The Real Power of the Front Line Supervisor And Where Does It Come From? Part II

Published: 15th September 2010
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Part II

Well my friends we began this discussion on just how really powerful a supervisor's position is. The example we used was a supervisor asking a subordinate to put just a few extra hours on a time card to claim a little extra crash on his bi-monthly pay check... to be split later at Joe's Bar and Grill.

The subordinate is faced with a choice, and an age old dilemma. Seek help from the supervisor's supervisor, remain silent and comply with the request, or locate their "zone of indifference". If the employee thinks the company can afford a few extra dollars... then no big deal, and it fits into their "zone of indifference".

But, the supervisor's power over that employee is obvious.

So let's talk about an even more realistic situation that recently happened in one of our nations' mysteriously operated coal mines in the Mountains of Appalachia. Seven men perished in a deadly mine blast. The cause was determined to be Methane gas.

For centuries the coal mining industry has known that Methane gas possess the most serious threat to mine workers than in any other threat. Yet, men and women are still dying in our coal mines when humans are left to decide profit over safety; production over loss of life.

In this recent example a safety devise located in the mine, that detects the levels of methane gas was inoperable... broken and not working. The safety supervisor in the mine was aware of the malfunctioning monitoring device, but ordered a subordinate low level maintenance worker to leave the device in place and not replace it with one that worked.

This of course would slow production, closing the mine until replaced. The supervisor was under the gun and had recently been called on the carpet for his production numbers.

The subordinate complied, even though he was placing his co-workers in deadly harm's way. This workers 'zone of indifference" assisted in the deaths of his co-workers and caused a supervisor to over exercise his real Power.

This worker's "zone of indifference" should have been more narrow and discerning. The supervisor's request was clearly wrong, but his power to request it was apparent. People died!

So let's talk about the next phase of a supervisor's power. Reward Power

This type of power is based on a person's ability to reward a follower for compliance. It happens when a supervisor has / possesses a resource that another person wants and is more than willing to exchange that resource in return for a certain behavior.

If the followers value the rewards or potential rewards the supervisor can provide (recognition, a better job assignment, a significant pay increase, perks, notoriety, etc.), they are more willing to broaden their "zone of indifference". However, if the rewards are not seen as being less valuable, then the real power of a supervisor is diminished.

Coercive Power Next week.

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