assign them to task forces to bring them into the decision-making circle

Acknowledging the accomplishment of employees feeds their need for power. If the power is used judiciously then it can promote higher motivation, teamwork, initiative and growth of organization as well as individuals. On the other hand, use of personal power negatively can create groups of people who are crafty, suspicious and are only loyal to themselves. So it is important to have a behavioral and personality questions along with skill and knowledge in the process of hiring and interviewing. The individual’s personality also pays a great contribution in being the source of power acquired. Certain attributes like trustworthy, friendly, initiative, flexible, sensitivity and creativity can lead an individual on being powerful in an organization. Also, power is related to knowledge and truth in the society however, truth can be fabricated and constructed but it still changes the power in a society by change.

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