A Sense of Agency

In the corporate world, we often speak of someone "having a sense of urgency." That is, you understand the expectations of others, especially having to do with deliverables and their associated deadlines. In descriptive terms, a person with a sense of urgency moves quickly to get things done ahead of schedule if possible.

But, until the other day (thanks to blogger Astha), I had not heard the phrase "a sense of agency." What is that? And is it important?

The concept of a sense of agency seems to arise out of philosophy (Wittgenstein) and continue into psychology (e.g. studies of autism).

In a nutshell, it is the sense one has of being the owner of one's actions and decisions. The language of agency has the sound of intention and of initiative: “I did.” “I chose.” “I decided.”

Sounds like the language of a leader, no?

A person with a sense of agency, then, is someone who takes ownership. It's someone who takes responsibility for what they are accountable for. Someone who takes action.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, posted 05/05/06


starbucker said…
Terry, your post really rang a bell with me. My first boss used to use "sense of urgency" like a hammer. If a project wasn't going as fast as he'd like, out it would come - "Where's your sense of urgency, man"? The words in that context always felt threatening, not inspiring. So after about 7 years of hearing it constantly, I find that now as a manager I don't use it, because I just don't like to manage by fear. I'd rather simply hire people that have that "sense" in them from day one.
Terrence said…
I know what you mean. Funny how these phrases (another favorite of mine, that was used as a hammer, is "tolerance for ambiguity") get used to diminish and to punish, rather than to encourage and develop.

Anonymous said…
Writing my master thesis in psychology on delusional disorder. This was just what i wanted to know. Perfect:)
Anonymous said…
thanks for the clear explanation...just studying educational psychology
m d g
Terrence Seamon said…
Dear MDG,
You're welcome. Out of curiosity, in what context is this notion of "sense of agency" coming up in your studies? The reason I ask is that this entry is one of the most popular on my blog.
Masters Thesis said…
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Masters Thesis Writing

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