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Power in health care organizations: Contemplations from the first‐line management perspective

Ulla Isosaari (Social and Health Management, Faculty of Public Administration, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 9 August 2011




The aim of this paper is to examine health care organizations' power structures from the first‐line management perspective. What liable power structures derive from the theoretical bases of bureaucratic, professional and result based organizations, and what power type do health care organizations represent, according to the empirical data? The paper seeks to perform an analysis using Mintzberg's power configurations of instrument, closed system, meritocracy and political arena.


The empirical study was executed at the end of 2005 through a survey in ten Finnish hospital districts in both specialized and primary care. Respondents were all first‐line managers in the area and a sample of staff members from internal disease, surgical and psychiatric units, as well as out‐patient and primary care units. The number of respondents was 1,197 and the response percentage was 38. The data were analyzed statistically.


As a result, it can be seen that a certain kind of organization structure supports the generation of a certain power type. A bureaucratic organization generates an instrument or closed system organization, a professional organization generates meritocracy and also political arena, and a result‐based organization has a connection to political arena and meritocracy. First line managers regarded health care organizations as instruments when staff regarded them mainly as meritocracies having features of political arena. Managers felt their position to be limited by rules, whereas staff members regarded their position as having lots of space and influence potential.

Practical implications

If the organizations seek innovative and active managers at the unit level, they should change the organizational structure and redistribute the work so that there could be more space for meaningful management.


This research adds to the literature and gives helpful suggestions that will be of interest to those in the position of first‐line management in health care.



Isosaari, U. (2011), "Power in health care organizations: Contemplations from the first‐line management perspective", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 385-399.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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