Bases of power


Formal Power:

Formal power is based on an individual’s position in an organization. Formal power can come from the ability to coerce or reward, from formal authority, or from control of information.

Coercive Power:

The coercive power base is dependent on fear. One reacts to this power out of fear of the negative results that might occur if one failed to comply. It rests on the application, or the threat of application, of physical sanctions such as the infliction or pain, the generation of frustration through restriction of movement, or the controlling by force of basic physiological or safety needs.

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

Reward Power:

The opposite of coercive power is reward power. People comply with the wishes or directives of another because doing so produces positive benefits; therefore, one who can distribute rewards that others view as valuable will have power over those others. 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.

Coercive power and reward power are actually counterparts of each other. If you can remove something of positive value from another or inflict something of negative value on him or her, you have coercive power over that person. If you give someone something of positive value or remove something of negative value, you have reward power over that person.

Legitimate Power:

In formal groups and organizations, probably the most frequent access to one or more of the power bases is one’s structural position. This is called legitimate power. It represents the formal authority to control and use organizational resources.

Positions of authority include coercive and reward powers. Legitimate power, however, is broader, than the power to coerce and reward. Specifically, it includes acceptance by members in an organization of the authority of a position. When school principals, bank presidents, or army captains speak assuming that their directives are viewed to be within the authority of their positions, teachers, tellers, and first lieutenants listen and usually comply.

Information Power:

The fourth source of formal power is information power comes from access to and control over information. People in an organization who have data or knowledge that others need can make those others dependent on them.

Managers, because of their access to privileged sales, cost, salary, profit, and similar data, can use this information to control and shape subordinates’ behavior. Similarly, departments that possess information that is critical to a company’s performance in times of high uncertainty- for example the legal department when a firm faces a major lawsuit or the human resources department during critical, labor negotiations will gain increased power in their organization until those uncertainties are resolved

Personal Power:

You don’t have to have a formal position in an organization to have power. Many of the most competent and productive chip designers at Intel, for instance, have power, but they aren’t managers and have no formal power. What they have is personal power that comes from an individual’s unique characteristics.

Expert Power:

Expert power is influence wielded as a result of expertise, special skill, or knowledge. Expertise has become one of the most powerful sources of influence as the world has become more technologically oriented. As jobs become more specialized, we become increasingly dependent on experts to achieve goals. So although it is generally acknowledged that physicians have expertise and hence expert power—most of us follow the advice that our doctor gives us. You should also recognize that computer specialists, tax accountants, economists, industrial psychologists, and other specialists are able to wield power as a result of their expertise.