Basis of Power , Sources of Power, Power Structure and Politics

Meaning of Power

Rosabeth Kanter says, “power is the ability to get things done.”

Power vis-a-vis Organisation:

Tool & Resource: Power is a tool (to achieve organisational goals) and resource (helps one to gain support, information, supplies etc.).

Power of Leaders: Leaders use power as a means of attaining group goals. A leader may use
punitive power to prevent individual from restraining undisciplined activities.

Exercise Control: Power is also used to control various activities of individuals and groups.

Impacts Organisational Command & Control System: This phenomenon of acquiring and exercising power seriously changes the command and control system in the organization. It forces to deviate from the established norm and process.

Situational: Capacity to exercise power depends upon the situation which provides opportunities or restrictions on the use of power and the personality of those wishing to exercise the same.

Authority-Power Conundrum:

Authority is acquired from the organizational hierarchy. Authority and power go hand in hand. To be effective, power and authority should be equalized. But in present environment it is observed that while authority remains constant there is a tendency to exercise more power. This is because of the politics played by an individual to maintain higher influence over resources.


Basis of Power

French and Raven have given six bases of power:

Rewards: power to control human resources, pay and promotion, financial and non-financial incentives.

Coercive: power to punish, the power to threaten and to use one’s position to force others to take action. ex. threat to meet given targets otherwise there would be reduction in salary.

Legitimate: power exercised with the authority of organization. ex. power of CEO.

Referent: power derived from interpersonal skill and emotional support from others. ex. Mahatma
Gandhi as people believed in his ideology.

Expert: power which is derived from knowledge. ex. CA, Doctor.

Information: access to Information about people, events or other facts which are required by others, makes the person possessing information powerful.

Sources of Power

In general, sources and bases of power are perceived similarly. However, S.P. Robins & Bachasch & Lawler differentiates both as follows:

  • S.P. Robbins: Source refers to “from” aspect i.e. from where a person derives power like position, expertise, personality etc. Base of power refers to use of power as “tool” to influence behaviour of others i.e. tool to punish & reward people.
  • Bachash & Lawler: Source of power denotes “where” aspect i.e. form where person gets his power. Base of power denotes “what” aspect i.e. what a person controls that gives him/her power. ex. Information is base of power & control over information is source of power.


Bachash & Lawler give four sources of power:

  • Position Power: because of position of person in organisation.
  • Personal Power: attributable to individual’s personal characteristics
  • Expert Power: from control over specialised information
  • Opportunity Power: Person having right information at right time has opportunity power

Allocation of Power in Organisation

Organization allocates power in two ways:

Structural power: Organization structure allocates power by establishing hierarchy of authority. Mere granting of authority does not make a person powerful unless he uses it effectively.

Functional Power: Functional power is related to a job a person does. Scarce skill, longer duration of a person in organization, extent of access to vital information are some of the factors that makes a person more powerful.

Organisational Politics

Pffeffer defines “politics as those activities taken within organizations to acquire, develop and use
power and other resources to obtain one’s preferred outcome in a situation in which there
is uncertainty or dissensus about choices”.


Cause of Political Behaviour in an organisation: 

Individual Conditions:

  • To command resources.
  • Lust for power.
  • Self Interest over organisational interests.
  • To exercise discretionary authority and enhance comfort zone.
  • To overcome saturation in career.


Organisational conditions:

  • Uneven distribution of resources and authority.
  • Lack of clarity among roles and goal.
  • Excessive managerial levels.
  • Unmanageable operations and size of business.
  • Inter-departmental conflicts.

Effects of politics on organization and employees:

  1. Decrease in overall productivity

    Politics lowers the output of an individual and eventually affects the productivity of the organization. Common observation says that individuals who play politics at the workplace pay less attention to their work. Work gets delayed in such an organization.

  2. Affects Concentration

    Individuals find it difficult to concentrate on their work. They are more interested in spoiling the other person’s image in front of the superiors. Politics leads to a negative environment at the workplace.

  3. Changes the Attitude of employees

    Politics changes the attitude of the employees. Even the serious employees lose interest in work. No matter how much hard work an employee puts in, it goes unnoticed in a politically driven organization.

  4. Demotivated employees

    A non performer can be the apple of his boss’s eye simply due to politics, thus demotivating the performers. Employees feel demotivated when they are not rewarded suitably or someone who has not worked hard gets the benefits due to mere politics.

  5. Increases Stress

    Politics increases the stress level of the employees as individuals fail to trust each other.

  6. Wrong Information

    Employees indulged in politics manipulate information and it is never passed on in its desired form. Superiors get a wrong picture of what is actually happening in the organization. A wrong person walks away with the credit in an organization where employees are indulged in politics.


Principles in Managing Organizational politics: 

1. Transparently measure performance of its employees.

2. Make payments strictly on the basis of the performance so measured.

3. Publicize performance data.

4. Reveal the reasons for decisions.

5. Openly consider all good ideas.

6. Shun deal-making.

7. Shun secret deals.

8. Avoid all political behaviour.

Power Structure and Politics

Politics is about access to power.  

Politics involves those activities or behaviours through which power is developed and used in organizational settings.

Power is a property of system at rest; politics is the study of power in action.

An individual, sub unit or department may have power within organizational context at some period of time; politics involves the exercise of power to get something accomplished as well as those activities which are undertaken to expand the power already possessed or the scope over
which it can be exercised.

As organisations grow in size, few persons may begin to control most vital functions of organisation & thus acquire more power at the cost of others. In such situations, natural power structure of an organisation may be replaced by power politics. Middle or central level manager may acquire more power at the cost of the other functional heads by controlling crucial information & key information channels, forming coalitions etc.

Power Politics results in power centres which may divert the focus away from organisational goals towards personal goals.

Sub-units control one another’s activities and draw power from the dependencies thus created. A sub unit power is related to its coping with uncertainty (which includes preventing uncertainty) to substitutability (whether there are alternative means of performing the operations) and centrality (the degree to which sub unit is linked into the organization’s systems.

Interpersonal skills play a vital role in management of political influence.

Managerial leadership can ensure proper functioning by keeping proper checks & balances over political behaviour. Empire building efforts in organisation should be taken care of seriously.


  1. Organisational Politics is a way of life and it can be constructively used by following ethical political behaviour for accomplishment of organisational activities. How far do you agree or disagree. Give reasons. (UPSC 2010)
  2. Authority is the cement of organisational structure and a thread that makes it possible. Elucidate and discuss the role of power of knowledge. (UPSC 2011)
  3. Organisational Politics refers to intentional behaviours that are designed to enhance or protect a person’s influence and self-interest. Analyse the statement and discuss the reasons contributing the political behaviour and the way-outs to avoid organisational politics. (UPSC 2014)
  4. How power differs from authority. Discuss the sources of power in an organisation. (UPSC 2016)




  1. Thanks, doing great job, can you also put daily practice questions for commerce for practice like insight website and review them and can also provide sample answers of those questions, I know many aspirants who opt for commerce optional but not able to practice questions because of not having any platform for practicing and reviewing their answers, so such aspirants not able to know how to write answers in commerce optional subject.

    1. Thanks Abhishek. Its a great idea. We ll surely consider it. Nevertheless, aspirants can practice questions which we have posted alongwith content. We ll be there to help.

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