After reading this article you will learn about the meaning and sources of power of superiors in an organisation.

Meaning of Power:

While authority is the right of a person to give directions, power is the ability to do so. Power does not depend upon a person’s position in the organisation. It is derived from his control over resources of the organisation. For any organisation to effectively achieve its objectives, formal authority should be supplemented by informal system of power.

Power is a broader concept which provides basis for authority and influences the behaviour of others. Power is the ability to exert influence over others if he has knowledge or skills superior to those possessed by others. When a person is able to change the behaviour of others, he is said to possess power.

Authority is a type of power which superiors enjoy by virtue of their position in the organisation. When a person has right to change the behaviour of subordinates, he exercises authority but if he is able to do so, he has power over them.

Sources of Power:


Managers exercise power by virtue of their position in the organisational hierarchy and also their personal virtues. While legitimate, coercive and reward power are related to position of a person, other forms of power relate to their personal characteristics.

The various sources from where they derive power are as follows:

1. Legitimate power:

The power derived from formal position in the organisational hierarchy is legitimate power. Legitimate power is the basis of classical theory of authority. Top managers issue directions to subordinates with respect to various policies and rules because of their position in the organisational hierarchy. This authority can be delegated to various positions in the scalar chain. The superior-subordinate relationship is the basis for subordinates to obey the directions of superiors.


2. Reward power:

The superiors demand compliance to orders by offering rewards. The power is based on control over resources (material and non-material). The rewards may be in the form of promotions, recognition or financial benefits. Rewards are more often used as forces that reinforce positive behaviour of subordinates rather than forces that get them to comply with orders.

3. Coercive power:

It is the opposite of reward power. Compliance is demanded through punishments. The fear of being punished makes subordinates obey the superiors. The punishment can be in the form of deducting salary or withholding promotions. Coercive power is more often used for maintaining the standard of performance than promoting it.


4. Expert power:

This power is enjoyed by virtue of the knowledge, skill, competence and expertise of the people specialised in their area of interest. The competence theory of authority derives its base from expert power. If production manager has specialised skills in marketing, he will have expert power to influence the people of marketing department. This power relates to personal characteristics of the power holder.

5. Referent power:

Some people have charismatic personality and influence the behaviour of others. They influence people because of their personality or experience. Workers may approach the union leader or oldest worker of the union to get their problems solved. Such power is referent power.


It is the power of identification. Some people want to be identified with another person whom they consider as their ideal. They adopt their personality characteristics and try to behave like them. This power also relates to personal characteristics of the power holder as the followers want to copy his behaviour and internalise his personality.

6. Connection power:

It is the power of connection with influential people. People follow a leader who has contacts with people of high social and economic status. This is to elicit favours out of such persons, if the need be. The sources of power are not independent of each other.

A person does not have only one source of power at one point of time. He has a combination of power derived from different sources. They are related and can be possessed by the same person in varying degrees.


If a person has one source of power, it may also lead to possess another source of power:

a. A person who has legitimate power also has the coercive and reward power. As legitimacy is derived from position, the power holder can offer rewards for compliance and threats for non-compliance to orders.

b. People with expert power have the wealth of knowledge. Their competence makes them eligible for promotions at higher positions, where they derive legitimate, coercive and reward power over the members. Excessive use of coercive power reduces a person’s referent power. People do not like to identify with a leader who makes use of negative forces of compliance. However, people with high referent power also assume high expert power over a period of time.