Role Theory

Role theory

Role theory suggests that the behaviour of individuals depends on other people's expectations of them and how they are supposed to behave in a given situation. This is an important consideration when deciding how best to manage staff.

Definitions and terminology

 A role is the expected pattern of behaviours associated with members occupying a particular position within the structure of the organisation.

There are several terms associated with role theory:

  • Role signs are visible indications of the role. Style of dress and uniform are clear examples of role signs. These may be voluntary (a male accountant wearing a grey or blue suit and a tie) or mandatory (in military, police and hospital occupations, variations in uniform denote status).
  • Role set describes the people who support a lead person in a major role, e.g. the clerk and junior barristers would form part of a senior barrister's role set.
  • Role behaviour certain types of behaviour can be associated with a role in an office or works. For instance, the 'crown prince' behaving as if they are heir apparent to a senior position.

Problems with expected patterns of behaviour

Role theory also identifies several problems that these expected patterns of behaviour may cause.

  • Role ambiguity arises when individuals are unsure what role they are to play, or others are unclear of that person's role and so hold back co-operation. This can arise, for example, when a new member joins an established group.
  • Role conflict arises, when individuals find a clash between differing roles that they have adopted. A company finance officer who uncovers fraud by senior management may feel a conflict between the roles of professional confidentiality and honest citizenship.
  • Role incompatibility occurs when individuals experience expectations from outside groups about their role that are different from their own role expectations.
Created at 8/9/2012 2:13 PM  by System Account  (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time : Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
Last modified at 11/13/2012 5:22 PM  by System Account  (GMT) Greenwich Mean Time : Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London

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