Functional experts as institutional workers : the case of occupational safety and health professionals

This paper examines how functional experts conduct institutional work through an inductive case study of OSH professionals selected from a sample of 231 subsidiaries of a large construction company.

The study of institutional work, as opposed to construing actors as either determined by the institutional setup or as all-powerful institutional entrepreneurs, allows for a realistic insight into the processes underlying general institutional dynamics and thus yields better explanatory and predictive power in understanding institutions and organizations.

We construct a framework of how functional experts act as institutional workers, consisting of four processes: networking within the organization, networking outside the organization, using indirect coercion and leveraging managerial artifacts and we analyze the structural conditions necessary for functional workers to become institutional workers. We propose how these insights into institutional work can serve to better explain and predict institutional processes in general.