Sources of Power in Management

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In 1959, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven found that there are five sources of power people use over other people, including legitimate, reward, coercive, expert and referent. Additionally, power in management requires having access and control over crucial resources and information. Even today, these sources of power are applied throughout organizations worldwide.


Just by having a managerial position, a person attains some level of legitimate power within an organization. A manager’s rank or position gives the manager access to information and resources unavailable to subordinates. The manager can override decisions made by subordinates, and control the use of resources at hand. Rank also gives the manager a certain level of reward power. A manager has the authority to grant bonuses for good work, give job promotions or offer more resources and information to subordinates. Legitimate and reward power, while effective, are less secure sources of power because they can be lost if the manager’s rank or position is removed.


When a manager feels disconnected or powerless, he might apply coercive power by using pressure and tactics to force others to comply with his demands. Though coercive power can be effective in the short-term, it can be quite costly in the long run by corrupting communication and teamwork throughout an organization. Sometimes coercive power generates overt resistance from subordinates who won’t tolerate a manager using punishment, manipulation, threats or fear to get things done.


The credibility that comes with years of education and experience in a particular field is a source of power. Expert power can help a manager design effective strategies, assess team member skills, assign appropriate jobs to subordinates, think rationally and critically and guide employees through steps to goal achievement. As a manager, your expertise is a more secure source of power than legitimate, reward or coercive power. Your expertise stays with you regardless of a change in your rank or position.


Charisma, effective communication, trustworthiness and integrity contribute to a manager’s level of referent power. A manager with referent power is admirable enough that subordinates comply because they want the manager’s respect and approval. Through your referent power, subordinates might be drawn to follow your advice and solutions because they trust you, know that you care for the overall picture or have their best interests at heart. With referent power, you can have strong influence over admirers even without a high position, leading-edge expertise or bully tactics. Referent power comes from walking your talk, and by setting an example that others want to follow.

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