Examining The Dynamics Of Managerial Power

Managerial powerOne of the distinguis characteristics of typical managers is how dependent they are on the activities of a variety of other people to perform their jobs effectively.

Unlike doctors and mathematicians, whose performance is more directly dependent on their own talents and efforts, a manager can be dependent, in varying degrees, on superiors, subordinates, peers in other parts of the organization, the subordinates of peers, outside suppliers, customers, competitors, unions, regulating agencies, and many others.

These dependency relationships are an inherent part of managerial jobs because of two organizational facts of life: division of labour and limited resources. Because the work in organizations is divided into specialised divisions, departments, and jobs, managers are made directly or indirectly dependent on many others for information, staff services, and cooperation in general.

Also because of their organization’s limited resources, managers are also dependent on their external environments for support. Without some minimal cooperation from suppliers, competitors, unions, regulatory agencies, and customers, managers cannot help their organizations achieve their goals and objectives.

Dealing with these dependencies and the manager’s subsequent vulnerability are important and difficult part of a manager’s work. This is because, while it is theoretically possible that all these people and organizations would automatically act in just the manner that a manager wants and needs, such is almost never the case in reality. All the people on whom a manager is dependent have limited time, energy, and talent, for which there are competing demands.

Some people may be uncooperative because they are too busy elsewhere and some because they are not really capable of helping. Others may well have goals, values, and beliefs that are quite different and in conflict with the manager’s and may therefore have no desire whatsoever to help or cooperate.

This is obviously true of a competing company and sometimes a union, but it can also apply to a boss who is feeling threatened by a manager’s career progress or to a peer whose objectives clash with that of the manager. Indeed managers often find themselves dependent on many people (and things) whom they do not directly control and who are not “cooperating.” This is the key to one of the biggest frustrations managers feel in their jobs, even in the top ones.

A considerable amount of the behavior of highly successful managers that seems inexplicable in the light of what management theorists usually posit becomes understandable when one considers a manager’s need for, and efforts at managing her relationships with others.

To be able to plan, organize, budget, staff, control, and evaluate, managers need some control over the many people on whom they are dependent. Trying to control others solely by directing them on the basis of the power associated with one’s position simply will not work – first because managers are always dependent on some people over whom they have no formal authority, and second, because virtually no one in modern organizations will passively accept and completely obey a bombardment of orders from someone just because he is the “boss.”

Trying to influence others by means of persuasion alone will not work either. Although it is very powerful and possibly the single most important method of influence, persuasion has some serious drawbacks too. To make it work requires time, skill, and information on the part of the persuader.

And persuasion can fail simply because the other person chooses not to listen or does not listen carefully. That is not to say that directing people on the basis of the formal power of one’s position and persuasion are not important means by which successful managers cope. They obviously are. But, taken together, they are not usually enough. Successful managers, according to John Kotter, cope with their dependence on others by being sensitive to it, by eliminating or avoiding unnecessary dependence, and by establishing power over those others. Good managers then use that power to help them plan, organize, staff, budget, evaluate and so on.

In other words, it is primarily because of the dependence inherent in managerial jobs that the dynamics of power necessarily form an important part of managerial processes.

According to Kotter, to help cope with the dependency relationships inherent in their jobs, effective managers create, increase, or maintain for different types of power over others. Having power based on these areas puts the manager in a position both to influence those people on whom she is dependent when necessary and to avoid being hurt by any of them.


Sense of obligation

One of the ways successful managers generate power in their relationships with others is to create a sense of obligation in those others. When the manager is successful, the others feel that they should allow the manager to influence them within certain limits. Successful managers often go out of their way to do favors for people who they expect will feel an obligation to return those favors.

Some people are very skilled at identifying opportunities for doing favors that cost them very little but that others appreciate very much. Recognising that most people believe that friendship carries with it a certain obligations, successful managers often try to develop true friendships with those on whom they are dependent. They will also make formal and informal deals in which they give something up in exchange for certain future obligations.


Belief in a manager’s expertise

A second way successful managers gain power is by building reputations as “experts” in certain matters. Believing in the manager’s expertise, others will often defer to the manager on those matters. Managers usually establish this type of power through visible achievement.

The larger the achievement, and the more visible it is, the more power the manager tends to develop. One of the reasons that managers display concern about their “professional reputations” and “track records” is that they have an impact on others’ beliefs about their expertise.

These factors become particularly important in large settings, where most people have only secondhand information about most other people’s professional competence.


Identification with a manager

A third method by which managers gain power is by fostering others’ unconscious identification with them or with ideas they “stand for.” This phenomenon is most clearly seen in the way people look up to ‘charismatic’ leaders.

Generally, the more a person finds a manager both consciously and (more important) unconsciously an ideal person, the more the one will defer to that manager. Managers develop power based on others’ idealised views of them in a number of ways. They try to look and behave in ways that others respect. They go out of their way to be visible to their employees and to give speeches about their organizational goals, values, and ideals.


Perceived dependence on a manager

The final way that an effective manager often gains power is by feeding others’ beliefs that they are dependent on the manager either for help or not being hurt. The more they perceive they are dependent, the more people will be inclined to cooperate with such a manager.

The manager identifies and secures (if necessary) resources that another person requires to perform their job, that they don’t possess, and that are not readily available elsewhere.

These resources include such things as authority to make certain decisions; control of money, equipment, and office space; access to important people; information and control of information channels; and subordinates.

Then the manager takes action so that the other person correctly perceives that the manager has such resources and is willing and ready to use them to help (or hinder) the other person. Managers who are successful at acquiring considerable power and using it to manage their dependence on others understand the various types of power and methods of influence. They are sensitive to what types of power are easiest to develop with different types of people.

They also tend to develop all types of power, to some degree, and recognize and accept as legitimate that in using these methods, they clearly influence other people’s behavior and lives.

By Captain Sam Addaih (Rtd)

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