Different Kinds of Power in the Workplace

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POWER. The most important and unyielding condition of management is power. POWER. It is defined as the ability to influence and produce a desired effect on other individuals without being modified in any undesired way by them. Some people see power as limited, like a pie, with constant conflict over who gets the biggest slice. Others see it as limitless, except for the limits imposed by the situation. The latter view may be more reasonable.

Unfortunately, exhibitionism can be a result of possessing power. For instance, a supervisor may misuse their power by unjustly punishing an employee, solely to assert their authority. This abuse of power can be detrimental to the workplace. However, frontline supervisors must possess and effectively utilize power to uphold organizational policies, procedures, and regulations. Power is essential for establishing authority and implementing discipline. Ultimately, without power, it would be challenging to enhance productivity. It is evident that supervisors must acknowledge the efficacy of power in accomplishing tasks.

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The workplace requires a range of unique and diverse powers to be utilized in different situations. In this article, we will examine seven of these powers and explore their applications. The first power is known as COERCIVE POWER, which arises when subordinates perceive their supervisor as having the authority to enforce company policies and procedures. This power is established on the belief that there will be consequences if unacceptable behavior by subordinates persists.

HOW IS IT USED: Let’s consider a scenario where a subordinate starts to take advantage of the organization’s attendance policy. Over the past few weeks, this individual has been consistently absent, late, and leaving early on multiple occasions.

Before this incident, he had been a reliable employee. The supervisor must address this issue promptly to prevent it from spreading to other subordinates. The supervisor should first consult with a supportive human resource associate and jointly develop an action plan. Then, a private meeting should be arranged between the supervisor and the employee to discuss the specific details of the attendance abuse. At the end of the meeting, the consequences of not changing this behavior should be mentioned.

The use of coercive power is evident in this situation, where the message to the person is to conform to the organization’s attendance policy or face additional disciplinary measures. It is important not to underestimate the power of coercion, as it can be weakened when supervisors disregard undesirable behavior, fail to follow up on warnings, or demonstrate favoritism. Additionally, employees see front-line supervisors as having affiliation power, meaning they have the necessary connections with influential individuals to achieve tasks more efficiently within the organization.

The way it is used is as follows: A department supervisor, although limited in power, can use their understanding of how to navigate upper management to their advantage. Their perceived connection with that group gives them additional influence in the eyes of subordinates and peers. This power base is sometimes employed when employees ask for special treatment or exceptions to the organization’s established rules and regulations, such as extended time off or a leave of absence. If the employee deserves it, the supervisor should utilize their influence to help secure the special arrangement.

The supervisor may need to write a note to the personnel department in support of the employee’s request. In addition, supervisors who effectively use the power of affiliation create a motivating atmosphere for employees to perform at their best. (3) Legitimate power is when employees believe that supervisors have the authority to make decisions based on their position and status. This type of power is utilized, for instance, when a manufacturing supervisor instructs an employee to halt work on a product and dispose of it due to irreparable damage.

According to him, the reason for not repairing the item is that the cost would exceed its value. The supervisor has the authority to make this decision in order to prevent wasteful spending. Nevertheless, some employees, regardless of their rank, tend to question their supervisor’s judgment and disrupt the department unnecessarily. In such cases, supervisors are recommended to assert their power and instruct the individual to comply with instructions and resume work, or face the consequences.

Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to correct the situation is through disc primary action. (4) INFORMATION POWER: Employees perceive that the supervisor has access to or possesses useful reformation. Remember the old saying: Information is power. HOW IS IT USED: The human resources department issues an organizational policy change to all management personnel that must be communicated, if it is to work, to all staff and non-staff employees. Successful supervisors are always among the first to efficiently pass along vital information to their department members.

Perhaps the supervisor will hold a short meeting to ensure that everyone receives the message together, reducing the possibility of misunderstandings. Alternatively, the supervisor may opt to post the communication on the department bulletin board for all to see. Regardless of the method used to promptly disseminate information to their subordinates, these supervisors are demonstrating their concern for efficiently conveying company information to their employees. In return, these employees will likely work harder for their supervisors in the future.

The supervisor effectively utilizes the information power base, projecting a positive image. This sets them apart from other supervisors who neglect this important source of power, resulting in negative perceptions from subordinates and superiors. Moreover, employees expect supervisors to possess a comprehensive understanding of their area of responsibility. When subordinates perceive their supervisor as an expert, it increases their motivation and productivity.

Expert power is crucial in training and retaining new department members. If employees believe that the supervisor lacks credibility, it can greatly affect productivity. Therefore, supervisors should admit when they don’t know the answer and promptly seek it. Ultimately, expert power can either enhance or hinder a supervisor’s credibility with their team.

People often challenge authority when the credibility is lacking. Consequently, being trusted can greatly benefit a supervisor’s effectiveness, while being distrusted can be detrimental. (6) REFERENT POWER: This power arises from the perception that the supervisor possesses positive personality traits, leading to a fruitful relationship between supervisor and subordinate. Astute supervisors who understand how to wield referent power can foster an environment that motivates employees to enhance productivity. HOW IS IT USED: When employees view their supervisor as confident, approachable, and fair in all interactions, they become motivated to perform well for their supervisor. Ethical behavior, a byproduct of referent power, is also essential for supervisors when dealing with people in the workplace. For instance, why should a team member trust their supervisor after witnessing them blatantly lie to someone else? If the supervisor lies to that person, the team member assumes they could be lied to as well. Likewise, why should employees consistently arrive on time when they regularly see their supervisor showing up late?

Experts will agree that trust is the foundation for enhancing productivity in any employee. Without trust, employees will not perform up to the desired standard. Reward power is another important factor. This power originates from the perception of employees that their supervisor has the capability to offer rewards to deserving individuals. This can be demonstrated by granting bonuses or promotions. In addition, giving public or private praise to an employee for a job well done also falls under reward power, making it a beneficial tool in management.

Someone who suggests a process improvement that eventually saves the department money would be rewarded, which can spur productivity gains if used pragmatically. It is natural for individuals to be motivated to go the extra mile for someone who has expressed outward approval for their special achievements. In conclusion, supervisors need to acknowledge the different power bases available and understand that we unknowingly and unconsciously use most of them.

During a typical business day, we often unconsciously utilize multiple power bases in various situations. However, being more aware of these power bases can enhance our effectiveness as front-line supervisors. Consequently, if we utilize power bases correctly, we can anticipate a higher quality of work and increased productivity due to better utilization of our power. Ultimately, our power is only real when others truly perceive and believe that we possess it.

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Different Kinds of Power in the Workplace. (2018, May 24). Retrieved from


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