Political models embrace those theories that characterize decision-making as a bargaining process. Analysis focuses on the distribution of power and influence in organizations and on the bargaining and negotiation between interest groups. Conflict is regarded as endemic within organizations and management is directed towards the regulation of political behaviour (Bush, 2003):
Political models assume that in organizations policy and decisions emerge through a process of negotiation and bargaining. Interest groups develop and form alliances in pursuit of particular policy objectives. Conflict is viewed as a natural phenomenon and power accrues to dominant coalitions rather than being the preserve of formal leaders. (p. 89)
Baldridge's (1971) research in universities in the U.S. led him to conclude that the political model, rather than the formal or collegial perspectives, best captured the realities of life in higher education.
Political models have the following major features:
- They tend to focus on group activity rather than the institution as a whole. Ball (1987) refers to “baronial politics” (p. 221) and discusses the nature of conflict between the leaders of subgroups. He adds that conflict between “barons” is primarily about resources and power.
- Political models are concerned with interests and interest groups. Individuals are thought to have a variety of interests that they pursue within the organization. In talking about "interests," we are talking about pre-dispositions embracing goals, values, desires, expectations, and other orientations and inclinations that lead a person to act in one way rather than another (Morgan, 1997, p. 61).
- Political models stress the prevalence of conflict in organizations. Interest groups pursue their independent objectives, which may contrast sharply with the aims of other subunits within the institution and lead to conflict between them. “Conflict will always be present in organisations . . . its source rests in some perceived or real divergence of interests” (Morgan, 1997, p. 167).
- Political models assume that the goals of organizations are unstable, ambiguous and contested. Individuals, interest groups and coalitions have their own purposes and act towards their achievement. Goals may be disputed and then become a significant element in the conflict between groups (Bolman & Deal, 1991): The political frame . . . insists that organizational goals are set through negotiations am ong the members of coalitions. Different individuals and groups have different objectives and resources, and each attempt to bargain with other members or coalitions to influence goals and decision-making process. (p. 190)
- As noted above, decisions within political arenas emerge after a complex process of bargaining and negotiation. “Organisational goals and decisions emerge from ongoing processes of bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among members of different coalitions” (Bolman & Deal, 1991, p. 186).
- The concept of power is central to all political theories. The outcomes of the complex decision-making process are likely to be determined according to the relative power of the individuals and interest groups involved in the debate. “Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when and how . . . the sources of power are rich and varied” (Morgan, 1997, p. 170-171).
Sources of Power in Education
Power may be regarded as the ability to determine the behaviour of others or to decide the outcome of conflict. Where there is disagreement it is likely to be resolved according to the relative resources of power available to the participants. There are many sources of power but in broad terms a distinction can be made between authority and influence. Authority is legitimate power, which is vested in leaders within formal organizations. Influence depends on personal characteristics and expertise.
There are six significant forms of power relevant to schools and colleges:
- Positional power. A major source of power in any organization is that accruing to individuals who hold an official position in the institution. Handy (1993, p. 128) says that positional power is “legal” or “legitimate” power. In schools, the principal is regarded as the legitimate leader and possesses legal authority.
- Authority of expertise. In professional organizations there is a significant reservoir of power available to those who possess appropriate expertise. Teachers, for example, have specialist knowledge of aspects of the curriculum. “The expert . . . often carries an aura of authority and power that can add considerable weight to a decision that rests in the balance” (Morgan, 1997, p. 181).
- Personal power. Individuals who are charismatic or possess verbal skills or certain other characteristics may be able to exercise personal power. These personal skills are independent of the power accruing to individuals by virtue of their position in the organization (Bolman & Deal, 1991).
- Control of rewards. Power is likely to be possessed to a significant degree by individuals who have control of rewards. In education, rewards may include promotion, good references, and allocation to favoured classes or groups. Individuals who control or influence the allocation of these benefits may be able to determine the behaviour of teachers who seek one or more of the rewards.
- Coercive power. The mirror image of the control of rewards may be coercive power. This implies the ability to enforce compliance, backed by the threat of sanctions. “Coercive power rests on the ability to constrain, to block, to interfere, or to punish” (Bolman & Deal, 1991, p. 196).
Control of resources. Control of the distribution of resources may be an important source of power in educational institutions, particularly in self-managing schools. Decisions about the allocation of resources are likely to be among the most significant aspects of the policy process in such organisations. Control of these resources may give power over those people who wish to acquire them.
Consideration of all these sources of power leads to the conclusion that principals possess substantial resources of authority and influence. However, they do not have absolute power. Other leaders and teachers also have power, arising principally from their personal qualities and expertise. These other sources of power may act as a counter-balance to the principal's positional authority and control of rewards.