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Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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1 What is power?

Image of a large figure and a very small figure.
Figure 1 Power over others

As you saw in Week 5, stakeholders hold varying amounts of power in organisations. Power is a complex term and usually refers to influence, control or domination. Power is the potential to influence, which may or may not be exercised. For example, a police officer has a number of powers but whether these are exercised and how they are exercised depends on circumstances. Power can be perceived as both positive and negative, depending on how that power is used – power can be harnessed for good! It is useful to think initially about power in society before examining power within organisations.

Activity 1 Who has power in society?

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Look at the following images and note what they make you think about in terms of power: does the person have power? Is the image a negative or a positive depiction of power?

Described image
Figure 2 Depictions of power
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Some people would see the image of the politician as doing good – others would have a different view. People working in banks or other major corporations are often perceived as having too much power. Bill Gates has enormous power derived from his wealth and commercial success. Yet he and Melinda Gates are also philanthropists. Having established a major grant-giving foundation, they use their power and wealth for good causes. People without work or homes probably feel they have no power in society due to their socio-economic position.

Activity 1 starts to illustrate that power is one of those controversial topics that frequently evokes strong views and feelings. It also raises many awkward questions, such as:

  • Is it acceptable to have power or does power corrupt?
  • Is power just a question of what position you occupy?
  • Does everyone have some power or is it just the preserve of a few?
  • What, if any, power do I have?
  • Can power be exercised responsibly?

Bear these questions in mind as you work through this week.