Public Administration Research And Theory

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Journal of Public Administration Research And Theory, 2018, 212–225
Advance Access publication January 29, 2018
Does the Influence of Empowering Leadership
Trickle Down? Evidence From Law Enforcement
Jongsoo Park,* Shahidul Hassan†
*Korea University; †The Ohio State University
Address correspondence to the author at [email protected].
The purpose of this article is to elucidate mechanisms through which the effects of empowering
leadership practices may trickle down across management levels in public organizations. In this
effort, we assess whether public managers emulate the behavior of their supervisors when they
engage in empowering leadership to influence the behavior of their direct reports. We also examine
whether the subordinates of such managers are more likely to exercise voice to improve the
performance of their work units. These relationships are assessed with data collected using three
separate surveys from 101 managers in law enforcement organizations and 507 of their direct
reports. The results show that public managers who are psychologically empowered are more
likely to use empowering leadership practices with their subordinates and that managers’ perceptions
of psychological empowerment stem directly from the empowering leadership practices of
their supervisors. We also observe that subordinates of empowering public managers engage in
voice more frequently than subordinates of managers who are not empowering. Implications of
these findings for public management scholarship are discussed.
That empowerment can improve the morale, initiative,
and responsiveness of public sector employees
and the performance of public organizations has long
been suggested by many public administration scholars
(Hood 1991; Lynn 1998; Osborne and Gaebler
1992; Peters and Pierre 2000; Pitts 2005). Studies in
public administration have also shown that empowering
managerial and organizational practices are associated
with a variety of beneficial employee attitudes
and behavior (Fernandez and Moldogaziev 2011,
2013a, 2013b, 2015; Hassan, Mahsud, Yukl, and
Prussia 2013; Kim 2002; Kim and Wright 2007; Kim
and Fernandez 2017; Petter, Byrnes, Choi, Fegan, and
Miller 2002). However, few studies have examined
factors that motivate public managers to use empowering
leadership practices (Hassan, Wright, and Park
2016) or elucidated mechanisms through which such
practices may lead to the positive employee and
organizational outcomes (Cho and Faerman 2010).
The purpose of this article is to elucidate how the
influence, if any, of empowering leadership may trickle
down and affect the behavior of public managers and
employees at lower levels. In this effort, we rely on the
social cognitive theory (Bandura 1977, 1986) to explain
the processes of employee empowerment. The theory
suggests that individuals’ behavior in organizations is
guided through the process of self-regulation, in which
vicarious learning (i.e., learning through observing
the behavior of others, particularly role models) plays
a critical role in enhancing their self-efficacy beliefs.
These efficacy beliefs, in turn, shape individuals’ work
attitudes and efforts towards achieving their organizations’
goals (Bandura 1986). Following these assertions,
we posit that public managers are more likely to
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 213
use empowering leadership practices with their subordinates
when their direct supervisors engage in such
practices, and this modeling effect is mediated by the
subordinate managers’ perceptions of psychological
empowerment. Moreover, we assess whether subordinates
of empowering public managers are more likely
to exercise voice, an indicator of empowered behavior,
than subordinates of unempowering public managers.
Our study contributes to research in public management
in several ways. First, we integrate the relational
and psychological perspectives of employee
empowerment to provide insight into how empowering
leadership practices actually affect public managers’
experiences of empowerment, which subsequently
shape their behavior towards others in their organizations.
Most prior studies have relied on the relational
perspective, assuming that managerial practices
that are considered empowering would automatically
lead individuals to feel empowered instead of empirically
examining this assumption (Fernandez and
Moldogaziev 2011, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; Kim 2002;
Kim and Wright 2007; Kim and Fernandez 2017;
Petter et al. 2002). Second, our study contributes to
growing research on leadership practices in public
organizations. The importance of leadership in effectively
managing public organizations has long been
noted by public administration scholars (Meier and
O’Toole 2002; Rainey and Steinbauer 1999; Terry
1995), but few studies have examined whether the
influence of leadership practices cascades down across
management levels (Bass et al. 1987; Yang, Zhang, and
Tsui 2010). Our study extends prior work by assessing
the trickle-down effects of empowering leadership in
law enforcement organizations. Third, the extant evidence
on the effects of public employee empowerment
is based largely on same-source survey data, which are
susceptible to social-desirability bias. We overcome
this issue by using data collected from multiple sources
with three separate surveys from 101 law enforcement
managers as well as from 507 of their direct reports.
Our study, therefore, provides a stronger test of the
hypothesized relationships.
Employee Empowerment
Empowerment has been defined in several ways. In
an important conceptual paper, Conger and Kanungo
(1988) note that to fully understand the concept, one
must consider the root construct power from which
it is derived. In the broader management literature,
power is generally described in relational terms as the
control or influence that an individual or group has
over others (Pfeffer 2010). This relational perspective
of power has roots in the social exchange theory
(Blau 1964; Emerson 1962), which suggests that
power arises when the performance outcomes of an
individual or group are contingent on the actions and
resources of others (Pfeffer 2010). This implies that
all organizational members have power, but it varies
according to one’s dependence on others (Emerson
1962). The key sources of power for individuals
within organizations are the position or office that
they occupy, their personal characteristics such as reputation,
charisma, expertise, and knowledge, and the
ability to access information and resources that others
value (Bacharach and Lawler 1980).
Employee empowerment, according to the relational
perspective, is a process in which people who
hold power in an organization (e.g., managers) share
it with those who are relatively powerless (Conger
and Kanungo 1988). This is also how the Merriam-
Webster dictionary describes empowerment: that is,
“to give official authority or legal power to someone.”
In much of the management literature on participative
management, management by objectives, shared goalsetting,
and self-managing teams, empowerment has
been described from this relational perspective, with
an emphasis on sharing authority or power with individuals
at the lower levels of an organizational hierarchy
(Bowen and Lawler 1992, 1995).
Studies on empowering leadership have relied
on the relational approach and focused on identifying
practices that are likely to make subordinates
feel empowered. The practices identified in the early
research include soliciting feedback from subordinates,
providing opportunities for subordinates to take part
in making decisions, especially decisions that may
directly affect their work, and delegating authority to
allow subordinates to make decisions about their own
work (Kanter 1977; Vroom and Jago 1988). More
recent studies have expanded the boundary of the
relational construct and included other relationshiporiented
leadership practices, such as coaching to help
subordinates develop necessary skills, recognizing subordinates’
accomplishments with appropriate rewards,
and providing subordinates with the information and
resources needed to carry out their work duties effectively
(Ahearne, Mathieu, and Rapp 2005; Arnold et al.
2000; Hassan et al. 2013; Zhang and Bartol 2010).
The strength of the relational perspective is that
it can inform practice by suggesting specific steps
managers can take to empower their subordinates.
A key weakness of this perspective, however, is that
it does not provide a clear picture of the mechanisms
through which employees actually feel empowered.
Additionally, the relational perspective assumes that
empowering managerial practices such as delegation
will automatically lead employees to feel empowered.
However, it does not directly address the question of
how employees experience empowerment. To address
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214 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
these issues, Conger and Kanungo (1988) offer an
alternative theoretical perspective in which they conceptualize
empowerment as a motivational construct.
Specifically, they argue that empowerment (p. 474) is
“a process of enhancing self-efficacy among organizational
members through the identification of conditions
that foster powerlessness and through their removal
by both formal organizational practices and informal
techniques of providing efficacy information.” This
alternative perspective is based on Bandura’s (1977,
1986) social cognitive theory, which identifies the conditions
necessary for individuals to feel a sense of control
in relation to their work and an active orientation
to their work role.
Thomas and Velthouse (1990) and Spreitzer (1995)
extend the initial work of Conger and Kanungo (1988)
by providing a multidimensional conceptualization of
the psychological empowerment construct. They suggest
that psychological empowerment consists of four
dimensions: impact, competence, choice, and meaning.
Impact represents the degree to which one perceives
that she is able to make an intended effect in her task
environment. It is the opposite of the idea of learned
helplessness (Abramson, Seligman, and Teasdale 1978)
and analogous to the idea of internal locus of control
(Rotter 1966). Competence refers to the belief that one
is capable of performing the required job tasks skillfully.
It is a key determinant of one’s self-efficacy (Bandura
1977, 1986). Choice refers to perceptions about
whether one is able to initiate and regulate her own
behavior without others’ approval. It is a key aspect of
one’s perceptions of personal control (Brockner et al.
2004; Deci and Ryan 1985). Bandura (2001, 10) notes
that “Among the mechanisms of personal agency, none
is more central or pervasive than people’s beliefs in the
capability to exercise some measure of control over
their own functioning and over environmental events.”
Finally, meaning refers to the value of a work goal in
relation to individuals’ ideals and personal standards
(Thomas and Velthouse 1990). It represents the positive
energy individuals feel with respect to their work.
Meaninglessness is often accompanied with a sense of
apathy, whereas meaningfulness is associated with a
sense of purpose and active orientation towards life,
which propels individuals to become more engaged in
their work (Hackman and Oldham 1975).
Prior studies on employee empowerment in public
organizations have focused primarily on the influence
of certain organizational/managerial practices on public
employees’ work attitudes and behavior. Studies
by Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2011, 2013a, 2013b,
2015), for example, show that empowering organizational
practices are positively connected to federal
employees’ job satisfaction, willingness to innovate,
and perceptions of workgroup performance. The
practices that Fernandez and Moldogaziev focus on
are providing employees with information regarding
performance goals, allocating rewards to employees
based on job performance, providing employees with
opportunities to develop job-related skills, and delegating
authority to change work processes. Although
their research shows that these practices are related
to various desirable outcomes, it remains unclear the
extent to which public employees actually perceive
these practices to be empowering: that is, whether
they enhance public employees’ perceptions of efficacy,
meaning, impact, and autonomy. We contend that, to
fully understand the mechanisms of employee empowerment,
one should integrate the relational and psychological
perspectives. An integrated perspective would
help us to better understand how managerial practices
that are considered empowering actually affect public
employees’ experiences of empowerment and how such
experiences, in turn, influence their work attitudes and
behavior. It would also help us to identify the relative
efficacy of various empowerment practices, which can
inform and potentially improve management of public
Theory And Hypotheses
Social cognitive theory (Bandura 1977, 1986) provides
insight into how the effects of empowering leadership
may trickle down and affect the behavior of managers
and employees at lower levels in public organizations.
The theory suggests that human behavior is guided
through the process of self-regulation, in which selfefficacy
beliefs play a central role. Self-efficacy refers
to the confidence one has in her ability to succeed in a
given situation. Regarding the importance of efficacy
beliefs, Bandura (1986, 228) notes that “unless people
believe that they can produce desired effects and forestall
undesired ones by their actions, they have little
incentive to act. Whatever other factors may operate as
motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one
has the power to produce the desired results.” Efficacy
beliefs in organizations include perceived mastery of
the skills necessary to handle a particular job task
or situation. They also include perceptions about the
extent to which one can regulate her own actions and
influence the outcomes and behavior of others in her
workgroup and organization.
Individuals can strengthen their efficacy beliefs in
several ways. One mechanism is through the mastery of
skills and work experiences. Performance successes, for
example, can raise one’s self-efficacy beliefs, whereas
failures create self-doubts (Bandura 1986). Improving
capability through direct experiences (i.e., trial and
error), however, is time-intensive and may not always
be feasible or recommended, especially when the costs
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 215
of failures are very high. A second and less precarious
mechanism for enhancing efficacy beliefs is through
observational learning. Bandura (1986) suggests that
much of what people know and do is learned through
observing and modeling others’ behavior. Proficient
role models (e.g., an effective manager), for example,
can improve one’s confidence by conveying effective
ways of coping with different management problems.
This can be assisted with the process of social comparison
(Festinger 1954), in which individuals assess their
chances of success in handling a particular problem
or accomplishing a task by comparing their situation
with the situations of similar others and how others, in
particular, role models, successfully handled these situations
in the past. A third mechanism for enhancing
efficacy beliefs is through social persuasion. Bandura
(1986) notes that when people receive encouragements
from their role models, they are less doubtful about
their chances of success. Models can also help develop
higher efficacy beliefs by assigning challenging tasks to
individuals in which they are more likely to succeed
and by not prematurely assigning them tasks in which
they are less likely to succeed (Wood and Bandura
Social cognitive theory suggests that the efficacy
beliefs of public managers are likely to be influenced by
the behavior of their role models. We argue that managers’
supervisors, due to their expertise, higher social
status, and authority, are likely to serve as role models
and that managers are likely to follow closely their
supervisors’ behavior and emulate their leadership
styles. Accordingly, the extent to which public managers
feel empowered is likely to depend on the empowering
behavior of their supervisors. Empowering
leadership practices of a supervisor can help a subordinate
manager feel empowered in several ways.
Expressing confidence in a manager’s ability and providing
positive feedback, for example, can enhance the
manager’s confidence in handling challenging projects
(Ahearne et al. 2005). A subordinate manager is also
likely to feel empowered when her supervisor gives her
more latitude and authority about how to manage her
subordinates (Zhang and Bartol 2010). Accordingly,
the first hypothesis that we test in the current research
(figure 1) is as follows.
Hypothesis 1: Managers’ perceptions of psychological
empowerment will be associated positively
with the empowering leadership
practices of their supervisors.
Because psychological empowerment reflects a positive
motivational state, public managers who feel empowered
are more likely to rely on a positive leadership
style when they attempt to influence their subordinates’
behavior. Public managers who feel empowered,
therefore, are more likely to use empowering leadership
practices with their subordinates than managers
who feel powerless. Quinn and Spreitzer (1997,
46) note that “it is nearly impossible for unempowered
people to empower others.” Empowering subordinates
involves taking risks, trusting subordinates, and having
a genuine interest in subordinates’ development.
Managers who feel powerless are unlikely to take risks
or spend the time and energy needed to develop subordinates’
confidence. In contrast, because empowered
managers have a positive orientation towards their
work and others in their organizations, they are likely
to be more confident about their ability to influence
the behavior of their subordinates and create opportunities
for subordinates to take part in decision
making, get involved in interesting assignments, and
provide encouragement and support during stressful
periods (Quinn and Spreitzer 1997). The connection
between psychological empowerment and empowering
leadership has not been examined in any previous
research. Based on our theoretical arguments, the second
hypothesis that we test (figure 1) in this study is
as follows.
Hypothesis 2: Managers are more likely to use empowering
leadership practices with their
subordinates when they feel psychologically
Our third hypothesis concerns the relationships
between managers’ empowering leadership practices
and the voice behavior of their direct reports.
Hirschman (1970) defined voice as “any attempt at all
to change rather, than to escape from, an objectionable
Figure 1. Research Model.
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216 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
state of affairs … to make an attempt at changing the
practices, policies, and outputs of the firm from which
one buys or of the organization to which one belongs.”
According to this perspective, voice involves constructive
efforts that are aimed at improving conditions that
are unsatisfying. Recent studies show subtle variations
in how employees exercise voice in the workplace,
where it can be constructive or destructive (Gorden
1988), prosocial or defensive (Van Dyne, Ang, and
Botero 2003), and promotive or prohibitive (Liang,
Farh, and Farh 2012). Our study focuses on promotive
or improvement-oriented voice, which is an extra-role
or citizenship behavior and is akin to the idea of “taking
charge” (Morrison and Phelps 1999) and “issue-selling”
(Dutton and Ashford 1993). It includes speaking
up about problems that affect the performance of the
workgroup in which the employee belongs, communicating
ideas and suggestions about how to address
the problems, and encouraging other employees in the
workgroup to get involved in the issues that affect its
performance (Van Dyne and LePine 1998).
Voice is a key indicator of employee empowerment.
Employees are expected to become more proactive
and take initiative on their own when they are
provided with higher autonomy. Accordingly, voice is
often described in organizational research as a behavior
that reflects employees’ willingness to take responsibility
for decisions that are discretionary and often
require some degree of personal initiative (Robbins,
Crino, and Fredendall 2002, 435). Exercising voice,
however, involves taking risks, as such behavior may
challenge the status quo or existing ways of working
in an organization (Morrison and Phelps 1999). Unless
an employee feels that she is able to change existing
conditions or ways of working in an organization, she
is unlikely to raise concerns (Hassan 2015). This suggests
that perceptions of power and control are likely
to play a critical role in public employees’ willingness
to exercise voice.
We argue that supervisor behavior conveys important
cues to subordinates about whether it is safe for
them to engage in voice and shape their beliefs about
the likelihood of success if they indeed engage in voice.
Bandura (1977, 1986) suggests that individuals often
learn how to respond to a situation by observing the
behavior of others, especially those with more expertise
and higher social standing in the group. We contend
that managers, due to their higher position and
authority, are likely to be closely observed by their
direct reports (Wood and Bandura 1989). Subordinates
are more likely to view voice as appropriate when their
supervisor is receptive to their inputs and concerns.
Subordinates also are likely to feel empowered when
their supervisor demonstrates empowering leadership
and helps them improve their work capabilities.
Although the connection between empowering
leadership practices and the voice behavior of government
employees has not been thoroughly investigated
in prior research, there is some indirect evidence that
connects the two constructs. Detert and Burris (2007),
for example, found that managers’ openness to listening
to subordinates’ ideas, opinions, and concerns
were related positively to the frequency of their subordinates’
voice behavior. Another study found that
employees were more motivated to engage in voice
when they perceived their supervisors were supportive
and empowering (Cirka 2005). Following these studies
and our arguments based on the social cognitive
theory, we test the third hypothesis (figure 1) that is as
Hypothesis 3: Employees are more likely to engage in
improvement-oriented voice when their
supervisors engage in empowering leadership
Procedures and Sample
We tested the research model and three hypotheses
with data collected through three separate surveys
from 101 law enforcement officers as well as
their direct reports (subordinates). The officers were
employed in the State Highway Patrol, county sheriff’s
departments, and city police departments throughout
Ohio. We collected data while the officers took part
in an 11-week-long management training program
that was funded by the Ohio Department of Public
Safety and organized by a large public university in
the Midwest. The purpose of the training program
was to help law enforcement officers improve their
managerial skills. The training areas were leadership,
human resource management, budgeting and finance,
crisis management, decision making, and administrative
ethics. Officers with at least 1 year of supervisory
experience were eligible to take part in the training.
The vast majority of the trainees (75%) nominated
themselves and obtained their supervisor’s approval,
whereas about one-fourth were nominated by their
departments. The ranks of these trainees ranged from
sergeant to police chief, and they represented both
rural and urban counties in Ohio and small and large
police agencies.
We conducted a multisource leadership assessment
(i.e., 360-degree assessment) to provide the managers
with feedback about their managerial practices and
skills. Although this assessment was not required for
the successful completion of the training program,
nearly all of the managers (100 out of 101) participated
in the leadership assessment. We obtained the
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 217
data for 360-degree assessment from the managers’
supervisors, direct reports (i.e., subordinates), and
from themselves. To gather necessary data to provide
feedback, we asked the managers to provide the email
addresses of their supervisors and up to six direct
reports. We requested the managers to select subordinates
with whom they interacted on a frequent basis
and considered would provide honest feedback about
their leadership practices.1 We did this to obtain more
accurate data and to provide better quality feedback
to the managers. Moreover, the greater opportunity to
observe has been shown to lower rating errors in surveys
(Conway 1996).
We utilize data collected for the 360-degree assessment
as well as some additional data that we collected
from the managers while they were enrolled in the
training program. We obtained data for managers’ psychological
empowerment and their supervisors’ use of
empowering leadership practices through a survey that
we distributed and collected in class on the first day
of the training program. Before distributing the survey,
we informed the managers about the purpose of the
leadership assessment and noted that the collected data
would also be used for research on leadership practices
in law enforcement organizations. One of the managers
did not participate in the 360-degree leadership
assessment, resulting in a response rate of 99% for the
first survey.2
We obtained data regarding the managers’ use of
empowering leadership practices from their direct
reports by using a separate survey. We distributed this
survey, which also was part of the 360-degree assessment,
electronically to 507 subordinate officers. To
encourage the subordinates’ participation, we emphasized
in the recruitment email that the data would be
used to provide feedback to their supervisors and that
only aggregate data in the form of a report would be
made available. We also did this to obtain more accurate
reports about the managers’ behavior from their
subordinates. We informed subordinates that their
participation in the survey was entirely voluntary. The
online survey remained open for three weeks, during
which we sent up to three individualized email reminders
to maximize the response rate. Altogether, the subordinate
officers returned 446 usable surveys, for an
overall response rate of 88%.
We distributed a third questionnaire3 to all the
managers after collecting data regarding their leadership
practices from their subordinates. The purpose of
this third survey was to collect data about their subordinates’
voice behavior. We asked the managers to
report separately about each subordinate’s behavior.
This was done by placing subordinates’ names above
the survey items. Altogether, 100 of the 101 managers
completed this third survey for a response rate of 99%.
The final matched dataset, after deleting surveys with
missing values, consisted of 93 managers and 415 of
their direct reports.
The vast majority of the managers were Caucasian
(87%) and male (92%). Their average age was between
36 and 45 years, and their tenure in law enforcement
career ranged widely from 7 to 32 years, with a mean
of 19.7 years. The most frequently reported education
level was some college (30%), followed by a bachelor’s
degree (26%), high school (16%), and a graduate
degree (14%). Among the subordinates, 93.0% identified
themselves as Caucasian. Three percent identified
themselves as African American, 1.6% as Hispanic,
and 0.9% as Native American. A vast majority of the
subordinates also were male (85.4%). The average
age of the subordinates was between 40 and 49 years,
and their tenure in law enforcement ranged from 0
to 40 years, with a mean of 16.2 years. The most frequently
reported education level for subordinates was
some college (37.3%), followed by a bachelor’s degree
(27.3%), an associate degree (19.5%), high school
(12.1%), and a graduate degree (3.8%).4
We measured empowering leadership by using four
behavior scales of the Managerial Practice Survey
(MPS) instrument developed by Yukl and associates
(Kim and Yukl 1995; Yukl, Gordon, and Taber 2002;
Yukl, Wall, and Lepsinger 1990). The four practices
are sharing power, supporting, coaching, and recognizing,
and all are key components of the relationship-oriented
behavior meta-category identified by Yukl et al.
(2002). A close inspection of the definitions of various
leadership practices offered by Yukl and associates
(1995; 2002; 1990) shows that these four practices are
also key elements of various existing empowering leadership
scales (Ahearne et al. 2005; Arnold et al. 2000;
Boudrias, Gaudreau, Savoie, and Morin 2009). These
four managerial practices correspond closely to the
1 Although the duration and frequency of interactions between managers
and their subordinates may lead to over/under estimation of leadership
practices, we did not find any statistically significant difference
between self- and subordinate-ratings for empowering leadership.
2 As part of the leadership assessment, the trainees also rated their
own leadership practices. In the current research, we do not use
self-reported managerial practices because such data tend to be
inaccurate and are more likely to suffer from social desirability biases
(Favero, Anderson, Meier, O’Toole, and Winter 2016).
3 The third questionnaire was not part of the 360-degree assessment.
We distributed it specifically for this research. We distributed a fourth
survey to the trainees’ supervisors to collect data about trainees’
effectiveness as managers and in the performance of their units. We
do not use the data collected through this fourth survey in this article.
4 We did not collect demographic data for the supervisors to reduce the
length of the survey.
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218 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
measure used by Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2011,
2013a, 2013b, 2015) to operationalize empowerment.
As noted before, managers provided data regarding
their supervisors’ empowering leadership practices,
whereas their direct reports reported about their
empowering leadership practices. In both surveys, we
showed respondents three items for each of the four
empowering leadership practices and asked them to
provide one overall rating for each component behavior.
We did this to reduce the time required to complete
the survey. Each behavior had five response choices
(1 = not at all to 5 = a very great extent). Respondents
also had the option to choose “Don’t know or not
applicable.” The Cronbach’s alphas for this measure
were .80 for manager’s supervisor empowering
leadership and .86 for trainee manager empowering
Because multiple subordinates provided ratings for
each manager’s empowering leadership practices, we
aggregated the individual responses and calculated
an average score to construct the measure of trainee
manager empowering leadership. Methodologists
have suggested that when individual level data are
aggregated to the group or unit level, it is important
to demonstrate that there is sufficient within-group
agreement and between-group variation for the aggregated
measure. Following Klein and Kozlowski (2000),
we assessed within-group agreement for managers’
empowering leadership by estimating the rwg statistic
(James, Demaree, and Wolf 1984). The median rwg(j)
value was .83, which exceeds the suggested cutoff value
of .70, indicating sufficient within-group agreement
for the measure. We also calculated the intra-class correlation
(ICC) coefficients to determine the extent of
within-group agreement and between-group variation
for the measure. The ICC1 and ICC2 values of trainee
empowering leadership were .29 and .64. One-way
analysis of variance (ANOVA) also confirmed that
there was sufficient between-group variation for the
measure (F = 2.82, p < .05).
We measured psychological empowerment in the
first survey using the 12-item multidimensional scale
developed and validated by Spreitzer (1995). The
four dimensions are meaning, competence, self-determination,
and impact; we measured each dimension
with three items by using a 7-point response scale
(1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). The internal
reliability coefficient (i.e., Cronbach’s alpha) for
the overall measure was .83, whereas the Cronbach’s
alphas for the four dimensions were .85, .67, .92, and
.81 for meaning, competence, self-determination, and
impact, respectively.
We measured voice behavior using the six-item
scale developed and validated by Van Dyne and LePine
(1998). The managers provided data regarding their
subordinates’ voice behavior in the third survey. The
items were used to capture employee voluntary communication
efforts directed at challenging the status
quo of a work unit through suggestions. Sample items
included that a particular employee develops and
makes recommendations concerning issues that affect
this work group and speaks up and encourages others
to get involved in issues that affect this work unit.
We measured the items by using a six-point Likert-type
scale (1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree). The
Cronbach’s alpha for this measure was .90.
To isolate the effects of empowering leadership,
we included several controls in the analysis. First,
police organizations are typically subject to elaborate
rules and procedures as a means to reduce police
officers’ discretion and undesirable or illegal behaviors
(Oberfield 2010). These rules and procedures
may inhibit managers’ use of empowering leadership
practices and subordinates’ engagement in voice. We,
therefore, included a measure of red tape (Bozeman
2000) in the analysis, which we measured with a single
item in the subordinate questionnaire that asked
the following: If red tape is defined as burdensome
administrative rules and procedures that have negative
effects on the organization’s effectiveness, how
would you assess red tape in your office? The item had
a 10-point response choice (1 = no red tape to 10 = the
highest level). We aggregated (i.e., calculated average
scores) subordinate responses to develop a unit level
measure of red tape.
In addition to burdensome rules and procedures,
the size of a workgroup may limit managers’ use of
empowering leadership with their direct reports. We,
therefore, control for workgroup size, which we measured
with a single item in the trainee survey: How
many people currently work in your unit? We also
controlled for respondent characteristics (age, gender,
minority status, unit tenure, and education level) in
the analysis. We measured gender and minority status
(i.e., non-White) of managers and subordinates with
separate dummy variables (1 = female, 0 = male for
gender and 1 = yes, 0 = no for minority status). We
measured manager age with a single survey item in the
first survey: What is your current age? The item had
five response choices (1 = 25 or younger to 5 = 55 or
older). We measured subordinate age with a single item
from the subordinate survey, but it had six response
choices (1 = under 20 years to 6 = more than 60 years).
We measured manager and subordinate unit tenure
with a single item each that asked: How long have
you worked in your current unit? The item had six
response choices (1 = less than 6 months to 6 = more
than 5 years). We measured manager and subordinate
education with a single item that asked: What is
your highest level of education? The item also had six
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 219
response choices (1 = high school to 6 = professional
degree [J.D. / M.D]).
Preliminary Analysis
Because of the nested structure of our data (93 trainee
managers and 415 of their direct reports), we conducted
multilevel confirmatory factor analysis (CFA)
to assess the validity of the measures. We operationalized
psychological empowerment as a second-order
latent factor that consisted of four lower-order dimensions.
Following Hu and Bentler (1999), we used the
Comparative Fit Index (CFI), the Tucker-Lewis Index
(TLI), the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation
(RMSEA), the Standardized Root Mean Square
Residual (SRMR), and the Weighted Root Mean
Square Residual (WRMR) to assess the fit of the
measurement model.
The CFA results show that the hypothesized
four-factor model provides a good fit to the data.
The values for the fit indices are χ2(298) = 375.65,
CFI = .98, TLI = .98, RMSEA = .024, SRMRwithin = .05,
SRMRbetween = .08, and WRMR = .83. The CFA results
show that all scale items have statistically significant
factor loadings (p < .01) for their respective latent constructs
at the level at which they were measured. The
CFA results are summarized in table 1. Standardized
factor loadings (λ), as shown in table 1, for the constructs
range from .69 to .87 at Level 1 and .38 to .90
at Level 2 of the measurement model. Although second-
order loadings on two of the four dimensions of
psychological empowerment (i.e., meaning and competence)
are lower than .50, first-order factor loadings
on the vast majority of the items are above .70.
Moreover, the composite reliability estimates for all of
the constructs are reasonably high, and the magnitude
of factor inter-correlations are low to moderate. These
results together indicate that the study measures have
adequate construct validity.5
Table 2 presents the means, standard deviations,
and correlation coefficients for the measures. Although
the average scale scores for all study measures are
slightly negatively skewed, there is sufficient variation
in the data for all of the measures. As shown in table 2,
managers’ psychological empowerment is related positively
to their supervisors’ use of empowering leadership
practices (r = .32, p < .05) and their own use of
empowering leadership practices (r = .21, p < .05). The
correlation between subordinate voice and managers’
empowering leadership practices is positive and
statistically significant (p < .05) at the individual level
(r = .18), at the group level (r = .32), and at the crosslevel
(r = .25).
Hypotheses Tests
We relied on multilevel Structural Equation Modeling
(SEM) using Mplus to test our hypotheses. The use of
SEM allowed us to test the three hypotheses simultaneously.
We used the weighted least-squares meanand
variance-adjusted (WLSMV) estimator to test the
structural model. The structural model included all of
the control variables noted previously. We used the
Monte Carlo simulation to derive confidence intervals
(CIs) for the indirect effects of empowering leadership
(20,000 replicates), as Mplus does not provide bootstrapping
results for the multilevel structural model
(Preacher, Zyphur, and Zhang 2010; Selig and Preacher
The SEM results indicate that the proposed structural
model fit the data well. The fit indices obtained
are χ2(273) = 312.72, RMSEA = .018, CFI = .99,
TLI = .99, SRMRwithin = .06, SRMRbetween = .07, and
WRMR = .75. The SEM results are summarized in
figure 2.6 Hypothesis 1 suggested that public managers’
perceptions of psychological empowerment would be
related positively to the empowering leadership practices
of their supervisors. We find empirical support for
this hypothesis. As shown in figure 2, law enforcement
managers’ perceptions of psychological empowerment
are associated positively with the empowering leadership
practices of their supervisors (γ = .40, p < .01).
Hypothesis 2 suggested that public managers are more
likely to engage in empowering leadership practices
with their subordinates when they are psychologically
empowered. We observe that law enforcement managers
are indeed more likely to engage in empowering
leadership practices with their subordinates when
they feel empowered (γ = .40, p < .01). Moreover, we
observe that the coefficient for the direct path from
empowering leadership practices of managers’ supervisors
to their own use of empowering leadership practices
is not statistically significant (γ = .07, p >.10).
This suggests that managers’ perceptions of psychological
empowerment fully mediate the effects of their
supervisors’ empowering leadership behavior on their
own empowering leadership behavior.
Hypothesis 3 suggested that subordinates of
empowering public managers would more frequently
engage in improvement-oriented voice than subordinates
of unempowering public managers. As shown in
figure 2, the cross-level effect of managers’ empowering
leadership practices on the voice behavior of their
5 Meaning and competence are essential components of psychological
empowerment (Thomas and Velthouse 1990; Sprietzer 1995). Hence, we
did not exclude items for these two dimensions in the CFA despite the
weak (but statistically significant) second-order factor loadings.
6 To be parsimonious, the effects of the control variables are not shown
in figure 2.
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220 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
direct reports is positive and statistically significant
(γ = .57, p < .01). Additionally, the direct path from
the empowering leadership of managers’ supervisors
to their subordinates’ voice behavior is not statistically
significant. This suggests that senior law enforcement
managers only indirectly influence behavior on lowerlevel
employees by influencing the perceptions and
behavior of their subordinate managers.
In order to examine whether the cascading indirect
effects of empowering leadership practices are statistically
significant, we estimated Monte Carlo CIs of the indirect
effects. The standardized coefficient for the first indirect
effect (supervisor empowering leadership → manager psychological
empowerment → manager empowering leadership)
is statistically significant (.16, 95% CI [.05, .30]).
The coefficient for the second indirect effect (manager
psychological empowerment → manager empowering
leadership → subordinate voice) is also statistically significant
(.23, 95% CI [.07, .41]). The coefficient for the final
indirect effect (supervisor empowering leadership → manager
psychological empowerment → manager empowering
leadership → subordinate voice) is significant as well
(.09, 95% CI [.02, .18]).
Discussion and Conclusions
Before discussing the implications of our findings for
theory and practice, it is important to note the limitations
of our research. We obtained data for our study
from a select number of law enforcement managers
Table 1. Multilevel CFA Results (n = 415 Subordinates and 93 Managers)
Standardized Loadings (λ) Composite Reliability
Level 1 Level 2 Level 1 Level2
Empowering leadership (manager’s supervisor) — .79
Item 1 — .69
Item 2 — .78
Item 3 — .58
Item 4 — .74
Psychological empowerment (manager) — .64
Meaning — .41
Efficacy — .38
Autonomy — .74
Impact — .68
Meaning — .85
Item 1 — .65
Item 2 — .88
Item 3 — .87
Efficacy — .76
Item 1 — .67
Item 2 — .99
Item 3 — .43
Autonomy — .93
Item 1 — .83
Item 2 — .88
Item 3 — .97
Impact — .83
Item 1 — .85
Item 2 — .69
Item 3 — .81
Empowering leadership (manager) — .86
Item 1 — .73
Item 2 — .88
Item 3 — .72
Item 4 — .79
Improvement-oriented voice (subordinate) .92 .92
Item 1 .82 .77
Item 2 .81 .83
Item 3 .69 .69
Item 4 .85 .82
Item 5 .85 .90
Item 6 .87 .82
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 221
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics
Variables Mean SD Min Max 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Level 2
1. Empowering leadership (manager’s
3.65 .83 1.25 5 .80
2. Empowering leadership (manager) 3.93 .58 2.4 4.75 .17* .86
3. Psychological empowerment (manager) 5.97 .49 4.75 6.92 .32** .21** .83
4. Red tape 6.69 1.65 2.5 10 −.01 .08 −.11 —
5. Unit size 28.25 38.41 2 253 .01 .01 .17* .21** —
6. Manager gender (female = 1) .08 .27 0 1 .03 −.02 −.15 −.07 −.11 —
7. Manager race (non-White = 1) .13 .34 0 1 .04 .09 .13 .04 .06 −.00 —
8. Manager age 3.25 .56 2 4 −.08 .00 .19* −.03 .13 −.13 .09** —
9. Manager unit tenure 3.57 1.39 1 5 .04 −.09 .03 −.09 −.00 .04 .01 −.06 —
10. Manager education 2.91 1.34 1 6 −.01 .14 .08 .07 .04 .10 .00 −.28** .03
Level 1
1. Empowering leadership (manager) 3.92 .86 1 5 .83
2. Subordinate voice 4.50 .86 1.84 6 .18*** .90
3. Subordinate gender (female = 1) .14 .35 0 1 .02 −.08* —
4. Subordinate race (non-White = 1) .07 .25 0 1 .01 −.08* .02 —
5. Subordinate age 3.59 .90 1 6 −.09* .11** .07 .09* —
6. Subordinate unit tenure 4.04 1.13 1 5 −.19*** −.02 .02 .09* .25*** —
7. Subordinate education 2.74 1.11 1 6 −.04 .04 .04 −.12** −.11** −.11** —
Note: Cronbach’s alphas are reported in bold on the diagonal, n = 415 subordinates and 93 managers.
*p < .10, **p < .05, ***p < .01.
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222 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
who took part in a management training program. The
use of a convenient sample limits our ability to generalize
the findings to broader populations of public
employees. However, it is important to note that the
managers who took part in the training program represented
law enforcement organizations throughout
Ohio. The majority of the managers (75%) nominated
themselves to participate in the training program and
about one quarter of the managers were nominated
by their departments. A key motivation behind their
participation was improving their managerial skills
to prepare themselves for future leadership positions
in law enforcement organizations in Ohio. The ranks
of the trainees ranged considerably from sergeants to
police chiefs, and they were working in both rural and
urban counties. Moreover, the demographic characteristics
(in terms of race, gender, and age) of the participants
were similar to the characteristics of the broader
population of law enforcement officers in Ohio. The
selection bias, therefore, though present, may not have
been severe.
We obtained data for the managers’ leadership
practices from their direct reports. In order to conduct
the 360-degree leadership assessment, we asked
the managers to select up to six subordinates with
whom they interacted frequently. Because the direct
reports were not selected in a random fashion, their
ratings of their supervisors’ leadership practices might
have been biased. We did take some precautions in the
design of the study to address this problem, though.
Specifically, we asked managers to select subordinates
with whom they interacted frequently and considered
would provide accurate and honest assessments
of their leadership skills and practices. In addition, in
our recruitment email to the subordinates, we noted
that their ratings would be used to provide feedback to
their supervisors to help them become more effective
leaders. We also emphasized that the managers would
not have access to their individual ratings and that
only aggregated data in the form of a feedback report
would be made available. This was done to encourage
the subordinates to provide honest assessments of their
supervisors’ leadership practices. We believe that these
precautionary steps reduced the potential for response
bias in the subordinate survey. Nonetheless, because
the subordinates were not selected randomly and, on
average, only five reported about their manager’s leadership
practices, we are unable to completely rule out
the presence of response bias in the results.
Although our findings are largely consistent with
the arguments of social cognitive theory, we are unable
to rule out two alternative explanations due to the
data limitations. For example, it is possible that the
trainee managers self-selected in order to work with
supervisors who have leadership philosophies that are
similar to theirs or that the supervisors selected these
subordinates due to shared values and leadership orientations
(Schneider 1987). It is also possible that the
relationships that we observe here are due to a strong
occupational culture and values and norms prevalent
in most police organizations. Van Maanen (1975), for
example, conducted extensive field work on police
Figure 2. Multilevel SEM Results. Notes: n = 415 subordinates and 93 managers; ns = not statistically significant, **p < .01.
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Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2 223
organizations and found that through the process of
socialization, the attitudes and behaviors of police
cadets over time become very similar to the attitudes
and behaviors of senior members and their peers in the
workplace. Oberfield (2010) reports that junior police
officers’ behavior and decisions to follow rules are
strongly influenced by their peers’ behavior. Teasing
out these alternative explanations in future research
will be important in order to have more confidence in
our results and the conclusions that we draw here.
Because we rely on a cross-sectional design, we are
unable to infer any causal connections between the
measures. Statistical tests of mediation based on observational
data also limit any conclusions that can be
drawn about causal inferences. Readers of our research,
therefore, should exercise caution and not attribute any
causal relationships between the study measures. Future
research should consider using a probability sample
and an experimental design in order to test the causal
effects of empowering leadership in public agencies.
Despite these data and design limitations, our study
contributes to research in public management in several
ways. As noted previously, many studies have provided
evidence about the benefits of empowering employees in
public organizations (Fernandez and Moldogaziev 2011,
2013a, 2013b, 2015; Hassan et al. 2013; Kim 2002; Kim
and Wright 2007; Kim and Fernandez 2017; Petter et al.
2002). Few studies, however, have clarified how empowering
managerial practices actually lead to positive outcomes.
The goal of our research was to elucidate how
the influence of empowering leadership may cascade
down across management levels and affect the behavior
of managers and employees in public organizations. We
have relied on social cognitive theory (Bandura 1977,
1986) to understand processes of employee empowerment
and used data collected through surveys from law
enforcement managers and their direct reports to test
the hypothesized relationships. The results show that
managers in law enforcement organizations are more
likely to use empowering leadership practices with their
subordinates when they feel psychologically empowered
and that managers’ perceptions of empowerment
stem directly from the empowering leadership practices
of their supervisors. We also find that subordinates of
empowering law enforcement managers are more likely
to engage in voice than subordinates of those managers
who are not empowering.
These findings help us to better understand what
motivates public managers to use empowering leadership
practices with their subordinates. The results
show that in order to engage in empowering leadership,
managers themselves need to feel empowered.
This is consistent with our argument that empowering
others in organizations entails having some confidence
in one’s own ability to produce desired results and
exercise control over work events and circumstances in
the organization. Unless managers feel capable of regulating
their own actions and influencing outcomes and
behavior of others in their workgroups, it is unlikely
that they will be able to invest the time and energy
needed to empower their subordinates. The results
also show that the extent to which public managers
feel empowered depends on the empowering leadership
practices of their supervisors. The implication of
this finding is that for empowerment programs to fully
succeed in public organizations, senior managers must
have faith in such initiatives and lead by example (i.e.,
demonstrate empowering leadership to their followers).
Our study shows that empowering leadership practices
of public managers not only influence the behavior
of their subordinate managers but also indirectly
influence the behavior (voice) of employees at the
next level. Yukl (2009) notes that successful leadership
involves influencing the attitudes, behavior, and
capabilities of followers in positive ways. Public management
scholars have long noted the importance of
leadership in effectively managing public organizations
(Meier and O’Toole 2002; Rainey and Steinbauer
1999; Terry 1995). However, studies on managerial
leadership in public organizations have mostly focused
on the supervisor–subordinate relationship, not thoroughly
examining whether the influence of leadership
practices cascade down across management levels. The
two studies that have examined the cascading effects
of leadership in public organizations (Bass et al. 1987;
Yang et al. 2010) focused on transformational leadership,
not on empowering leadership, and did not consider
any perceptual mediating variables. Our study,
thus, makes a unique contribution to ongoing research
by examining the trickle-down effects of empowering
leadership in public organizations. The findings suggest
that senior public managers can indeed play an
important role in setting behavioral norms and expectations
for others in their organizations.
The findings have implications for management
practice. Bass et al. (1987, 85) note that “if leadership
is a role-modeling process in organizations, then
success in developing leadership abilities at one level
of management will in part hinge on the leadership
shown at the next higher level.” This implies that an
effective strategy to empower public employees may
begin by training senior public managers on the skills
and competencies necessary to practice empowering
leadership. With such training, senior public managers
can serve as role models to their followers and help
junior managers learn how to use empowering leadership
practices effectively with their subordinates and
improve their work capabilities.
Considerable work still remains to be done to identify
conditions under which empowering leadership
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224 Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2018, Vol. 28, No. 2
is likely to be more or less effective in motivating
public employees. The influence of empowering leadership
on public employees’ behavior, for example,
may depend on certain boundary conditions. Olshfski
and Cunningham (1998) note that the effectiveness
of any empowerment effort depends on a manager’s
willingness to share authority and employees’ readiness
to shoulder the responsibility that often comes
with empowerment. This implies that the impact of
empowering leadership may be moderated by subordinates’
performance levels. The effectiveness of
empowering leadership in motivating employees may
also depend on the formalization of rules and procedures
and the extent to which such factors constrain
public employees’ behavior. The focus of this research
was law enforcement organizations, which are subject
to elaborate rules. Empowering leadership practices
may actually have a stronger influence on employees
in public organizations that are less rule-bound or
place more emphasis on creativity and innovation.
Examining these interactive relationships will help us
to better understand conditions in which empowerment
initiatives are likely to be more or less effective.
Many studies have assessed the influence of employee
empowerment in public organizations, but few have
considered potential determinants of empowering leadership
practices. In the current research, we focused
on the role of psychological empowerment on public
managers’ use of empowering practices with their subordinates.
A variety of other individual and contextual
factors may influence such behavior. Research shows
that managers’ personal values, goals, and beliefs play
an important role on their leadership style and behavior
(Yukl 2009). This suggests that the extent to which
public managers’ values and goals align with their subordinates’
values and goals may determine the extent
to which they empower their subordinates. Future
research should consider examining these relationships.
Future research should also consider assessing potential
negative consequences of employee empowerment,
particularly in the law enforcement context. It is possible,
for example, that some empowered law enforcement
officers may misuse their authority or power and
engage in behaviors that are not in the best interests of
their organization or the broader community.
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