Sources of Power

powerNo sooner had we published WP1095 Power and Authority than one of our regular correspondent pointed out we had missed the concept of ‘structural power’.  Whilst originally seen as being relevant to the discussion of power differences between sovereign nations, the concepts also apply to organisations where the characteristics of a situation can affect or determine power. Important structural sources of power include knowledge, resources, decision making and networks.

Knowledge as Power: Organisations are information processors that must use knowledge to produce goods and services. Intellectual capital represents the knowledge, know-how, and competency that exist in the organisation which can provide an organisation with a competitive edge in the marketplace. Within an organisation, the concept of knowledge as power means that individuals, teams, groups, or departments that possess knowledge that is crucial in attaining the organisation’s goals have power, but only if they use the power to advance the interested of their organisation – hording knowledge to the detriment of the organisation is destructive and self defeating. Outside the organisation, the situation is reversed; protecting the organisations intellectual property is vital to maintaining its competitive power in the market.

Control of Resources as Power: Organisations need a variety of resources, including money, human resources, equipment, materials, and customers to survive. The importance of specific resources to an organisation’s success and the difficulty in obtaining them vary from situation to situation. The departments, groups, or individuals who can provide essential or difficult-to-obtain resources acquire more power in the organisation than others, as do external suppliers in a market where the particular resource is scarce.

Decision making as Power: The decision making process in an organisation creates more or less power differences among individuals or groups. Managers exercise considerable power in an organisation simply because of their decision making ability. Although decision making is an important aspect of power in every organisation, cultural differences make for some interesting differences in the relationship.

Networks as Power: The existence of structural and situational power depends not only on access to information, resources and decision making, but also on the ability to get cooperation in carrying out tasks. Managers and individuals that have connecting links with other individuals and managers in the organisation and beyond will be more powerful than those who don’t. The power generated by social media networks is a phenomena that is still emerging and is not well understood.

An additional ‘power source’ is ‘peer pressure’ – the power held by a group over its individual members.  The White Paper has been updated to include these concepts and can be downloaded from: WP1095 Power and Authority


3 responses to “Sources of Power

  1. Pat, I’d like to expand on your definitions or at least explore them in more detail.

    Knowledge- Is it REALLY that important to protect IP, except in those cases where we have really invented something totally new or different? Or are we better off if we SHARE our knowledge? Look at the growing use of Creative Commons Licensing. I mean realistically, what “knowledge” associated with project management doesn’t date back to the Industrial Revolution up to and including the work of Fayol, the Gilbreath’s, Taylor, Gantt, Crosby, Deming, Juran et al ad infinitum…. Look at AACE now making ALL our collective IP available to anyone, member or non member alike at no cost? Doesn’t that make more sense, considering this “knowledge” was freely donated by the members?

    Resources- Isn’t “resources as power” just another example of “market demand”? The basic laws of supply and demand tell us that what is scarce and necessary is able to command a premium in the marketplace. Look at how for many years the Guilds of old, followed by the Unions tried to limit or control the number of practitioners. Don’t we see the same type of market manipulation being done by the various professional societies with all these certifications? (some of which are CLEARLY over-sold)

    And lastly, networks. Here is a FASCINATING article written explaining how to get a job at Google but the message that one’s skills at NETWORKING applies to almost every job today and probably going to get MORE important than less… It also points out how important it is that we are able to DIFFERENTIATE ourselves from all the other “competitors” out there…..

    Bottom line- while I don’t take issue with anything you wrote above, I think applying it ONLY to organizations and not to INDIVIDUALS misses some of the real impact these more recently recognized sources of power have become.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia,com

  2. PS Pat, are you aware that Microsoft has just made MS Office available for FREE for iPhones, soon to be followed by MS Office for Android? The whole world of “knowledge creation” and “knowledge sharing” and “knowledge ownership” is changing.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  3. As we say in the White Paper knowledge is only power when you use it and share it, to quote: “departments that possess knowledge that is crucial in attaining the organisation’s goals have power, but only if they use the power to advance the interested of their organisation – hording knowledge to the detriment of the organisation is destructive and self defeating”. Most of the theories are from the 1980s or earlier and predate social media.

    Most of our materials are published under the Creative Commons licence and are freely available.

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