Who Gets Power and How They Hold on to It

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Poiver adheres to those who can cope ivith the critical problems of the organization. As such, power is not a dirty secret, but the secret of success. And that's the path power follows, until it becomes institutionalized— which makes administration the most precarious of occupations.

Who Qets Power-MdMow
Zkey Mold OH to
A Stmtegic-ContiHgemti
Model of Power
Gerald R. Salancik
Jeffrey Pfeffer

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is held by many people to be a dirty
word or, as Warren Bennis has said, "It is the
word
organization's last dirty secret."
This article will argue that traditional "polidcal" power, far from being a dirty business, is, in its most naked form,
one of the few mechanisms available for
aligning an organization with its own reality.
However, institutionalized forms of power—
what we prefer to call the cleaner forms of
power: authority, legitimization, centralized
control, regulations, and the more modem
"management information systems"—tend
to buffer the organization from reality and

obscure the demands of its environment.
Most great states and institutions declined,
not because they played politics, but because
they failed to accommodate to the polidcal realities they faced. Political processes, rather than being mechanisms for unfair and
unjust allocations and appointments, tend toward the realistic resolution of conflicts among interests. And power, while it eludes
definition, is easy enough to recognize by its
consequences—the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes they desire.
The model of power we advance is

Organizational Dynamics, W'mter 1911. © 1911, AMACOM, a dhiston of American Managemem Associations. All rights reserved.

an elaboration of what has been called strategic-contingency theory, a view that sees power as something that accrues to organizational subunits (individuals, departments) that cope with critical organizational problems. Power is used by subunits, indeed, used by all who have it, to enhance their own

survival through control of scarce critical
resources, through the placement of allies in
key positions, and through the definition of
organizational problems and policies. Because of the processes by which power develops and is used, organizations become both more aligned and more misaligned with
their environments. This contradiction is the
most interesting aspect of organizational
power, and one that makes administration
one of the most precarious of occupations.

WHAT IS ORGANIZATIONAL POWER?

4

You can walk into most organizations and
ask without fear of being misunderstood,
"Which are the powerful groups or people
in this organization?" Although many organizational informants may be umvUUng to tell you, it is unlikely they will be unable to
tell you. Most people do not require explicit
definitions to know what power is.
Power is simply the ability to get
things done the way one wants them to be
done. For a manager who wants an increased
budget to launch a project that he thinks is
important, his power is measured by his
ability to get that budget. For an executive
vice-president who wants to be chairman,
his power is evidenced by his advancement
toward his goal.
People in organizations not only
know what you are talking about when you
ask who is influential but they are likely to
agree with one another to an amazing extent.
Recently, we had a chance to observe this in

a regional office of an insurance company.
The office had 21 department managers; we
asked ten of these managers to rank all 21 according to the influence each one had in the organization. Despite the fact that ranking
21 things is a difficult task, the managers sat
down and began arranging the names of
their colleagues and themselves in a column.
Only one person bothered to ask, "What
do you mean by influence?" When told
"power," he responded, "Oh," and went on.
We compared the rankings of all ten managers and found virtually no...
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