Types of Powers

  • Post last modified:26 October 2021
  • Reading time:7 mins read

Power in Organisation

Power refers to a capacity that A has to influence the behaviour of B so B acts in accordance with A’s directions.

Someone can thus have power but not use it; it is a capacity or potential. Probably the most important aspect of power is that it is a function of dependence.

The greater B’s dependence on A, the greater A’s power in the relationship. Dependence, in turn, is based on alternatives that B perceives and the importance B places on the alternatives controlled by A.

A person can have power over you only if he or she controls something you desire. If you want a college degree and have to pass a certain course to get it, and your current instructor is the only faculty member in the college who teaches that course, he or she has power over you.

So, where does the power come from? What gives an individual or a group influence over others? We answer by dividing the bases or sources of power into two general groupings formal and personal—and then breaking each of these down into more specific categories.

7 Types of Powers

Following are the power in organisation:

Formal Power

Formal power is based on an individual’s position in an organisation. It can come from the ability to coerce or reward, or by using formal authority given to the individual based on the structure of the organisation and the position one occupies.

Coercive Power

The coercive power depends on the fear of the negative results from failing to comply. It depends on the application, or the threat of application, of physical sanctions such as the infliction of pain, frustration through restriction of movement, or the controlling by force of basic physiological or safety needs.

At the organisational level, A has coercive power over B if A can dismiss, suspend, or demote B, assuming B values his or her job. If A can assign B work activities B finds unpleasant, or treat B in a manner B finds embarrassing, A possesses coercive power over B.

Coercive power can also come from withholding key information. People in an organisation who have data or knowledge others need can make those others dependent on them.

Reward Power

The opposite of coercive power is reward power, with which people comply because it produces positive benefits; someone who can give rewards others view as valuable will have power over them.

These rewards can be either financial—such as controlling pay rates, raises, and bonuses—or non-financial, including recognition, promotions, interesting work assignments, friendly colleagues, and preferred work shifts or sales territories.

Legitimate Power

In formal groups and in organisations, probably the most common access to one or more of the power bases is through legitimate power.

It represents the formal authority to control and use organisational resources based on structural position in the organisation. Legitimate power is broader than the power to coerce and reward. Specifically, it includes members’ acceptance of the authority of a position.

We associate power closely with the concept of hierarchy that just drawing longer lines in an organisation chart leads people to infer the leaders are especially powerful, and when a powerful executive is described, people tend to put the person at a higher position when drawing an organisation chart.

When school principals, bank presidents, or army captains speak (assuming their directives are viewed as within the authority of their positions), teachers, tellers, and first lieutenants listen and usually comply.

Personal Power

Most competent and productive chip designers at Intel have power, but they aren’t managers and have no formal power. What they have is personal power, which comes from an individual’s unique characteristics.

There are two bases of personal power: expertise and the respect and admiration of others. Leaders in pubic life and political leaders use their personal powers.

Expert Power

Expert power is the one when influence is exercised as a result of expertise, special skill, or knowledge. As jobs become more specialised, we become increasingly dependent on experts to achieve goals.

It is generally acknowledged that physicians have the expertise and hence expert power: Most of us follow our doctor’s advice. Computer specialists, tax accountants, economists, industrial psychologists, and other specialists wield power as a result of their expertise.

Referent Power

Referent power is based on identification with a person who has desirable resources or personal traits. If I like, respect, and admire you, you can exercise power over me because I want to please you. Referent power develops out of admiration of another person and a desire to be like that person.

It explains, why celebrities are paid millions of dollars to endorse products in commercials. Marketing research shows people such as Dhoni, Tendulkar have the power to influence your choice of athletic shoes and healthy food.

With a little practice, you and I could probably deliver as smooth a sales pitch as these celebrities, but the buying public doesn’t identify with you and me. Some people who are not in formal leadership positions nonetheless have referent power and exert influence over others because of their charismatic dynamism, likability, and emotional effects on us.

Which type of Powers is most Effective?

Of the three bases of formal power (coercive, reward, legitimate) and two bases of personal power (expert, referent), research suggests that the personal sources of power are most effective. Both expert and referent power are positively related to employees’ satisfaction with supervision, their organisational commitment, and their performance, whereas reward and legitimate power seem to be unrelated to the commitment and performance.

One source of formal power—coercive power—actually can backfire in that it is negatively related to employee satisfaction and commitment.


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