Sources of Power in Management

by Shane Thornton - Updated September 26, 2017

Former Yale University political science professor Robert A. Dahl described power as a relationship between two people in the following terms: “person A getting person B to do what person A wants them to do.” According to the 1960 study Bases of Social Power by John R.P. French and Bertram Raven, there are five basic types or sources of power in management: reward, legitimate, coercive, referent, and expert.

Reward Power

The theory of reward power relies on the belief that employees are more likely to perform their job at a high level if they know rewards are contingent on their performance. Managers have the power to control the allocation of these rewards, which can include pay raises, bonuses, days off, awards or recognition.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power - power conferred by the organization and wielded by the manager by virtue of his position - is the most simple and basic source of power in management. The manager's power and influence is seen as fair and legitimate by the employee because the power is derived from the manager's position, experience or status.

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Coercive Power

Coercive power is a source of power that relies on an employee’s high dependency on his job, current pay and benefits. Managers try to intimidate employees with reprimand or punishments such as losing their job or being demoted; this source of power leaves employees no choice but to perform well or risk losing their job.

Referent Power

Referent power is based on the relationship of the manager and employee. With this source of power, employees will work hard and respond well to a manager’s use of power because of a positive working relationship, strong emotional bonds or a physical attraction. The source of referent power is more of an employee choice rather than a managerial style or ploy.

Expert Power

Expert power is the source of power that every manager should strive to achieve. With expert power, an employee trusts and believes in everything a manager tells or asks of them because they see the manager as having great expertise in the specific area of business. Managers can get employees to do almost any activity to help the business because of the employee’s respect of the manager’s expertise and experience.

About the Author

Shane Thornton has published business-related on In addition to business, his other areas of interest include sports, traveling and entertainment. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Business management from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

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