In This Article Self-Efficacy

  • Introduction
  • Foundation Knowledge
  • Theoretical Overviews

Management Self-Efficacy
Marilyn E. Gist, Angela Gist
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0043


Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s perception of his or her capacity to perform a specific task. Albert Bandura is credited with recognizing the importance of self-efficacy in human agency. He clarified that self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities to mobilize personal resources, such as motivation, cognitive, and behavioral skills, in order to orchestrate task-specific performance. Theoretically and empirically, self-efficacy has been shown to have wide-ranging implications for organizational behavior. Much evidence supports its importance in human agency and its interaction with variables involved in cognitive self-regulation (goal setting, feedback, etc.). Self-efficacy also has been validated as making an impact on learning and performance applications, such as training, leadership, decision making, and creativity. In addition, scholars have found that self-efficacy predicts differential behaviors in a number of job situations. To date, the most important of these are work stress and strain, unemployment and job seeking, employee citizenship and extra-role behaviors, employee attitudes, commitment and adaptability to change, newcomer socialization, and entrepreneurial behavior. Importantly, self-efficacy measures must be adapted to the specific task under investigation. Self-report tools are used to address perceptions of capability across a range of performance outcomes. Guided by Bandura’s work, some scholars differentiate self-efficacy “magnitude” from self-efficacy “strength” and self-efficacy “generality.” Magnitude refers to a comparative level of performance (e.g., whether one believes she can produce one, two, or three publications next year), while strength refers to one’s confidence (e.g., probability) in achieving at that level. Less commonly measured, generality refers to the application of efficacy beliefs across situations. Because self-efficacy is task-specific, care must be taken in scholarly research to understand the dynamics of the task involved in the evaluation; for instance, different types of tasks require different skills and motivations. For the same reason, caution is needed when generalizing empirical findings to new tasks. However, this limitation also illustrates how potent the construct of self-efficacy is, given the vast body of evidence showing its predictive validity in organizational behavior. In addition, constructs derivative of self-efficacy have evolved to address group situations. These refer to group efficacy, team efficacy, or collective efficacy, and have been measured using both single ratings of team consensus and averages of individual ratings. The potency of self-efficacy also has relevance to a popular dispositional construct: core self-evaluations. Findings from studies of group efficacy and core self-evaluations generally support the predictive validity of these broader measures, although the predictive path may operate through self-efficacy.

Foundation Knowledge

Scholars in organizational behavior who are interested in self-efficacy may benefit from understanding its roots. The two sources below yield differing types and degrees of background knowledge. Bandura 1986 is considered a classic; in it, the author moved beyond his early framework of social learning theory to a very sophisticated articulation of how our cognitions both emerge from environmental feedback and influence subsequent behavior. This text is rich and thorough. Readers should anticipate a deep grounding in the psychological processes underlying self-perceptions. By contrast, Gist 1987 is recognized for articulating the relevance of self-efficacy specifically for organizational phenomena. It does so by linking self-efficacy to a number of extant theories and workplace issues that were and are being studied. It is not a comprehensive review of research, but it pointed the way for future study by clarifying how and why self-efficacy matters. Finally, the measurement of self-efficacy has been viewed as cumbersome by some scholars, particularly in applied situations. Maurer and Pierce 1998 assessed the use of Likert-type scales and found similar reliability, and predictive and discriminant validity, for its approach when compared to Bandura’s format.

  • Bandura, Albert. Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

    E-mail Citation »

    This pivotal work integrates advances in cognitive, psychological thought that led to its surpassing behaviorism as the dominant paradigm. Bandura articulates how human agency (our ability to direct action toward results) involves complex thought processes—cognitive self-regulation—that mediate the observed stimulus-response behaviors formerly explained by classical and operant conditioning.

  • Gist, Marilyn E. “Self-Efficacy: Implications for Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management.” Academy of Management Review 12 (1987): 472–485.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article introduces management scholars to the construct of self-efficacy, derived from Bandura’s work. It defines self-efficacy, summarizes its roots in social learning theory, and explains how it is traditionally measured. The article then suggests how self-efficacy relates to key motivational approaches, as well as to organizational practices.

  • Maurer, Todd J., and Heather R. Pierce. “A Comparison of Likert Scale and Traditional Measures of Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Applied Psychology 83 (1998): 324–329.

    DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.83.2.324E-mail Citation »

    The traditional form of self-efficacy measurement requires not only that it be task-specific, but also that scholars assess both self-efficacy magnitude and strength over a range of difficulty levels. This study offers strong evidence that self-efficacy measurement can be simplified by the appropriate development of a Likert-type scale.

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