On what is a manager’s power based? What might a manager need to consider when attempting to use power to accomplish something at work? In an attempt to answer these questions, it is necessary to understand what makes managers effective and this requires a through analysis of the complexities of power relationships and influence processes found in organisations. I will seek to examine the different sources of power, the relationship of these power sources to a manager and the ways in which managers can use power to accomplish goals be it their own or the organisations.
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Power has been described and defined in different ways by different people. A definition of power by Tawney (1931) is: “The Capacity of an individual, or group to modify the conduct of other individuals or groups in a manner which they desire and without having to modify their own conduct in a manner they do not desire. ” People can interpret power differently. Some love the talk of power and welcome it and on the other hand some hate it and despise the thought of someone having power over them. Power is often seen as a dirty word that politics is based upon, “this is a misconception” (Hales, 2003).
Power is what makes the process of management possible and it exists and operates in organisations all the time whether or not it is apparent. Different types of power exist and are used in different ways to achieve different desired goals. Power is central to management; it is the leverage that makes management possible. An understanding of power is essential to understanding management. It is a vast, complex and confusing area to understand and analyse. Power, also described as influence and authority are the means for carrying out managerial responsibilities and functions.
Power is the capacity that stems from resources enabling you to change people’s behaviour. Influence is the actual process of getting people to do things you need done. Authority is the actual power bestowed to managers which gives them the right to influence this over a person, which is deemed acceptable and right. Robert Dahl in his early article, ‘The Concept of Power’, described his ‘intuitive idea of power’ as A having power over B to the extent that he gets B to do something which B wouldn’t normally do. (Lukes, 1974). This model has ambiguities, as it is simplistic and circular.
It ignores perception; it does not show what B thinks of A. It also doesn’t indicate as to what A and B are, individuals or subunits of people. A person or group has power if the other group is dependant on them; this comes from an unequal distribution of resources. If you have what they want or you can do what they wish to avoid. How power operates is contingent on circumstances. Conditions apply such as resources being scarce, important or non-substitutable. Scarce means no one can have it. Important implies being central to others needs, what they want but have not got.
Some stakeholders offer more to a company so become most important, therefore having the most power. Non-Substitutable are when resources cannot be obtained anywhere other than from you. Bass (1960) and Etzioni (1961) talk of the dichotomy between positional and personal power. Power comes about in part from the opportunities inherent in a person’s position in the organisation and in part from the attributes of the manager and manager-subordinate relationship. Research by Yukl and Flabe (1992) demonstrated that these two types of power are quite independent and each includes some distinct but partially overlapping components.
There are two dimensions in which a Managers power can be based in relation to their subordinates, peers and superiors. Personal power is what a manager holds by virtue of resources they have, like knowledge. Positional power is derived from having access to or control over resources, which result from your position and role in the organisation. Examples of this can be having access to security to get people thrown out of the company, or having access to a database which holds vital information which is knowledge. There are typologies of power resources, French and Raven (1959) identified the different bases of social power.
Firstly reward power, where the individual complies to get benefits. Secondly, coercive power where a person complies to avoid any form of punishments. Thirdly, legitimate power where the individual feels obliged to agree because they accept power over them. Fourth is described as expert power, where the individual complies because they believe the other to have special knowledge or skills. Lastly, referent power where the person conforms because they admire and identify to superiors. Raven (1965) later added to include informational power where the individual conforms in order to receive desired information.
The problem with this typology regarding management power is that it is quite unclear and vague. It focuses only on reasons for compliance by individuals and it gives no indication of where power resources reside, in person or position. Professor Hales (2001) has described four resources which bestow power, Physical, Economic, Knowledge and Normative: – Physical is the capacity to do someone physical harm or restrict their movement. This can be due to personal or positional power a manager holds. This is the type of power people evidently do not like, as it is a physical bullying force.
It still exists and there is evidence of this in the workplace. A prime example is forced slave labour in Burma, which has been going on for years. Entrepreneurs use their physical strength to get their own way. Economic power is the money or material resources, which can be individual wealth. Managers have access to budgets and organisational money. Knowledge is possessing the information know how and expertise. You therefore have power over people by virtue of that knowledge. This is further broken down into two sub types: administrative and technical.
Administrative is how the organisation works. Technical is how things are done, knowledge of techniques. Normative is the power of emotions, ideas, beliefs and values. If used effectively it is the most potent form of power. It is made up of affective and moral power. Affective draws on scarce resources which are attracted to appealing to other people however this can be used negatively. The manager would be looked up to because of who they are as they run the department. Moral power is that which is bestowed on someone because of his or her command of scarce meanings.
They promote a set of beliefs and values which others find attractive because it makes the world more understandable, therefore they have the power over people as they see you as a source of inspiration. Influence is power in action, the actual use of power. It can get complex and difficult to see power in operation. You have to look for subtle ways in which influence is applied. It is not visible but exists. Influence can be positive or negative, the former providing resources offering bonuses and giving information or inspiring.
The latter is withholding resources, concealing information and failing to inspire. The use of power may also be actual when a resource is used or drawn upon. It can also take the form of provisional which could be threatening someone with force or disapproval or promising a reward, information, guidance or help. Overt use of power is explicit when you get threatened or the implication is there. Covert power is implied and invisible however you must not be misled, it is there and it is working. This implies power and its use are not always obvious.
Foucault (1977) has distinguished between sovereign power and disciplinary power. The first being power you can see it is occasional, dramatic and arbitrary. The second and most common form of power in an organisation is continuous, rational, invisible and cannot be argued with. It is the way people exercise power over themselves, nobody tells them. They feel a sense of obligation; they may feel obliged to dress or talk in a particular way or to stay longer. Each type of power resource has an influence; physical power is coercion, actual force or an implied threat.
Economic power is remuneration to give bonuses, rewards or to withhold them. Knowledge power uses influence as persuasion, giving information and trying explicitly to persuade them. Normative power uses the command of emotional resources, moral persuasion through inspiration and appealing to people’s values. An example of exercising power in a negative way is that in an organisation is if a boss asks a rather timid worker to stay late, this is difficult for the worker as he/she has to such pick their child up from a childminder.
However the boss uses the power given to him/her due to status and the employee reluctantly stays and ends up resenting the boss. For the effective use of influence it must be consistent with available power resources, i. e. the power resource must be present and must be used appropriately (Hales, 2001). Power and influence have to be relative. The success of using power to influence others behaviour depends on how much power others have and how they respond to the attempts to influence their behaviour at work. A manager has to recognise the three levels of response to power and influence.
These are perception, evaluation and behaviour. People need to recognise they are being influenced, power and influence is effective when they see it as an undefined but inevitable force. People also evaluate the legitimacy of the power and influence a manager is trying to have over them and deem it to be acceptable or not. If it is acceptable people recognise the authority and comply. If it is not accepted, then it is labelled as crude power. Thirdly, the behaviour and commitment of a person to respond through reluctant obedience, compliance to gain a reward, being persuaded or a willing compliance.