Purpose – This study aims to explore the existence and strength of power through focussing on the manner in which accountants exercise power in their advisory relationship with small business.
Design/methodology/approach – Interviews provided insights into accountants’ power-related perceptions, experiences and use of power in the advisory relationship. A questionnaire accessed evidence from small business owner-managers (SBOMs). Power theoretical perspectives informed the analysis of the findings.
Findings – Accountants’ expert and information power is a consequence of SBOMs’ dependence on their accountants’ expertise and knowledge. Accountants construct advisor roles and exercise power in a manner indicating that they attempt to manage rather than exploit power imbalances to the detriment of dependent SBOMs. However, outbreaks of frustration and conflict in the relationship illustrate the difficulties in managing the dysfunctional consequences of power imbalances.
Research limitations/implications – While the findings are restricted to the Australian accountant–small business advisory relationship, they offer a basis for research into the effect of power on the relationship in other national contexts. Research which includes the views of managers of failed small businesses would also extend this work.
Practical implications – The study’s focus on accountants’ experiences can assist practitioners endeavouring to develop advisory relationships with small business and designers of professional development programmes seeking to optimise the value of the advisory relationship.
Originality/value – The paper extends the study of power to the under-researched yet important accountant–small business advisory area. Its findings are of interest to accountants and accounting policymakers who envisage a broadening of accountants’ small business advisory role.