Most of us spend a good portion of our lives in organizations or indirectly relating to organizations (businesses, non-profits, civic and legal organizations, religious organizations, military and criminal justice organizations, etc.). One might say that in the modern world, we “live in” an environment composed largely of organizations. (See our previous blogposts “Organization Development: What Is It & How Can Evaluation Help?” and “What’s the Difference? 10 Things You Should Know About Organizations vs. Programs”)
Organizations contain, utilize, and deploy various kinds of social power. Such power is the capacity of individuals and groups to affect, control, or influence outcomes (i.e. changes). Power doesn’t exist in isolation, but in relationships to other individuals and/or groups. If we want to accomplish goals at work—whether these goals are about producing widgets, or making the world a better place—we need to draw on and negotiate various kinds of formal and informal power. Sometimes it may be useful to think of various resources as sources of power. Tangible resources include, money, machinery, physical infrastructure, etc. Less tangible, but no less important, resources may include, authority, social status/prestige, social networks, individuals’ intelligence, professional experience, even social attractiveness and charisma. Both tangible and intangible resources are used as sources of power with which organizations achieve objectives and goals.
In her article, “Types of Powers in Organizations,” Diana Dahl summarizes 7 types of power in organizations. These include:
- Coercive Power— a person or group is able to punish others for not following orders has coercive power.
- Connection Power— connection power is gained by knowing and being listened to by influential people. Increasing connections and mastering political networking lead to a greater potential for connection power.
- Reward Power— the ability to give rewards to other employees. Rewards are not always monetary, such as improved work hours and words of praise.
- Legitimate Power (also known as legitimate authority)— when employees believe a person can give orders based on his position within the organization, such as when a manager orders staff members to complete a task and they comply because the orders came from their superior.
- Referent Power— people who are liked, respected, and are viewed by other employees as worth emulating. Supervisors who lead by example, treat employees with respect, seek their collaboration and gain the trust of their employees possess referent power.
- Informational Power— access to valued information. This power can be quickly fleeting because once the needed information is shared, the person’s power is gone.
- Expert Power— the greater a person’s knowledge or specialized skill set, the greater her potential for expert power.
People in organizations must get things accomplished. Having a clear idea of what constitutes organizational power and the kinds of resources that need to mobilized to reach goals, may help us to better navigate what are often complicated and contentious organizations.
Power in Organizations: Structures, Processes and Outcomes, by Richard Hall and Pamela Tolbert Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005, 9th edition
“Types of Powers in Organizations,” by Diana Dahl ; Updated September 26, 2017
Links to and summaries of “Theories of Organizational Power” at bankofinfo.com/theories-of-organizational-power
“Power and Politics in Organizational Life,” Abraham Zaleznik, Harvard Business Review