Organisational Power

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Organizational Power


Power is an intangible force in organizations. It cannot be seen, but its effect can be felt. Power also is an important part of all organized behavior. It characterizes all human interaction. Organizational power permeates all aspects of interpersonal communications and is an essential characteristic of all organizational actions. For organizations, the difference between proper and improper use of power is the difference between success and failure, high and low productivity, motivation and disillusionment. This paper includes a review and analysis of the classical concepts of organizational power in management literature, a description of power style, and research findings on the use of power in every field of organization. Then, the paper will introduce several sources of organizational power and will cite how power influences every aspects of organization.

Keyword: Organizational power, Source of power, expert power, reward power, referent power, legitimate power, crisis, power sharing, maintain power, managing conflict.


Power is an intangible force in organizations. It cannot be seen, but its effect can be felt. Fairholm, G. W (2011) concludes that “power also is an important part of all organized behavior; It characterizes all human interaction” (p. 14). Organizational power permeates all aspects of interpersonal communications and is an essential characteristic of all organizational actions. For organizations, the difference between proper and improper use of power is the difference between success and failure, high and low productivity, motivation and disillusionment. (Fairholm, G. W, 2011, p. 14). Singh, A (2011) also concludes the power in organization as, “dedication to the power is not enough to make an organization successful; the absence of a proper dedication results in poor organizational health and low productivity” (p. 166).

Definition. It is important to understanding what organizational power is. Draft (2012) defines organizational power as, “the ability of one person or department in an organization to influence other people to bring about desired outcome” (p. 531). Organizational power is a result of structural characteristics, because organizations are large and complex system that may contains thousands of employees and hundreds of departments. These departments and system have their own hierarchy structure. For these departments, some positions have access to more information and greater resources, or their performance and contribution to the organization are more critical. So, organizational power reflect large organizational relationships, both horizontal and vertical (Draft, 2012, p. 532).

Power and management. Singh, A (2011) states that, “power is needed even to run the most trivial functions of an organization or project” (p. 166). Power is a prerequisite for success, inspective of people’s inner needs for power. The magnitude and direction of the exercise of power is a function of the intentions and skills of the wielder. Organizational power is consequently seen as a management resource, much like information and technical expertise, which are management resources in their own right. The judicious use and design of organizational power is thus significant. (Singh, A, 2011, p. 166)

Power Basis. Elias, S (2011) states five major types of power in organization, they are “reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, expert power, and referent power” (p. 269). First, Legitimate power is the formal power and authority legitimately granted to the manager under charter by the organization’s peers. This power is clearly assigned by written or verbal contract, and it outlines the manager’s responsibilities. Legitimate power was initially said to be at use when a power holder had a genuine right to ask a target to comply with a request. Second, conceived of reward and coercive power involve the ability of a supervisor to manipulate objects and events of relevance to employees. Reward power is the ability of the manager to confer or withhold rewards such as money, privileges, promotion, or status. Managers may use coercive power as a tool to mention their subordinates that he or she may be deprived of something if he or she does not comply. Third, both expert and referent power were thought of in terms of being positive bases of power. With positive expert power, a subordinate complies with the request of a supervisor because the supervisor knows best. With positive referent power, a subordinate complies with the request of a supervisor because the subordinate identifies with the supervisor. (Elias, S, 2011, p. 275)

Crisis and problems with power. Power can brings positive effect to the development and operation of organization if it has been well used, but the power also could bring negative effects to organization itself, if managers abuse of the power. Knuth, R (2012) brought a new definition, cheap leader, to someone who lack of leadership and abuse of power, “cheap leader is flexible disposition, varying as fortune and circumstances dictate; cheap leaders exist at every level of the organization” (p. 44). Whereas effective leadership advances the common good, cheap leadership is motivated by self-benefit and lust to the power. In addition to manufacturing third-party threats, favorites and reliance on reward power and coercive power identify the cheap leader. Cheap leaders adhere to delegate to others the enactment of unpopular measures and keep in hands the distribution of favors. This conclusion was based on the contention that personal approval from another individual can be a very strong reward, while the threat of rejection can be a very strong form of coercion. (Knuth, R, 2012, p. 45)

For expert and referent power, although positive power has benefit to the organization, but the negative of such power cannot be ignored. There are situations in which expert and referent power can take negative forms. For example, while a supervisor may possess superior knowledge about a certain facet of his or her job, possessing such knowledge does not necessarily mean that it will be put to use in a way that will benefit his or her subordinates. On the contrary, that supervisor's knowledge may be used in such a fashion (i.e. negative expert power) that strictly benefits him or herself, resulting in resistance to the influence attempt. Negative referent power is said to occur when a supervisor who is disliked or not identified with by his or her subordinates attempts to utilize social power. In such situations, reactance or doing the opposite of what the supervisor requests is likely to occur given his or her subordinates view him or her as being unattractive or unappealing. (Knuth, R, 2012, p. 46)

These managers also cause many damages to the organization. At any level of the organization, cheap leadership has disaffection and dysfunction as its most common byproducts. Cheap leaders intentionally sow the seeds of divisiveness when they create an us-versus-them environment. The prominent fruit of these seeds is mistrust, which often spreads uncontrollably and unpredictably throughout the organization, fostering resentment, rumor, and gossip. The constricted communication that ensues reduces opportunities for employees to participate and demonstrate initiative, causing individuals to feel alienated from the work and the work place. Often, even within fundamentally healthy organizations, there is only a hair's breadth between functionality and dysfunctionality; frequently, cheap leadership provides the additional weight that tips the organization into dysfunctionality. (Knuth, R, 2012, p. 47)

Power Management. It is important for managers and organizations to know how to managing power and how to use their power effectively. McManus, J (2013) provides several helps suggestions for managers to know the way to maintaining and managing power. The first opinion is power sharing. McManus, J (2013) states that “Power sharing is a strategy for resolving difference of opinions over who should have the power” (p. 29). Instead of fighting over who should have power over whom, power sharing relies upon the joint exercise of power. Power sharing can take the form of granting complete independence and allowing a minority group to form its own sovereign nation state. Power sharing also can be more integrative. Governance is handled by leaders from each group who work jointly and cooperatively to make decisions and resolve conflicts. (McManus, J, 2013, p. 31)

The second opinion is about maintaining power. McManus, J (2013) points out, “the purpose of power is to maintain itself and to extend itself” (p. 31). The ruler must make use of any form of manipulation, deceit, and even murder to achieve his ends. People in power are seldom challenged or given bad news, and even when challenged, they have a tendency to reject the discrepant information. It is no wonder, then, that changing circumstances often produce, with some lag, a dynamic that causes those in power to lose that power. To avoid losing power, managers (or leaders) should be sensitive to subtle changes in the political, economic and social environment, and understand how a particular management style, or a particular set of actions jeopardize their position and power base. (McManus, J, 2013, p. 31)

The third suggestion is about managing conflict. Conflict could be argued that a manager's view of the cause of conflict is encouraged by the perspective offered by the classical theory which is largely related to the breakdown of formal authority linked to legitimate power and the need for measures to maintain such power and restore it when need be. Conflict is identified as abnormal behavior and therefore is likely to result in punishment for the perpetrators of deviant behavior. In some respects this supports the view that management is based on a 'unitary view' which carries with it the expectations that everyone within the organization shares the same view, will work together as a team, acknowledge the legitimacy of hierarchy and respect senior management. Anything which appears to interfere with this view is considered 'bad' for business and is dealt with according to the rules, procedures, customs and conventions which exist within a particular organization.

Conclusion. Power and organizations are mutual exclusive in today’s business environment. The development and normal operation of organizations rely on power heavily. If managers have necessary knowledge about what power is and how to use it effectively, the power would bring positive effect to the organization. However, the power also contains several risks and crisis to the organization, because the positive effect of the power to the organization is based on the correct use; if managers’ abuse of the power, the organization may face serious problems. So, power is a Pandora box for both managers and organization, the organizational power is a decision-making exercise for which the managers have to place organizational interests above personal interests. It is only when the managers lead well that personnel will follow enthusiastically and the organization will develop continuously.


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