Difference Between Authority and Power

Authority and Power

Authority may be defined as the right to guide and direct the actions of others  and to secure from them responses which are appropriate to the attainment of the goals of the organization.

According to Barnard, ”Authority is the character of communication(order) in a formal organization by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor to, or member of the organization as generating the action he contributes, that is, as governing or determining what he does or is not to do so far as the organization is concerned.”

Power refers to the ability or capacity to influence the behavior or attitudes of other individuals. A manager’s power may be considered as his ability to cause subordinates to do what the manager wishes them to do.  Power is an important means to enforce obedience to the rules, regulations and decisions of the organization. Power may be derived on personal or institutional bases. The use of power may affect the behavior of people in the desired manner. But it does not necessarily imply that the people are in agreement with the exercise of power.

Difference Between Authority and Power

Difference Between Authority and Power

Though the concepts of Authority and Power are related to each other, there are some differences between them which are outlined as follows:

  • Ability vs Right: Power is a generalized ability endowed in an individual to influence the actions of others. Authority is vested in formal managerial or administrative positions. It gives the position holder the right to influence behavior and to demand compliance. Legitimate formal position is only one of the bases of power. Thus authority is a form of power. Power is a broader concept than authority.
  • Formal-non-formal: Authority is generally associated with formal organizations. But the other bases of power operate and become effective in non-formal situations also. Authority has rational legal implications while power may or may not have such implications.
  • Personal-Impersonal: Authority is impersonally vested in job positions. But the other bases of power, as for example, charisma, knowledge, and reference have personalized bases and need not flow from the position held by the individual power holder concerned. This means that authority can be delegated. But power based on other sources-for example, experience cannot be delegated.
  • Degree of structure: Authority is more structured in organizations and governed by several due forces, procedures and constraints. It flows downwards and can be exercised in a well defined, functional manner only. On the other hand, some forms of power are less structured. They are more flexible and open. They flow not only downwards, but also upwards and sideways as for example, the power of subordinates to withhold co-operation to their superior. In power relationships based on sources other than authority, there are no fixed superiors and subordinates.
  • Association with responsibility:  Authority and responsibility go together while in the case of other forms of power, a sense of responsibility may or may not co-exist with them. For example, an individual may make use of his expertise in making bombs and explosives, to terrorize people. It amounts to exercise of expert power without responsibility.
  • Nature of compliance: Compliance to “authority attempts” or to the exercise of authority by a manager in organizational situations and on task related matters, is mandatory on the part of subordinates and is not left to their free will. Defiance of authority by subordinates is normally regarded as insubordination and is liable to be viewed seriously. But in the case of some other bases of power, compliance is not mandatory. For example, one may disregard the expert opinions of a group or individual and get away with it.

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