Knowledge and Expertise versus Formal Authority in Management

Knowledge and Expertise versus Formal Authority in Management


Management has been defined as a process consisting of planning organizing, actuating and supervising, undertaken to determine and realize the objectives of an entity through the use of people and resources. Dating from the early writings of Fredrick Taylor, Henri Fayol, Max Weber, Mary Parker Follett, and others, in the late nineteen century and early twentieth centuries and continuing through the present day, most authors have agreed that management involves the coordination and control of people, material, and processes to achieve specific organizational objectives efficiently and effectively as possible(Steers, Sanchez-Runde, & Nardon, 2010, p. 26). According to Tripathy and Reddy (2008, p. 2) Management is essential in all organized efforts, be it business activity or any other activity. Principles of management are universally used not only just for managing business organizations, but also applied to various other types of organizations.

Mary Follett Stance on Management

Mary Parker Follett was one of the first women to be recognized for her contribution to management theory. Follett was a proponent of the classical administrative thought, an approach whose focus was on the total organization with emphasis on the development of managerial principles rather than on work methods. Follett was a pioneer in the field of human relations and behavioral approach. She questioned the usefulness of scientific management in organizations. She saw the need for increased employee participation, decision making capacity and the use of teams in an organization (Banhegyi, 2007, pp. 31-32). Follett believed that changing these aspects would create better communication in organizations. According to Clayton (2013, p. 17), her recognition was as a result of her explorations of various management topics in the 1920s key among these being leadership, power and authority, conflict management, empowerment, teams, and what she termed as the ‘Law of the Situation’. This was as a result of her belief that there was undue emphasis on authority and control.

Her key contribution was her development of the idea that management leadership should not, and cannot, come from the power of formal authority but rather from a person’s knowledge and expertise (Alire & Evans, 2013, p. 19). Follett’s view of power and influence was that they did not flow from formal authority as much as they did from interpersonal relationships and from individuals’ areas of expertise(Clayton, 2013, p. 17). Follett held that work should be a partnership between management and workers and that management should derive its power from superior knowledge and expertise, not solely from authority. She viewed power, leadership and authority as dynamic concepts for improving cooperation and productivity, and believed that leaders were not born, but could be developed through proper education in group dynamics and human behavior (McDaniel, 1999, p. 21). Like Max Weber, she believed in giving authority to those who have the knowledge and expertise rather than those who rely on their position in the hierarchy (Bosch, et al., 2009, p. 149). In this way employees would become committed to their tasks. Her view was that the leadership in any team could be assumed by different members of a team as need arose. She believed that where knowledge and experience was located, there lies the key-man to the situation (Reekie & Hunt, 2013, p. 77).

Analysis of Mary Follett Statement

According to Waddell, Jones and George (2013, p. 44), Follett proposed that knowledge and expertise, rather than managers formal authority derived from their position in the hierarchy should decide who would lead at any particular moment. In this statement, it can be deduced that Follett viewed that the technical requirements of an industrial situation constrained the actions of both managers and workers. Thus she believed that the latter were not so much subject to the control of the former, but rather both were subject to the impersonal control of situational requirements. That is, according to Child (2012, p. 84) managerial expertise provided a means to assess the situation in an objective manner.This statement resonates with the collaborative type of leadership. This form of leadership emphasizes leadership as a process rather than a particular person or role in the organization (Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 869). In this approach leadership is viewed as a process that is socially and culturally constructed by people at all levels of the organization. As such, leadership can emanate from any location in the organization.

Collaborative leadership is defined as a mutual influence process where the boundaries between leaders and followers are fluid and flexible. Decisions are made through group processes such as consensus where people from multiple levels of the organization have an ability to influence both the process and the outcomes of decision making. In this way, leadership is not exercised by a single person, instead,it emerges through the interactions and communications of multiple workers. In the statement, Follett believed that leadership should be about engaging in an open process of collective discovery where people can create a shared vision and identify commitments to guide their work together.  She was of the view that as new ideas and challenges emerge, authority relationships can be rearranged to reflect the unique expertise and experiences of organizational members.

Follett believed that leadership ought to reside with those who have the most expertise required by the demands of the situation. When new situations and circumstances emerge, different people within the group can assume new roles in the leadership process, regardless of their formal titles or position within the organization (Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 870).  Through this approach of leadership, individuals or employees who are typically less powerful in the formal leadership structure could influence the direction of a unit or team.

According to Dee and Bess (2012, p. 870), this statement and view by Follett on leadership has the benefits of contributing significant organizational improvements and strengthening employee involvement in the organization. Employees are no longer passive cogs in a machine taking orders from above, instead, they are actively engaged in setting collective goals and structuring their own work roles.They add that this type of participation in the leadership of an organization may be viewed as a prerequisite for high levels of commitment and motivations, especially among knowledge workers who desire autonomy, interdependence, and opportunities for team development (2012, p. 871). In addition, this approach to leadership has been taken to demonstrate significant benefits toward organizational effectiveness, especially under conditions of ambiguity and change (Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 869).

However, this Follett’s view on leadership could also result to a number of challenges. These challenges can include building trust, establishing accountability, developing communication skills, and supporting opportunities for professional development.  Efforts to forge team or group based approaches to leadership often fail in organizations with low trust and in contexts where organizational members are not accountable to each other. Additionally, when organizational members lack the skills needed for group problem solving and collective action, Follett’s perception of leadership may be destined to fail. Therefore, in order to make an authentic commitment to collaborate leadership, organizations need to invest significantly in team building and skill development(Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 871).

Fredric Taylor Approach of Management

Fredric Taylor was christened the father of scientific management and was a strong proponent of the Classical scientific method of management. This school of thought arose due to the need to increase productivity and efficiency. Its main focus was to try and find the best way of getting work done by examining how the process of work was being accomplished and by closely scrutinizing the skills of the workforce(Clayton, 2013, p. 13).Taylor was concerned with achieving efficiency through the use of time-and-motion studies, which is referred to as “the cornerstone of scientific management”. Taylor held the view that the goal of good management was to pay high wages and have low unit production costs, and that management should remove from the shoulders of labor “controlling, planning, as well as organizing”(McDaniel, 1999, p. 15). He maintained that inefficiencies could be resolved by the application of scientific principles, thereby making management a true science. He felt that the systematic restriction of productive effort by the working class was a major cause of organizational inefficiency.

One of the more interesting ideas that Taylor advanced was labeled ‘Functional Foremanship’. In this scheme, workers would have various supervisors/leaders. This he believed would help the employees to be more productive. Taylor’s view of functional foremanship emphasized on the importance of knowledge and technical expertise as requisites for leadership rather than having positional authority in a ‘command and control’ hierarchy (Clayton, 2013, pp. 14-15).  According to McDaniel (1999, p. 15), Taylor believed managers should perform four basic functions. These he outlined as; using scientific determination of the elements within a job, selecting, educating and training workers scientifically, cooperating with workers to implement scientific methods, and finally, dividing the responsibility for work more equitably between management and workers.Scientific management was a success as these basic functions and principles that Taylor outlined offered a context to managers searching for methods to deal with labor relations at a time when higher productivity was needed. Taylor proved that the work place could be studied profitably and that standards and pay practices were important. He is also credited with developing the first systematic approach to management. Management, he believed, had its own tasks and responsibility, but could successfully cooperate with labor.

Henri Fayol position on Management

Fayol published the earliest comprehensive general theory of management.His contribution to the field of management is important in that he presented the first concept of management as a separate form of knowledge applicable to all human activity, the first comprehensive theory of management, and the concept of teaching and developing curricula for managers(Clayton, 2013, p. 11).

Fayol felt that management was an activity that all humans undertook regardless of the setting. Given this perspective, Fayol believed that everyone could benefit from learning a general knowledge of management. He identified six functions of management which he outlined as, planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, controlling and staffing (McDaniel, 1999, p. 19). In addition to these six functions of management, Fayol developed fourteen management principles which he felt could guide managers in resolving work-related problems. These principles in his understanding would provide managers with skills and abilities they needed to perform their roles. It is important to note that according to Fayol, the functions and principles of management could be learned.

How Henri Fayol and Fredric Taylor Position on Management relate to Mary Follett’s Statement

At the turn of the twentieth century, classical management theory gurus Henri Fayol and Mary Parker Follett argued against the use of a centralized, hierarchical model for organizations. Fayol maintained that authority should not be concentrated at the top of the organizational hierarchy, instead, employees needed to develop skills to improve organizational efficiency, and manager should encourage an esprit de corps around a common cause (Nisiewicz & Fry, 2013, p. 12). Follett on the other hand asserted that power and leadership in organization should stem not from a manager’s position of authority, but from knowledge and expertise. This idea of the importance of employee participation and motivation has continued up to the present day. On the other hand, Fayol and tailor differed in the perspective from which they viewed the problem of improving efficiency in the work place. Taylors approach was to address the problem from a technical point of view beginning at the shop floor, and working his way up. Fayol’s approach was to address the problem from a broader perspective beginning at the company’s board of directors, and working his way down (McDaniel, 1999, p. 19). Taylor’s approach to management dealt with specifics of job analysis, employee’s motions, and time standards; while Fayol viewed management as a teachable theory dealing with planning, and coordinating, commanding and organizing as well as controlling.

Having gone through the works of Henri Fayol and Fredrick Taylor and reviewing them based on the statement by Mary Parker Follett, it is apparent that they held contradictory views on the role that knowledge and expertise on one hand, and hierarchical authority should play in deciding who should lead in a particular situation.

Examining Fayol’s work, it is apparent that his view on management and leadership is in synch with the statement by Follett. Follett viewed leadership as a process rather than a particular person or role in the organization (Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 869). She was of the opinion that leadership should be viewed as a process that is socially and culturally constructed by people at all levels of the organization, and as such, can spring from any location in the organization. Follett held that leadership ought to reside with those who have the most expertise required by the demands of the situation(Dee & Bess, Understanding College and University Organization: Theories for Effective Policy and Practice; Volume II: Dynamics of the System, 2012, p. 870). According to McDaniel (1999, p. 19), Fayol believed that leadership and in extent management was an activity that could be learned. He held that management was an activity that people undertook regularly regardless of their setting or position. He emphasized that the functions and principles of management could be learned. His views can be taken to connote, as Follett alleged, that situational leadership should be pegged not on the managers or management formal position or authority, but rather, from the knowledge and expertise of the individuals as the moment.

On the contrary, exploring the works of Fredrick Taylor it is evident that his stand on management and leadership is divergent to the stance that was put forward by Follett. His approach was to address efficiency and work place problems from a technical point of view beginning at the shop floor, and working his way up. He was of the view that management should remove from the shoulders of labor “planning,controlling and organizing in addition to determining methods”(McDaniel, 1999, p. 15).Taylor opined that management ought to be scientific, and he emphasized on the process of work being accomplished, this resulted to his conception of the four basic functions of managers, all of which emphasized on the importance of positional management as opposed to the view held by Follett, which emphasized on situational leadership based on individual expertise and knowledge.


Follett’s stand on management served as a contrast to scientific management that was pronounced during her time. Her views are continually reemerging as applicable to modern managers who are faced with the problem of a rapidly changing work place environment. She stressed on the importance of people as opposed to engineering techniques as proposed by Taylor in his scientific management. Her ideas are applicable and timely today, such as, ethics, power and how to lead in an approach that encourages and promotes employees to give their best. Her concept of employee empowerment, facilitating rather than controlling or dictating employees, and consenting employees to act depending on the authority of situation led to other areas of management study. Her principles and thoughts introduced a new thinking which was not thought of by Tylor, and it broadened the scope of management.




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