What is Authority and its Sources?

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Authority can be described as the level of discretion that has been provided to the people to make their own judgment regarding significant matters. Generally, it has been seen that in case of small organizations, the decision-making power is held by a few persons only. However, with the increase in the size of the organization, the need arises to delegate authority to more and more person so that the increasing work of the organization can be completed effectively. It is not possible for a single person in the organization to do all the work that is necessary to achieve the purpose of the group. Therefore it is also not possible that all the authority to make the relevant decisions should be exercised by only a single person, particularly when the size of the organization is very large. In this context, authority can be described as the right of a person to give orders and also to make sure that these orders are followed. The elements of authority can be described as follows:

i. A right is present in case of authority. This right is provided to the person by a superior. As a result of this right, a person can regulate the behavior of the subordinates.

ii. The right present in authority to give orders to subordinates is a legitimate right.

iii. The right of making a decision is also a part of authority. This allows a person to decide what needs to be done and also the fact that when a task has to be done and who is going to do it.

iv. Authority is conferred with a view to influence the behavior of the subordinate and to make sure that the right things are done at the right moment.

v. In all the cases, the exercise of authority is subjective. The personality of the person who has the authority and the person on whom it is exercised, have an impact on authority.

Authority: Sources of Authority
There are a number of theories present regarding the sources of authority. While some believe that authority flows from the top downwards, there are others who believe that authority flows from bottom to upwards as a result of its acceptance by the persons on whom the authority is going to be exercised. In this way, several different theories are present regarding the sources of authority.


1. Traditional Authority: This type of authority arises as a result of the social order and the relationships between the community, in the form of a lord and its subjects. As a result of this obedience, the authority of the lord arises. In this way, the traditional chief has the right according to his own pleasure and he can make decisions on his own. However generally, while making these decisions, considerations like justice and ethnic equity are kept in mind. This type of authority can be passed down from father to son. In case of family system, traditional authority is exercised by the father over the other members of the family. In this case, the father guides the activities of the other members of the family and they obey the authority of the father due to tradition.

In case of traditional authority, there is no formal law and therefore the faithfulness and personal loyalty play an important role instead of the compulsion of following binding rules and regulations or the duties that are imposed by a particular office.

2. Legal or Formal Authority: This view provides that authority is based on the rank or the position of the person exercising the authority and this authority could have been provided by the law or by social rules and regulations that are protected by the law. For example, authority may be provided to the law enforcement agencies for arresting a person who is suspected of committing a crime. In the same way, authority is present with the CEO of the company of taking action against an employee who does not follow the rules of the organization. This is known as the formal authority.

The formal authority is found in case of bureaucracy where this type of authority is conferred on the officers who have been contractually hired and appointed. In case of a company, the board of directors is appointed by the shareholders and the board exercises the authority. The board of directors can also delegate its authority to the chief executive of the company, who can delegate it further, to the managers of the organization.

In this way, while bureaucracy can be described as the purest example of legal authority, there are certain other forms of authority that are present in case of elected office bearers or the office bearers who have been appointed by the members. Authority is available with these persons as their role has been defined by the rules and regulations of these bodies.

Acceptance Theory of Authority: According to this theory, the authority of the superior is meaningless unless the authority is accepted by the subordinates. It has been mentioned in this regard that due to this reason, the acceptance of authority is the most significant. On the other hand if the subordinates are not willing to accept the orders given by their superior, the authority enjoyed by the superior will be meaningless. Experts have pointed out that an order given by the superior will be accepted by the subordinates if:-

• Such order is well understood;

• The subordinate believes that the order is consistent with the goals of the organization;

• The subordinate believes that the order matches the personal interests of the subordinate as a whole; and

• The subordinate is able to adhere to the order physically/mentally.

An order may be accepted by the subordinates if they are set to achieve a gain by accepting the order or may lose out if they do not accept the order. It has been stated in this regard that an exercise of authority will be accepted by an individual if the advantage that will be achieved by the individual from accepting the order and the disadvantages for not accepting the order are more than the advantages that may occur if the order is not accepted than the disadvantages taking place consequently. Therefore, it can be said that the acceptance of an order is the function of the advantages that may arise as a result of accepting the order. Although the acceptance theory supports the behavioral approach towards management, it also presents a number of problems in the organization. For example, this theory undermines the role played by a manager within the organization. The manager may not be sure if the orders given by him will be accepted by the subordinates or not. The manager will come to know about it only when the orders given by him had actually executed. But such a situation means that the orders are flowing in the organization from bottom to top.


Competence theory: It is also believed that the authority is generated as a result of the personal competence of the person giving the order. Therefore, the orders given by a person may be accepted not as a result of the formal authority but as a result of the personal qualities of the person giving the orders. These qualities can be personal or technical. For example, the advice given by some persons may be accepted by others even if the person giving the advice does not have a formal authority. However these persons enjoy this authority due to their personal qualities like intelligence, knowledge, skill or experience. Hence, when a doctor gives advice to the patients to take some rest, the patient accepts the advised due to the knowledge of the doctor and not due to the reason that the doctor has any formal authority or legal right. The reason is that the patient will get relief only if he accepts the advice given by doctor. In the same way, we accept the advice given by the car mechanic because we are aware of his competence. In this way, sometimes, as a result of the competence of the person, the person enjoys the status due to which others accept the authority of person.

3 Charismatic Authority: the charismatic authority of person depends on the personal charisma of the leader as a person enjoys the respect of his followers. In such a case the personal traits like intelligence or integrity could have an impact on others and these persons follow the orders given by the leader due to these personal characteristics. The followers of the leader become attached to their leader if they feel that the person can help them in achieving your own goals. Generally, it has been seen that the charismatic leaders are also good orators and as a result they have hypnotic effect on their followers. Political and religious leaders fall under this category. For example, John F. Kennedy was a political leader who commanded huge respect from his followers as a result of his charismatic personality. The effects of this charisma can also be seen in case of film actors. Probably due to this reason, many political parties also get associated with film actors. There are number of instances when the people start following a person due to his or her charismatic personality and not due to any other reason.

This article has been written by KJ Singh a MBA Graduate from a prestigious Business School In India
Article Published:March 13, 2017
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