Chapter 8: Organizational Roles

Role Theory

Role theory examines the dimensions of roles by exploring their effects on organizational members and on the organization as a whole. This theory was established through the work of Robert Merton and Talcott Parsons after World War I (Bess & Dee, 2012, p. 246).

Bess and Dee (2012) state there are two foci within the role theory: first, the role of the organization without being specific about what behaviors are associated with them; and second, to describe roles in terms of behaviors expected, rather the functional effects of the roles (p. 247).

Dyadic Organizing

The emphasis of this theory is on two-person relationships, and this theory generally holds for all role behavior. Bess and Dee (2012) explain that the theory suggests that there are three phases in the adoption of the role: role enactment, role routinization, and role socialization.

Role Conflict Theory

Bess and Dee (2012) define role conflict as “the degree of incongruity or incompatibility of expectations and communication to a focal person by his/her role senders” (p. 262).  Additionally, the incongruities or incompatibilities can be traced to either inadequate time or logical or ethical incompatibilities (Naylor, Prichard, & Ilgen, 1980). This theory incompasses four subcategories: Person-role conflict, Inter-sender conflict, Intra-sender conflict, and Inter-role conflict.


Bess, J. L., and Dee, J. R. (2012). Understanding college and university organization: Theories for effective policy and practice; Volume I-the state of the system. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Naylor, J. C., Prichard, R. D., & Ilgen, D. (1980). A theory of behavior in organizations, New York: Academic Press.

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