The Resource Dependence Theory (RDT)
contributes a political perspective to organizational analysis
and explains why firms undertake cooperative strategies and establish ties with other firms with
whom they share the supply of resources and human competencies. Pfeffer and Salancik criticized
previous studies of organizations as too focused on the internal working of the organizations and
having ignored the political dimension. They suggest that in order to understand the actions and
choices of organization
one needs to look beyond the be
liefs and values of organization leaders and
more on situations in which the organization exists and the pressures and constraints resulting in
RDT depicts the links among organizations as power relations based on resource
exchanges and depe
RDT model is presented as a model of political struggle
organizations seeking to influence each other to gain advantage. They describe similar struggle
within the organization between different members.
is based on
assumptions: 1) Organizations need access to resources to
scarce resources as the environment
3) Organizations try to minimize
uncertainty in order to surviv
Resource dependency is an open
ory that states
all organizations exchange resources with
the environment as a condition for
The theory is concerned about the relationship of an
organization with the
set of actors in its environment
It describes how organizations face
competitive pressures and may depend on, or be impacted by, other actors in the environment for
its survival. RDT
’s need to access resources from other actors in the
environment and describ
es how resource scarcities force organizations to
build coalitions with other
RDT is resource scarcity
ompeting for the same
of scarce resources.
This creates a resource dependency
are dependent upon other organizations
in the immediate “task environment” to
obtain resources. The
theory predicts that the
to reduce or increase its
level of reliance on those a
so as to minimize uncertainties around accessing the needed
rough actions such as alliances
Organizations facing substantial environmental
uncertainty will attempt to minimize it by pursuing inter
organizational ties. At the same time,
esource scarcities may force organizations to pursue new innovations that use alternative
In other words,
organizations work toward two related objectives: 1) to minimize their
dependence on other organizations and 2) to maximize the dependence
of other organizations on
them. Attaining either objective is predicted to affect the exchange between organizations, which in
turn affects an organization’s power.
According to RDT,
decisions made inside the organizations are a result of pressures from
ctions cope with uncertainty resulting from dependence.
for external resources
financial, physical and informational makes the
organizations dependent on
sources of these resources.
s not just on products and customers but
also suppliers and other players
in the environment that affect
the flow of resources to the
organization. In light of th
e constraints, organizations have
the option of negotiating with other
entities to pursue th
eir own interests.
s the organizations negotiate and/or try to alter
their environment, new sets of constraints and interdependencies result. There is what Pf
a dynamic interaction and evolution of
environments resulting in
organizations and inter
organizational relations over time as organizations
choices as to how best
resource dependency theory addresses the importance of power over efficiency and rationality in
understanding the inter
organizational behaviors. In the environment of
, not all organizations are equally powerful. Some have more power than others
due to the nature of interd
ependence (multiple suppliers and
one buyer) and their importance/
These external re
source dependencies also create
internal power differentials
among sub units/people in the organiz
ations. The sub unit that plays
the most critical role in
survival, by managing the environment
al dependencies and hence reducing
These power differentials may change depending on the changes in the environment.
the resource dependence perspective applies both inside and outside the organization.
In this perspective,
within the given environmental constraints
try to acquire resources without creating difficult dependencies.
Three roles of a manager are
symbolic, responsive and discretionary. In the symbolic role, outcomes are determined
by the en
vironment and managers are merely a symbol of control.
In the responsive role, the
actions are taken in response to the constraints in the environment. In the discretionary role, the
focus is on altering the system of constraints and dependencies in the e
RDT discusses some implications on aspects of organization design: 1) scanning systems to keep up with
the information on changes in the environment, 2) loosening dependencies (diversification), 3)
managing conflicting demands and constraints
(sub units that are loose coupled, use of slack
resources), 4) chief executive positions.
RDT has im
plications regarding the divisional
structure of organizations, recruitment of board members
and employees, production strategies, contract structure, exte
rnal organizational links, and many
other aspects of organizational strategy.
theory does very little work to explain the internal structure and workings of the organization.
The theory's major limitation is its assumption that organizational beha
vior and structures are
shaped primarily by
forces; it does not recognize the role of cultural and
ideological forces on the structure of the organization.
Comparison with other Organization Theories
Both RDT and P
emphasize the importance of environment for understanding
organizations. Key differences
While PE takes selection processes resulting from
competition as a given
is bidirectional and
rganizations altering their environments
, 2) organizations changing and adapting
environment 3) organizational decisions on structure and behavior
. In addition,
does not explain internal organizational dynamics su
ch as power different
ials and implies
longitudinal lifecycle of organizations due to its stress on births and dea
ths processes and the notion
of resistance to change.
In comparison, RDT
predicts dynamic changes
as organizations engage in
in response to change
s in environmental constraints.
RDT and Structural Contingency Theory (SCT)
uphold the adaptive a
pproach to external
differences among organizations result from deliberate changes in strategy and
structure in re
ponse to changes in environ
ments. Managers are able to make decisions to ensure
functioning and survival of their organizations.
Structural contingency view seems to consider entire
where as RDT is concerned primarily with the boundaries
s with suppliers, clients etc. The main focus
is on boundary arrangements like PR,
legal and suggests that the rest of the organization (the tech core) is shielded from the environment.
SCT sees envir
somewhat objectively where as in RDT environment is how the managers
perceive and manipulate it.
These theories adopt different positions on level of discretion of the manager, they all agree on the
change using adaptation concept. Explicit focus on chang
e differs among the theories.
managers are rational decision makers responsible for modifying org
order to adapt to its environment.
The change may be gradual and reactive to environmental
According to the Stra
tegic Management theory (SMT), manager’s role is to make
discrete choices of change in strategy to achieve strategic fit in the environment. Managers have the
total power and choice to make the changes and are only partially constrained by enviro
Ideology, expectations and power play the most important role
voluntary vs deterministic
RDT is in the middle of this spectrum.
Manager is seen as a manipulator of constraints
and of the social setting
to have a planned r
esponse to preserve autonomy in light of