The role of subjective threat in upward influence situations

Vincent Waldron, James Sanderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The practice of organizational democracy requires members to exert influence. However, members often "pass" on the opportunity to exercise upward influence because they perceive the act to be threatening to them or to their supervisors. Drawing from Porter's early political theory of upward influence (Porter, Allen, & Angle, 1981), this study examined the role of relationship maintenance behavior and relationship quality in shaping threat perceptions in 2 different influence contexts. A survey of 319 working adults revealed that established patterns of relationship maintenance behavior predisposed employees to view situations involving upward influence to be more or less threatening. The current quality of the leader-member relationship was an even more substantive predictor. However, context moderated the relational effects. Relationship variables accounted for more variance in perceived threat when the influence was intended to advance legitimate (organizational), rather than illegitimate (personal), objectives. It is suggested that a "threat management" model of communication could guide future research on upward influence and similarly risky forms of workplace communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-254
Number of pages16
JournalCommunication Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Leader-member exchange
  • Relationship maintenance
  • Upward influence
  • Work relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of subjective threat in upward influence situations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this