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12 Sources Of Power In Organizations

Are you eager to find out what gives people the power they have in your organization? Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan discusses different sources of power in organizational settings. This post lists 12 of the power sources laid out in his book.

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1. Formal authority

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Formal authority is most commonly seen in the form of the position one holds in the organization. It is a legitimized source of power generally respected by those in the organization. People who hold higher positions (i.e. CEO's, managers, supervisors, etc.) inherently have more power or authority. The higher your position, the more authority you have.

2. Control of scarce resources / Via

All organizations depend on their flow of resources (money, materials, technology, personnel, etc.) to keep their organization alive. People in organizations who control budgets, assets, and other resources that the firm holds are the ones who hold large amounts of power. As Gareth Morgan's book mentions, "Scarcity and dependence are the keys to resource power!"

3. Use of organizational structure, rules, and regulations


Organizations have hierarchies, departments, teams, and other structures. Most often, these teams have their own rules they have to follow on top of the rules and regulations within the organization itself. Knowing all the rules of one's specific position and organization as a whole can keep someone from doing work that isn't part of their job requirement. Likewise, it can determine who someone can give the said work to as it aligns with the rules of their job.

4. Control of decision processes

Having influence over processes for decision-making is a clear source of power. By managing how decisions are made, for example by requiring the approval of high positioned officials, some people's power may be brushed under the rug, while others may gain the ability to control decision outcomes.

5. Control of knowledge and information

Knowledge and information are heavy sources of power and how you gather and distribute it is also a source of power. The flow of both these components is veery important. The extent to which an individual controls knowledge and information can create or frame circumstances in organizational settings. The more knowledgeable someone is, the more power they have, and the more often people can come to them as a source of knowledge and information, giving them more power.

6. Control of boundaries

Boundaries have to be crossed to gain access to resources and people outside of the organization's boundaries or the environment. Boundaries also exist within the organization between various departments or groups in the workplace. For example, a personal assistant has the power to control who has access to the boss. Another example is the power one has when they control the responses to changes occurring outside the organization and affecting the organization.

7. Ability to cope with uncertainty

Another source of power, often overlooked is an individual's ability to cope with uncertain, unexpected circumstances that often cause stress to the average worker. Some people in organizations hold positions that make them capable of handling unexpected circumstances effectively or better than others. For example, someone holding a position that comes with significant contacts would have the adequate resources to handle problems that arise. Also, people who hold positions in maintenance or troubleshooting would be properly equipped to deal with specific kinds of uncertainty, like mechanical or technological errors.

8. Control of technology

Technology is a growing source of power in the world and enables organizations to gain significant power as they expand their use of it. People who are in charge of technological resources are direct sources of power in organizations. Having the latest, best functioning, and most abundant tech systems can serve as clear markers of power and status that organizations hold in the business world. Therefore, the person who controls that power in the organization holds a remarkable amount of power.

9. Interpersonal alliances, networks, and control of "informal organization"

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One simple way to gain power in an organization is through networking and connections. The more contacts you have, the more power you hold in your hands. Also, the more power your interpersonal alliances, networks, contacts, etc. have, the more power you have. It's important to have a wide variety of sources in different areas to gain more power as well.

10. Control of counterorganizations

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Trade unions are the most commonly known types of counterorganizations. If you can hold some form of influence over your counterorganization(s) or can control the effects they have on your organization, then you can lessen the danger your organization faces via opposing companies. Counterorganizations don't necessarily need to be eliminated, though because they serve as a check on power in organizations which could become or are a monopoly of power.

11. Symbolism and the management of meaning

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Symbolic interaction is constantly occurring in day-to-day circumstances, even in the workplace. Through this, power can be gained by understanding the ways in which different meanings are attributed to certain situations and then using this knowledge to shape and create meanings or realities the others in the organization perceive. It's important to be aware of the impact words and images have on people and the organization. For example, many organizations use the symbols of a "team" or a "family" to describe their work environment. Using these words to symbolize the organization creates realities for the employees and gives meaning to the organizational settings. Using terms like "competitive jungle" may mean nothing to the average person, but to employees in an organization, it may mean that they are each unique creatures striving to bring the best to the company.

12. Gender and the management of gender relationships

Gender plays an important role in organizations. Although the fight for equality between men and women in the workplace is currently strong and prevalent, it doesn't mean that power differences don't exist. Many organizations still follow organizational norms that lean more towards one sex than the other, most typically male. Some organizations value characteristics that are normally attached to males, therefore giving males more power. Other organizations do the opposite, giving women more power. There are also positions individuals hold in organizations that are in charge of gender relations and managing equality (or difference in some cases) between the work of men and women. Obviously, the person(s) holding this position have large amounts of power.

All of this information can be found in the book Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan.

Morgan, Gareth. Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997. Print.

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