Predicting leaders’ behaviours – the determinant of subjective norms

Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991)

The second determinant in the TPB is a social factor, termed a ‘subjective norm’ and ‘refers to the perceived social pressure to perform or not to perform the behavior’ (Ajzen, 1991, p. 189). Often, the social pressure is an individual and Ajzen calls these individuals ‘social referents’ (Ajzen, 2012).

In context of leadership, subjective norms relate to a leader’s perceptions of what they should and should not do in terms of the perceived expectations of others (social referents) (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Subjective norms as a determinant of intention can be demonstrated in Shipps and White’s (2009) study, in which the principals identified their stakeholders as state and district authorities (external) and teachers, students and parents (internal). Ajzen would call the external and internal individuals social referents (Ajzen, 2012). In Shipps and White’s first wave of research (2004–2005), the principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their internal social referents. In their second wave of research (2007–2008), the same principals were more likely to comply with the opinions of their external social referents. In these two studies, the principals’ perceptions of the expectations of the social referents changed along with their intentions. These changes may have been attributed to the reported stakes at a higher level. School closures and staff deployments were some of the consequences in the jurisdictions where the later study occurred. These changes point to the possibility that principals are more likely to be influenced in their priorities (complying or not complying with particular social referents) according to the level of consequence. Ajzen’s approach to subjective norms helps to clarify the dynamic that may have been at work in these principals’ perceptions of their social referents and the value that they attached to different referents over time. In this way, the value they put on complying with the referent influenced the behaviour of these principals.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.

Ajzen, I. (Ed.) (2012). The Theory of Planned Behavior (Vol. 1). London: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Prediction of goal-directed behavior: Attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. Englewood Cliffs: NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shipps, D., & White, M. (2009). A New Politics of the Principalship? Accountability-Driven Change in New York City. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(3), 350-373. doi:10.1080/01619560902973563

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