Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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Introducing the voluntary sector

1.2 Your own sources of power

You have just considered the following sources of power:

  • position
  • resources
  • expertise
  • information.

In Activity 2, you will consider how these sources of power relate to your own experience.

Activity 2 What power do you have?

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Power varies depending on the context: for example, your expertise may be recognised in one situation but not another. Consider your own sources of power (as listed above) in the following situations (if applicable) and make notes on each aspect.

  • Situation A – a group or an individual over whose work (paid or unpaid) you have some formal authority.
  • Situation B – a manager, group or management committee that has some formal authority over your work (paid or unpaid).

For each situation rate your different sources of power on a scale from one to five, where one is low and five is high. Compare the two situations. What differences do you notice?

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One key issue to remember is that your sources of power will vary according to the different situations you face. If you were able to explore situation A, you probably found that your position and control of resources were more important in situation A than in situation B. You will be more likely to be in a position to control information flowing down the organisation in situation A, and up in situation B.

If you do not work as a manager, you may feel that you do not have a large amount of power and authority, but you may have identified one or two areas where you do feel you have some power (or autonomy at least). Volunteers are often given responsibilities similar to managers or supervisors, perhaps coordinating the work of other volunteers or interviewing new recruits.

Not everybody has formal power in their work or volunteering – or wants it. From examining these interrelated sources of power, hopefully you will see that there may be situations where you do have power, perhaps through your knowledge or control of information. The following activity should help you think more broadly about power and the issues raised in Activity 2.

Activity 3 Does power corrupt?

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Make some notes in answer to the following questions:

  1. Does everyone in organisations have some power or just a privileged few?
  2. Do you think that power corrupts (and what does this mean) or can it be exercised responsibly?
  3. Are some forms of power more acceptable than others?
  4. What power do you have?
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  1. Everyone has some power even if it is just the power that comes from other people’s dependence on your goodwill or labour, which you may withhold. Of course, power does vary greatly between people and some are definitely more powerful than others.
  2. This generalisation is too sweeping. A more accurate version might be ‘high concentrations of power tend to corrupt’ – it is very tempting to get your own way without carrying people with you. Alternatively, if the responsible use of power involves accountability, another version would be ‘power without accountability corrupts’. Of course, some people with high concentrations of power do also empower others to do positive things.
  3. The forms of power and influence that are regarded as acceptable will vary depending on the values and norms that are held within a particular group or organisation. People often view expertise and persuasion strategies as legitimate forms of power and influence.
  4. The power that you have will vary depending on who it is you are trying to influence and the context of your relationship. The tasks in this activity should have helped you recognise the sources of power you may have beyond authority or position power.

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