How Public Organizations Work: Learning from Experience

By Christopher Bellavita | Go to book overview

11
The Structure of Power in Public Organizations

Frank J. Nice

This chapter is about three dimensions of organizational power: overt, covert, and latent. While the three forms of power exist in almost all organizations, it has been my experience that administrators are usually aware of overt power, sometimes aware of covert power, and rarely aware of latent power. My central point in this chapter is that administrators can improve their ability to manage organizations by being aware of the structural dimensions of power.


POWER AND PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS

Power is an indisputable fact of life in public organizations. It is what people use to get what they want in organizations. Yet it is often misunderstood by public administrators. One reason for this is the failure to recognize the multiple realities of public organizations and of power.

Public organizations can be understood in many ways: as problem-solving instruments, as sociotechnical systems, and as reward mechanisms. But they are also political structures ( Boleman & Deal, 1984). They are made up of coalitions that compete among each other for material resources and influence. The coalitions are composed of people and groups who share common interests, and those coalitions will act to protect and advance their interest ( Zaleznik, 1970).

Power has been defined in various ways. In its common language meaning, power can refer to the ability to perform effectively, the ability to exercise control, or the exertion of force. It can mean making decisions that affect other people ( Bachrach & Baratz, 1962). Power is also a measure of the extent to which one person can get another to do something that he or she would not do otherwise ( Dahl, 1957).

Individuals, groups, organizations, and societies can wield power. Power gives the user the ability to influence others' beliefs, emotions, values, and behaviors

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