Power and Authority – Meaning, Definitions, Types and Theories



The term ‘authority’ is used in various contexts. For example, a person with superior knowledge and skills in a particular field is called an authority, a master or an expert. People occupying higher positions in universities, government offices, etc., are known as authorities. Similarly, the word ‘authorised’ means legal, legitimate, or who has certain rights and privileges. Even in organising, it is used in various ways because one can acquire authority from various sources, such as position occupied or personal competence.
Authority is a key concept in the organisation and is mainly related to positions. Obviously, a manager does not perform actual work, but gets it done through, and with, others. To make people work, a manager must have the right to order, instruct, reward, or punish. This right is known as authority. It is the legitimate power or right to decide or to make people work. It is interesting to note that a person is called a manager by the virtue of authority. Various levels and positions are created due to delegation of authority. Every manager receives the authority from his superior by the delegation process.

Definitions of Authority

According to Herbert Simon
Authority may be defined as the power to make decisions which guide the actions of others. It is a relationship between two individuals, one is superior and the other is subordinate. The superior frames and transmits decisions with the expectations that the subordinate will accept the decisions. The subordinate executes such decisions and his conduct is determined by them.

Features of Authority
The basic features of authority have been listed below:
i. Authority is legitimate or legal (i.e., position-related and granted by superior) power or the right to decide and/or to order.
ii. The limit of authority (i.e., how much and in what way he can use authority) is determined in advance. One has the authority doesn’t mean he is authorised to do anything. He has to use the authority as per policies, rules, regulations, and norms prescribed.
iii. Authority is based on responsibility or assignment of work. Along with authority, responsibility is also given. One can use authority to carry out responsibility.
iv. It is position-bound. The right is given to a specific position holder. He enjoys authority as long as he occupies that position.
v. It is a relationship between superior and subordinates, in which the superior can exercise authority over the subordinates.
vi. Authority is offered or given by one’s superior. No one can be authorised without superior’s consent.
vii. Authority is a key to managerial action. Without it, superior cannot direct and control subordinates’ actions.
viii. The primary purpose of use of authority is to get the work done through others. It is basic element of management.
ix. Authority is also a link to integrate several parts/levels in the organisation. All parts in the organisation arc connected via authority. It also a means (or tool) for coordination.
x. Authority is given objectively but can be used subjectively. Use of authority depends upon personality factors of authority holder.
xi. Authority, in the context of organisation, can be permanent or temporary, and it can be increased, decreased, or even withdrawn.
xii. Authority is meaningless (i.e., has no value) if it is not exercised. It must be exercised by making decisions, taking action, and controlling behaviour of subordinates.


Another important term often used in management literature, along with authority, is responsibility. According to some authors, it is defined as the duty, task or activity assigned to a subordinate. Note that authority moves downward—from top to bottom, from superior to subordinate—while responsibility moves upward—from bottom to top, from subordinate to superior. In other words, responsibility is a duty or an obligation of subordinate to perform the task assigned to him by his superior.


Another word used in relation to responsibility is accountability. According to some experts, responsibility consists of two phases, the obligation to secure results, and to accountability to a superior who delegated him authority. More clearly, we can say: To carry out the assigned work (for benefit of any of the parties) is responsibility, and to carry out the assigned work to meet expectations of superior (who assigned task and delegated authority) is accountability. Accountability is concerned more with obligation toward superior while responsibility concerned more with basic duty or dedication towards work.
Obviously, accountability is a narrow concept and cannot be separated from responsibility. It can be treated as part of responsibility. In fact, the difference seems less significant. It is, therefore, advisable to consider responsibility, accountability, liability, answerability, duty, and obligation as similar terms, having same indication.

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