sources: Power can be rather simply defined. There is general agreement that it has to do with relationships between two or more actors in which the behavior of one is affected by the behavior of the other. Robert Dahl (1957), a political scientist, defines power thus: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something B would not otherwise do” (pp. 202–203). (For other general discussions of power, see Bierstedt, 1950; Blau, 1964; Kaplan, 1964; Weber, 1947:152–193.) If we remember that the he in the definition can also be a she and that A and B are not necessarily individuals, this simple definition captures the essence of the power concept. It implies an important point that is often neglected: the power variable is a relational one. A person or a group cannot have power in isolation; rather, the concept describes a relationship between a given individual or collectivity and another specified person or collectivity (Pfeffer, 1982). Power relationships involve much more than interpersonal power. In organizations, interunit power relationships are an important determinant of organizational outcomes. The units here can be hierarchical levels, such as labor and management, or they can be departments or divisions at the same hierarchical level, such as sales and manufacturing. We will examine interorganizational relationships from the power standpoint at a later phase of the analysis. We have already considered the power of organizations in society. Power is thus a crucial feature of organizations at every level of analysis.
AUTHORITY AND POWER There are many different bases of power and, hence, different types of power. In this context, a key distinction that is commonly drawn is between authority and other forms of power. Weber (1947), in his classic analysis of bureaucratic organization, emphasized this distinction. Authority is a type of power that is based on the acceptance by others of a given individual’s legitimate right to issue orders or directives. Thus, orders are followed because it is believed that they ought to be followed; recipients are expected to “suspend judgment” and comply voluntarily. The exercise of this type of power requires a commonvalue system among members of a collectivity, one that defines who has the right to give orders to whom, and under what conditions. As part of his effort to understand the nature of modern organizations, Weber (1947) developed a widely known typology of authority, one that distinguished among rational–legal, charismatic, and traditional authority. Rational–legal authority characterizes most power relationships in contemporary organizations, as we noted in Chapter 2. It is based on a value system that holds that relations in social groups should be governed by a set of general laws and rules that are created purposively, to deal efficiently and effectively with common problems and questions that people encounter. It is also believed that those laws and rules should be subject to change, if there isa reason to believe that they are not effective or efficient. Consistent with this value system, it is accepted that people with particular knowledge and skills that are relevant to dealing with some set of problems should be assigned to positions or offices that handle those problems. We accept orders that come from those persons and the offices because we assume that they are rational, that is, designed to effectively accomplish some ends (Zucker, 1977). We are not always, and perhaps not even typically, conscious of this assumption, but if pressed to explain our behavior, it is usually reflected in our explanations. For example, at the start of every semester, an instructor hands out a course syllabus to each student. When the students read the assignments, write the papers, and take the examinations, rational–legal authorityhas operated. They have accepted the professor’s right to tell them what to read and what they must do as students in the class, in part because they assume that the professor holds her position because of her relevant knowledge about the topics addressed in the class. This emphasis on positions takes the person out of the equation—we will put the person back in now. Charismatic authority stems from devotion to a particular power holder and is based on his or her personal characteristics. Members of a collective view these characteristics as being extraordinary, indicating special gifts, talents, and abilities; they accept the person’s right to give orders because they believe in the person’s superiority. Although this type of authority is not the main form in most modern organizations, itoccurs occasionally, and it can help or hinder the regular operations of the organization. If a person with rational–legal authority (gained by virtue of the position that he holds) can extend this through the exercise of charismatic authority, he has more power over subordinates than that prescribed by the organization. This additional power may be harnessed to enhance the performance of the organization. If, on the other hand, charismatic authority is held by persons outside the formal authority system, they may use this to contravene rational–legal authority, and the system itself can be threatened. The third form, traditional authority, is based on the belief that an established set of social relations is divinely intended. Within this social system, some individuals were destined to holdpower, or “born to rule.” This was the main basis of political authority in many societies for much of history; Western feudal societies and Eastern dynasties both provide good examples. The Roman Catholic Church serves as at least a partial example of this form of authority in contemporary organizations: the system of pope, cardinals, archbishops, and so on reflects the belief in a divinely ordained set of relations. Dornbusch and Scott (1975) offer an additional distinction that is useful in thinking about authority in organizations, between endorsed and authorized power. This distinction addresses an old debate over the locus of authority in organizations. On the one hand, Chester Barnard (1968) argued that authority resides in the individual who complies with an order. In this bottom-up view of authority, if one individual does not accept another’s right to give an order and fails to comply, the order-giver cannot be said to have authority over that person. On the other hand, Weber’s analysis is predicated on the notion that authority resides in a social collectivity and, more specifically, in shared normative beliefs about who has the right to give orders. Weber’s top-down approach is based on the assumption that noncompliance with an order given by a person with normatively approved authority will result in the application of sanctions by the larger group. By distinguishing between endorsed and authoritative power, Dornbusch and Scott recognized that authority has both bottom-up and top-down aspects. Endorsed power is said to exist when subordinates accept and comply with theorders given by their superiors. Authorized power exists when an individual’s orders are supported and enforced by higher-level members of an organization and, ultimately, by the larger society. This distinction is useful in thinking about situations involving different types of organizational conflicts over authority—mutinies, coups d’état, revolutions, and so forth. OTHER TYPES OF POWER As noted, although authority is an important type of power in organizations, it is not the only type. Other types of power relationships entail dependency, one party’s need or desire for something that another party can provide (Emerson, 1962).When two parties need each other equally, their dependence is mutual—for example, managers need workers to produce goods and services, and workers need managers to provide their pay. But when dependence is not balanced, then one actor may have more power over another than vice versa. Or to put it another way, when A wants or needs things that B has more than B wants things from A, this can provide B with power over A. The things that actors may possess or control that can be sources of power are usually referred to as resources. David Mechanic (1962), analyzing the factors that affected how much power people at lower levels of an organization had, identified three general types of resources in organizations that such members might have access to: persons, information, and “instrumentalities.” The lastrefers to physical or tangible resources, such as machinery, office supplies, and money. If we broaden this list to include nontangible, social factors, such as status and friendship, this constitutes a useful list of basic resources that may provide organizational members with power above and beyond the formal authority they hold.
Tolbert, Pamela S.. Organizations. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
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