Power and Authority as Central Aspects in Organization Processes


The paper discusses the exercise of power in an organization from two unique perspectives: critical theory and postmodern theory. Each perspective exercises power and authority differently and represents a unique version of organization processes and management. The critical theory relies on the workforce in an organization as a source of exercising and using power. In this perspective, power is exercised collectively to attain organizational objectives. For postmodernism, although they are dissatisfied with over conformity and rigidity of positivists that leaves no room for individual creativity, growth and motivation in realizing the goals of an organization, they still employ modern supervision through surveillance as a way of achieving organizational goals. The two theories assert that there is no objective truth in organizations, but its processes require managers to establish guidelines upon which the organisation staff conduct themselves, enhance individual and group strengths and work towards achieving the set company goals as a team (Drucker, 1974; Uris, 1986).

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Critical and postmodernism theories in explaining organizations processes

The critical theory arose as a reaction to the existing bureaucratic structures in which power and authority were highly hierarchical and relationships among the subordinates and management based on structures. Offices are bestowed with authority for decision making and obedience from subordinates expected with no or little resistance. For critical theorists, this is a source of conflicts within organizations that will always arise partly because, in any social reality, constructions of meaning in any organization will privilege some at the expense of others (Graig, 2007). Proponents of the social critical theory argue that decision making in organizations requires dialogue to reach new understandings of shared decisions (Walonick, 1993) and not a one-sided affair where workers only come in to execute the final expectations of the management. Relationships based on dialogue and understanding seems to demystify the inherent power that is endowed on managers based on the bureaucratic organization. Conflicts, in this case, arise when processes ignore the real meaning of dialogue and engage in decision making based on the hierarchical structures. Critics of these structures believe that subordinates will always resist relationships based on purely hierarchical structures.

It seems for any successful organization the relationship between authorities in a hierarchy and subordinates is key. Their conflicting views on the management of organisations should not be treated as defiance but as an alternative source of solutions. The development of company objectives should be an inclusive activity for both subordinates and the administrators (Senge 1990: 136). The theory assumes that power and authority are consequences of the ever-changing power structures and collective understandings of the organization values and motives. The power processes and structures are not static, but they are always changing that leading to the formation of new processes and new power structures. Consequently, solutions to identified problems in an organization might give rise to other problems that need attention. The theory bases its strength on solving organizational issues through workers. Subordinates are expected to be of the highest level of education possible.

This builds in their abilities to understand their major role of ensuring the growth of the organization through positive critique that does not shy of pointing out weaknesses of the same system. The knowledge power of the subordinates is deemed necessary to bring about the desired changes. The theory advocates for an emancipated working force that requires dialogue to decide decisions based on the power and authority of structures. The power of knowledge in an organization is what transforms the organization to success. Power should only be understood from self-reflections where everyone has an equal opportunity to take part in the decision-making process. The striking force when looking at organizations from a critical theory point of view is examining the unsatisfied voices and how the management deals with them. Again, the interests are on how emancipated the employees on the organization processes are. The success is measured from the participation and contributions of individuals and not how well the hierarchical structures coordinate. The organization as a requirement for surety of success needs to put in place better ways of empowering workers with knowledge. Critically, the decision-making process leads to other unseen ‘problems’ which might require changes in some of the tested bureaucratic structures or even a total overhaul of the same structures.

Postmodernism on the other hand examines organization processes, decision making and relationships from a wider area that does not rely on permanent truth in explaining aspects of organization processes. Relying on specific permanent positions privileges some forms of knowledge over others (Hatch, 2006: 16). In other terms, decisions and structure processes of organizations that are heavily strict on certain aspects fail the test of time as appropriate decisions in a crisis might be affected by the context, time and the urgency of the matter. Although offices are constituted to make decisions and individuals’ experiences are handy in decision making, its strict application denies the practicability of the process. Postmodernists’ value communication skills therefore efforts should be made to ensure it is precise and concise on what it intends to communicate. However, because language itself is a relative construct, lacking a fixed meaning, postmodernists argue that it is possible to engage in poor judgments and hence organizations should set systems of feedbacks.

Thus, for postmodernists, there is no fixed positions and actions (Hatch, 2006) in drawing solutions affecting the organization. The theory views the strengths of power as derived from the context of an organization and not the hierarchical and ordered system. To study the obedience associated with power you assess the context of the company and not the authority that gets things done (Jaffe, 2008). Postmodernists encourage setting internal organization checks and balances that ensure that things get done as planned. Michel Foucault’ suggests disciplinary power in organizations, which as noted by Hatch (2006) works well when the staff is aware of set systems of surveillance. Foucault anticipates workers in an organization to be in a state of self-surveillance when they are aware internal control measures are in place to monitor them. Organizations need to put up disciplinary technologies and devices with better-internalized controls than the use of hierarchy power and structures. In such a system of organization, one needs to check on the evidence of internal checks and technology in use as a way of examining the success of the organization. One has to check the commitments of these workers as a result of these internal checks.

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Comparisons between critical and postmodernism theories

Both postmodernism and critical theories are a reaction to the traditional positivist approach that was centered on the position of objectivism. Accordingly, the two theories affirm that human behavior is not predictable and view subordinates in any organization as the pillars upon which the success of the company can be built. The authority of the structures and positions should not be dictatorial in the decision-making process but rather be an all-inclusive process. The difference between the two aspects comes from the source of the power of the organization to succeed. Postmodernism draws its powers from the organization internalized control measures including technologies. For critical theorists, they believe in the power of knowing where the organization staff is provided with the knowledge to build in their powers to steer the organization to success. The source of the workers’ motivation in an organization is another source of difference between postmodernism and critical theories. For critical theories, the source of motivation emanates from their full participation. For postmodernism, the motivation results from control measures which might not be strictly human supervision but a mere notion that there is surveillance to ascertain their work. Postmodernism values modern supervision while critical theory values the creativity and individual abilities to help the company grow.


In conclusion, the paper has discussed the exercise of power and authority in an organization to ascertain the pervasiveness of power as a central aspect of organisational life from a basis of postmodernist theory and critical theory. It sought to understand the limits of power, authority, resistance and obedience in the process of organisation and management. Power was used to mean the ability to get things done, either through one’s own will or exercising the collective will of some group over others (Starbuck, 1976). Power, in this case, is only present when there is an equal relationship between parties and more so, when one depends on the other for something.

Reference List

Drucker, P. (1974). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row.

Graig, V. (2007). Defining issues related to power and authority in religious leadership. Journal of Religious Leadership vol 6 (2).

Hatch, M. (2006). Organizational theory: modern symbolic and postmodern perspectives, (2nd eds). London: Oxford university press.

Jaffe, D. (2008). Conflict at work throughout the history of organization in W. Dreu and Michele G. (eds). The psychology of conflict and conflict management in organizations. Lawrence Earlbaum.

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Senge, P. (1990). The art & practice of the learning organization in the new paradigm in business: Emerging strategies for leadership and organizational change (eds. Ray, M. and Rinzler, A.) 1993 by the World Business Academy. p. 126-138. New York: Jeremy P. Tarche.

Starbuck, W. (1976). Organizations and their environments in handbook of industrial and organizational psychology. Dunnette, M. D. (ed.) pp. 1069-1123. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Uris, A. (1986). 101 of the Greatest Ideas in Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Walonick, S. (1993). Organizational Theory and Behavior. Unpublished PhD dissertation.

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