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Power Bases and Empowerment

I have always had a soft spot for John French and Bertram Raven’s model of Social Power Bases.  I am pretty certain in my recollection that this was the first management model I learned on my first management course as a new and eager management consultant fresh out of university.

Basic Consulting Skills was the course and, to my sorrow, I never found a slot for it in any of my consulting skills programmes.  Clients will insist on setting requirements that suit them, rather than indulge a trainer’s preferences*.

Social Power Bases

For those who are unfamiliar with the model (and who don’t have your copy of The Management Models Pocketbook to hand), let me recap, briefly.

French and Raven looked at the power within organisations.  They determined that all power originated from social interactions, rather than from the organisations themselves (as earlier researchers like Amitai Etzioni had theorised).

Their work led them to categorise these sources of social power into first five, then later seven power bases.  These are derived from the resources that the holder has at their disposal.

1. Legitimate Power – based on seniority of position

2. Reward Power – based on ability to offer inducements

3. Coercive Power – based on ability to impose sanctions

4. Expert Power – based on skills and expertise

5. Referent Power – based on personal characteristics; charisma

6. Information Power – based on the knowledge you can access

7. Connection Power – based on the people you can access

After French and Raven

This has proved a useful and enduring model, and so has attracted further research and speculation.  Later researchers and theorists have tinkered with names and definitions of the power bases and added more.  I think the strongest of these (which I included in my Pocketbook) is:

8. Resource Power – based on privileged access to valued resources

French and Ravens Social Power Bases


All of the above description is by way of a context to a new speculation.  It concerns one of the zeitgeist concepts of today: empowerment.  By reading dictionaries, looking on the web and drinking tea, I have come to a definition I think satisfactory for this word in the modern organisational context:

‘a socially endorsed management process that
grants people genuine control and authority
within the work place’

I do know that this is a bit of a mouthful.  First the granting of power must be led by more senior managers than the people granted the power.  Second, there is no power unless those people’s peers endorse it.  And third, the meaning of power must be about control and authority.

Empowerment as a Power Base

So here is my speculation.  If empowerment grants me power, then I have a power base.  I cannot make that power base fit neatly into my understanding of any of the eight established bases of power, that have been around since the 1950s.  So I am going to propose a new Social Power Base that, to my knowledge, has never been published before:

9. Empowered Power – based on socially endorsed organisational authority, granted by legitimate power

Management Pocketbooks you might like

The Empowerment Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook (Chapter 8 covers power bases)

The Assertiveness Pocketbook

The Delegation Pocketbook

* Don’t worry, I have fitted it nicely into my ‘Three Hour MBA’ seminar.

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