The five bases of power are coercive power, reward power, legitimate power, expert power, and referent power. Three of these powers are formal powers and two of these powers are personal powers. The three types of formal power are coercive, reward, and legitimate power. Coercive power is dependent upon fear of negative results. Reward power is dependent upon positive rewards or benefits. Legitimate power is dependent upon a person’s structural position or ranking position in an organization. The two types of personal power are expert power and referent power.
Expert power is based upon one’s experience and knowledge of a skill or trade. Referent power is based upon one’s personal traits and likeable resources. Personal bases of power seem to be more effective in the workplace structure because they are “positively related to employees’ satisfaction with supervision, their organizational commitment, and their performance” (Robbins & Judge, 2009). These bases of power affect communication in the Colstrip Electric organization tremendously. There are 10 people in the same office as me, and all of them use different bases of power to accomplish their duties.
Some of my coworkers are more successful because their use of the bases of power is more effective. Colstrip Electric is a larger electric company and the office that I work in is considered the hub for the company. We run payroll, accounting, engineering, bidding, and operations from this office. This office is divided into three different divisions. The division that I fall under is the accounting division. The other two divisions are upper management and engineering. The upper management division includes the owners of the company and their children, which are also the company’s managers.
I believe that this division uses a couple different bases of power. My immediate manager, Brent, has legitimate power and referent power. He is the son of the owners and is not an electrician, so he doesn’t have expert power. I do not consider him to be an effective manager. Brent is very nice and the employees like and relate to him, but he does not use his legitimate power. According to Robbins and Judge (2009), “Power may exist but not be used. ” I believe that he is bulldozed because other employees know that his referent power is dominant and he does not use is legitimate power. In order for Brent to be a more effective manager, he needs to use his legitimate power to communicate with his employees. Having two bases of power is important when communicating in business, but there needs to be a balance of these powers for them to be effective. The engineering division uses expert power and referent power to communicate. This division of the company communicates a lot with other companies, so it is very important that they have referent power. Other companies’ engineers need to be able to trust and relate to Colstrip Electric’s engineers because they work closely together on projects.
The expert power that all of the company’s engineers possess is also very important. If they didn’t have expert power, no other companies would want to do business with Colstrip Electric. The engineering department is the backbone of the business and they use their bases of power very effectively. Colstrip Electric is a successful company because the engineers’ ability to demonstrate excellent use of the bases powers within and outside of the company walls. My division, the accounting division, is where the bases of power get a little more complex.
No one in the accounting department should have bases of power because we do not have authority to manage any one person in the division. We have to work with all the other divisions very closely to make the office run smoothly. This division is under the upper management and engineering divisions, so it is a little confusing to switch gears to accommodate for the different uses of the bases of power. We also have a couple of employees in our division that try to exercise the bases of power, even though they do have any power.
The accountant that processes payroll tries to use coercive power over the other accountants in the division. It is hard to communicate with this accountant because she has made everyone afraid to go into her office. We all try to work together to make the office run smoothly, but it is very hard to want to work with someone who has created a sense of fear. The accountant that processes accounts payable tries to use legitimate power over the other accountants in the division. She has been in the office the longest, but she is not a manager and we do not answer or report to her.
These two accountants clash all the time, with each other and with me, and it makes for a very uncomfortable working environment. This is where Brent’s lack of use of his legitimate power comes into play. These two accountants know that he has the legitimate power to stop their power struggle, but they know that he uses his referent power and not his legitimate power; thus, the power struggle in my division continues. The bases of power are very important to a business. They can be the stable foundation of a company’s communication structure if they are used effectively.
They also can be the downfall of the company’s communication structure if they are not used effectively. Colstrip Electric is a perfect example of the bases of power not being used. Brent has two bases of power that are very important, but he does not use them both in an effective way. This ineffectiveness is allowing the accounting division to get out of control and become unmanagable. A company should have a manager that knows how to use their bases of power to become an effective manager, leader, and communicator.
Robbins, S.P. & Judge, T.A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.