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The Role of Politics and Power in Organizational Behavior

Organizations are political environments where people can utilize formal or informal forms of power to advance their agendas. The manifestation of politics and power dynamics in organizational behaviors such as decision-making, communication, and conflict resolution significantly impact how organizations function (Bicer, 2020). The interplay between formal and informal power in organizational departments influences an organization’s communication, interactions, and outcomes (Bicer, 2020). while self-interest-based politics can be detrimental, political acumen and actions supporting collective objectives can benefit organizations.

Formal vs Informal Organizational Power

Organizational power can be either formal or informal. Formal authority stems from one’s structural position in a company (Slade et al., 2020). For instance, the manager has more authority than his employees, and his decisions can be deemed final. On the other hand, informal power results from relations and political skills (Slade et al., 2020). For instance, a famous politician can gain power in a given organization by forming a good relationship with the chief executive officer of that organization. Managers and other departmental heads have legitimate authority over their subordinates and resources, thanks to their positions in the organization. However, studies reveal that only half of the manager’s authority comes from their position; the rest comes from their interpersonal abilities and political acumen.

Accruing informal power requires the ability to forge strategic coalitions and alliances to manage critical information flows and make compelling arguments (Buchanan & Badham, 2020). For instance, engineers can have more influence than their managers due to their expertise in product development despite needing more formal authority. A CEO’s office assistant may wield much informal influence as they control the CEO’s calendar and approve requests for her time. The role of a person in an organization can make them wield more significant influence than those with formal power. Informal authority requires high interpersonal skills and a high-value skill or service that the organization heavily depends on.

The interaction and communication patterns are influenced by both formal and informal authority. While managers with legitimate power can dictate information flows through formal channels in the organization, informal influencers can quickly disseminate information unofficially through workplace networks. For example, lawyers in a law firm might lobby the managing partner to designate associates to cases aligned with the attorney’s expertise and interests. Despite the managing partner having the final say over such decisions, he will factor in advice from influential lawyers.

Power, whether formal or informal, can be a great contributor to organizational conflict. For example, middle managers and professional employees often clash over job autonomy. Professional staff resist influence from middle managers to maintain discretion in the technical aspects of their jobs. Additionally, most professionals understand that organizations depend heavily on their technical skills. However, middle managers insist that professional staff adhere to standard operating procedures to ensure their output is easily monitored and controlled. The middle managers and professionals will leverage the power at their disposal in this organizational conflict. Managers utilize formal authority to evaluate performance and oversee workflow, while professionals leverage their expertise and peer solidarity.

Another source of organizational conflict is resource allocation. Companies experience competition between different departments for budget allocation, filling of staff slots, and essential equipment needed for their operations and advancement. For instance, the marketing department can argue that a higher budget should be allocated to them to cater to social media advertisement. However, this argument will lead to conflicts with the research and development department as they might feel that they are the ones who require more funding for new lab equipment to facilitate their research.

Influence strategies and impression management

Organizational politics go beyond obvious power struggles and entail more subdued methods of persuasion used by individuals to try and change opinions and rally support for their goals (Sun et al., 2021). For instance, a department manager might decide to control information about himself to paint a positive image in other people’s eyes. Managers and employees can use impression management to highlight their achievements and give excuses for their failures by blaming external factors to create a positive image. Studies have shown that the most effective influence strategy employed by supervisors to obtain the desired job status is self-promotion wh, which includes highlighting one’s strength and displaying humility in the workplace.

People can also use other influence tactics that are fair and more acceptable to create a positive image of themselves. For example, people can employ standard persuasion techniques such as facts, data, and logical arguments to gain support from others in the organization. Additionally, inspirational appeals that tap into people’s emotions, values, and ideals and consulting others during decision-making can be essential when yielding support (Sun et al., 2021). Other leaders form relationships that help build allyship at the workplace, rallying support in times of need. However, tac logical persuasion tends to be more effective than coercive means to rally support.

Impression management has significant effects on organizational outcomes. Influence tactics affect decisions, ranging from authoritarian demands to democratic participation. Using coercive means by leaders to sway opinions or get things done can create a toxic culture where employees become less productive due to fear. Similarly, using ingratiation behaviors such as gift-giving to influence people is not sustainable in the long term since relationships become transactional instead of merit-based. However, logical persuasion and consultative strategies boost understanding and consensus by supporting organizational goals and objectives. Unethical, self-serving persuasive tactics that undermine equity and objectivity can fracture organizations.

Impression management can easily fracture organizations that value transparency and accountability, mainly due to employees who self-promote beyond their capabilities. Impression management poses the danger of having incompetent personnel holding positions that require excellent competency, thus leading to organizational failure. Leaders must be careful when hiring new workers or promoting staff to avoid hiring people due to inflated resumes or ingratiating behavior. Time spent on impression management can be spent on other valuable activities to propel the organization forward. Impression management should be ethical and backed with capabilities to help employees advance their skills to help realize organizational goals.

Organizational politics and leadership style

Leaders utilize their political orientation and leadership styles to influence the power dynamics in their organizations. An autocratic leader consolidates decision-making authority and controls the activities of his subordinates. This leadership style suppresses opposition by eliminating sources of uncertainty and consolidating power (Bicer, 2020). Alternatively, democratic leaders accept employee contributions in setting initiatives and refining agendas. While democratic leaders encourage employee involvement, it allows workers to challenge their leader’s opinions and lobby decisions in their favor.

Leaders can shape politics through their stance on conflict. Leaders who avoid conflicts will be reluctant to air disputes and promote feigned unity in the workplace. However, such tactics can lead to suppressed tensions and generate informal politics. Leaders who adopt constructive conflict resolution strategies ensure transparent negotiations, unlike conflict-averse leaders. Ensuring subordinates feel heard eliminates the need for political maneuvering in an organization. Therefore, while authoritarian and conflict-averse leaders foster shadow politics, democratic and conflict-accepting leaders avoid shadow politics through transparent conflict resolution systems.

Power and politics have profoundly impacted animations, whether big or small. Power dynamics can have positive or negative impacts on organizations. For example, some leaders can gain disproportionate power and influence in certain divisions through formal or informal means. Organizations can benefit if the power and influence are used responsibly to realize organizational goals and objectives. However, unchecked power can lead to negative implications such as reduced transparency, hoarding knowledge, and stalled collaboration, leading to inefficacy across departments.

Imbalanced power and politics can immensely affect talent management in an organization (Bicer, 2020). Biased decision-making by leaders can lead to the loss of valuable talent, as some leaders tend to hire and retain employees who appreciate their leadership styles and political philosophies despite being incompetent. Additionally, leaders can exhibit unhealthy political behaviors to push for self-serving policies. Negative power and political balance can also repel valuable talent and lose them to their competition. Misuse of power can result in unmotivated employees with lower morale. Centralized power can make employees feel undervalued and hence shy away from contributing due to fear of retaliation. Similarly, unchecked power can create a toxic environment in the workplace, hence low productivity among employees. Therefore, power should not be narrowly concentrated in organizations to ensure fairness in decision-making and retaining valuable talent.

Ultimately, politics and power struggle permeate organizational life. Organizational authority can be obtained through formal means, where power is legitimately bestowed on a person by the position he holds in an organization or through informal means, by forging relationships with influential people. Forging informal influence requires excellent interpersonal skills and political acumen. Power and politics influence communication flows and impression management in organizations. Unchecked power and influence can have dysfunctional effects such as unhealthy internal politics, biased decisions, and reduced employee morale, all of which can fracture an organization. Organizations should design strategies to avoid the negative implications of power and politics.


Bicer, C. (2020). The power and politics in organizations. Iksad Publications (Ed.), Discussions between economic agents socio-economic studies (pp. 221–245). Iksad Publications.

Buchanan, D., & Badham, R. (2020). Power, politics, and organizational change. Sage.

Slade Shantz, A. F., Kistruck, G. M., Pacheco, D. F., & Webb, J. W. (2020). How formal and informal hierarchies shape conflict within cooperatives: A field experiment in Ghana. Academy of Management Journal63(2), 503–529.

Sun, Y., Fang, S., & Zhang, Z. J. (2021). Impression management strategies on enterprise social media platforms: An affordance perspective. International Journal of Information Management60, 102359.


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