Positional Power: Legitimate, Coercive & Reward Power

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  • 0:05 Managerial Power
  • 0:55 Positional Power
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

Expert Contributor
Jerry Allison

Jerry holds a Doctor of Business Administration and a Master’s in Mathematics. He has taught business, math, and accounting for over 25 years.

Managers require different types of power to make things happen in their organizations. This lesson focuses on positional power. There are three types of positional power that will be explained in this lesson, including legitimate, reward and coercive power.

Managerial Power

Managers require power to make things happen in their organizations. Power can be defined as a manager's ability to influence others. Influence is what managers have when they use power in such a way that it results in some behavioral response in others. Effective managers understand how to use their power to influence organizational members to act according to their wishes and to put into place processes and procedures that work toward organizational goals. A manager obtains his or her power from both the organization (positional power) and from him or herself (personal power). The key to successful management lies in using a combination of positional power and personal power. This lesson will discuss the first of these: positional power.

Positional Power

The most commonly recognized form of power that a manager has is positional power. Positional power is a result of a manager's position within the organization. The three main bases of positional power include legitimate power, reward power and coercive power.

Legitimate power stems from the manager's position in the organization and the authority that lies in that position. Subordinates acknowledge the legitimate power that comes from being in a leadership position in an organization. A manager's employees believe that the manager has the authority to direct their actions, and they willingly comply with those requests. For example, when Kelly asks her manager Jack to approve her personal time off, Kelly knows that Jack has legitimate power to either approve or deny that request. Regardless of Jack's decision, Kelly must comply.

Reward power is the extent to which a manager can use rewards to influence others. Managers have power to reward subordinates for their actions when those behaviors meet or exceed performance expectations. Examples of such rewards include pay increases or bonuses, promotions, more responsibility and autonomy, as well as recognition and praise. For example, when Kelly exceeds her sales quota for the first quarter of the organization's fiscal year, her manager Jack rewards her with a bonus check for $500 and sends out an e-mail to her coworkers acknowledging the good job Kelly has done.

Coercive power is the opposite of reward power, and it is used by managers to punish subordinates for not meeting performance expectations or to deter subordinates from making decisions that will negatively affect the organization.

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Additional Activities

Positional Power

Situation Analysis

Bennie Hannah is a supervisor that has all three types of position power, i.e., legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power. Decide which Bennie is using when he does each of these things:

1. Bennie calls into his office an employee who has been consistently late to work. Bennie talks to the employee and then fires the employee.

2. Bennie goes down to the shop floor and, so everyone can hear, publicly praises Jill for a great idea that saved the company a lot of money.

3. Bennie tells some of his employees that there is a rule against smoking inside the building and asks them to move outside.

4. Bennie calls his maintenance person to go fix a machine down on the floor.

5. While doing the performance review of Gertrude, Bennie realized she is doing a great job and gives her a raise.

6. While on the floor, Bennie sees an employee doing something very dangerous and decides to suspend the employee for three days.

Survey Project

Make a list of at least ten people that have a job, and you know well. Ask them the following questions:

1. Does your boss have the ability to suspend you or to fire you? If not, who does?

2. Does your boss have the ability to provide you with a reward or a raise? If not, who does?

3. Does anyone in your organization have all three types of positional power? If so, why does that person have all three?

4. How do you feel when your boss uses his or her authority to tell you to do something?

5. How do you feel when rewards are given to you?

6. How do you feel when punishment is given to you?

Analyze all the responses given to you. Make sure you listen to what the person says that is not directly tied to the answer to the question; this is important information as well. Determine what these people have in common in their answers. What answers surprised you? Write up your findings in a report.

Discussion Question

Consider the three forms of positional power. Do you think one person in the organization should have all three types of positional power? Why or why not? If you do not think one person should have all three types, then who these be distributed to?

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