What is authority


Authority is the degree of discretion conferred on people to make it possible for them to use their judgement.When an enterprise is small then decision-taking power is centralised in few hands. As the enterprise grows there is a need to delegate authority to more and more people to cope with the work. The main purpose of delegation is to make organisation possible. “Just as no one person in enterprise do all the tasks necessary for accomplishment of group purpose, so it is impossible, as an enterprise grows, for one person to exercise all the authority for making decisions.”

Authority is the legitimate right to give orders and get orders obeyed. It has the following elements:

1. There exists a right in authority. The right is given by a superior to the subordinate. It puts the persons in a position to regulate the behaviour of his subordinates.

2.The right of giving of order is legitimate.

3. The right of decision-making also goes with authority. This will enable in deciding what is to be done,when it is to be done and who is to do it.

4.Authority is given to influence the behaviour of subordinates so that right things are done at right times.

5.The exercise of authority is always subjective. It is influenced by the personality traits of the person on whom it is used.

Sources of Authority

A number of theories exist about the sources of authority. Some persons are of the view that it flows from upward to downward subordinates, others feel that it goes from bottom to upward because of its acceptance by those on whom it is to be used, the theories of authority are discussed as follows:

1. Legal/Formal Authority- According to this theory authority is based upon the rank or position of the person and this authority may be given by law or by social rules and regulations protected by law. A law may grant authority to a policeman to arrest a person committing a crime. The president of a company may take an action against an employee for not complying with rules because company rules has bestowed this authority in him. This authority is called formal authority. This type of authority is embedded in the bureaucracy where authority is bestowed upon contractually hired and appointed officials. In a company form of orcanisation shareholders appoint Board of Directors to exercise all authority. The Board to Directors delegates its powers to the Chief Executive who delegates it to the managers and so on. While bureaucracy is the purest form of legal authority, other forms may comprise of elected office bearers or office bearers appointed by the members. These persons follow authority since their roles are defined by the rules and regulations framed by such bodies.

2. Traditional Authority- Traditional authority has evolved from a social order and communal relationship in the form of ruling lord and obedient subjects. The obedience results in traditional authority of the lord. The traditional chief rules as per his own pleasure and makes his own decisions Generally, these decisions are based on considerations like ethnic equity and justice. The authority passes from the father to the son.

In a family system, father exercises traditional authority over members of the family. The traditional authority is generally followed in Indian family system. It is the father who guides the activities of the family and others obey out of respect and traditions.

In traditional form of authority there is no formal law or structured discipline and relationships are governed by personal loyalty and faithfulness rather than compulsions of rules and regulations or duties of the office.

3. Acceptance Theory- The authority of the superior has no meaning unless it is accepted by the subordinates.Chester Bernard was of the view that it is the acceptance of authority which is more important. If the subordinates do not accept the orders of a superior there will be no use of exercising authority, Bernard maintains that a subordinate will accept an order if

(i).he understands it well.

(ii)he believes it to be consistent with the organisational goals.

(iii)he believes it to be compatible with his personal interests as a whole.

(iv)he is able mentally and physically to comply with it.

The subordinates may accept an order if they gain outacceptance or may lose out of its non acceptance. Acof its cording to Robert Tennebaum, “An individual will acceptan exercise of authority if the advantages occruing to him from accepting plus disadvantages occruing to him from not accepting exceed the advantages accruing to him from not accepting plus the disadvantages occruing to him from accepting and vice versa.” It can be said that acceptance of an order is the function of advantages from it.

The acceptance-theory, though supporting the behavioural approach to management, presents many problems in an organisation. It undermines the role of a manager in the organisation. He may not be sure whether his orders will be accepted or not. He will know it only when his orders are actually executed. It means that orders flow from bottom to up.

4. Competence Theory- There is also a feeling that authority is generated by personal competence of a person. A person may get his orders accepted not due to formal authority but because of his personal qualities. These qualities may be personal or technical. The advice of some persons may be accepted even if they donot have a formal authority. They enjoy this authority by virtue of their intelligence, knowledge, skill and experience. When a doctor advises rest to a patient he accepts this advice because of Doctor’s knowledge and not because of his formal authority or legal right. The patient will get relief only if he obeys the doctor. Similarly, we accept the diagnosis of a car methanic without questioning it because of his competency for this work. So the knowledge or competency of a person gives him a status where his authority is accepted by others.

5. Charismatic Authority-The charismatic authority rests on the personal charisma of a leader who commands respect of his followers. The personal traits such as good looks, intelligence, integrity influence others and people follow the dictates of their leaders because of such traits. The followers become attached to the leader because they feel that he will help them in achieving their goals. The charismatic leaders are generally good orators and have hypnotic effect on their followers. The religious and political leaders come under this category. Ayatolla Khomani of Iran was an example of a religious leader on whose command people were ready to lay down their lives even John F. Keneddy of America was a political leader who could command respect of the people because of his charismatic personality. The chrismatic phenomena also extends to mm actors, actresses and war heroes. Film actors and actresses have been successful in raising huge funds for calamities etc. because of their charismatic personalities. Even political parties associate actors and actresses in their companies to collect crowds for their rallies. People follow some persons because of their charismatic personalities and not because of any other factor,

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