Authority and power

The main difference between authority and power is that power is the ability of a person to influence the beliefs, actions or behavior of others, while authority is the legitimate power that an individual or a group of individuals possesses and practices. about others.

In politics and sociology, the terms authority and power refer to the impact or influence that governments and political systems have on individuals and larger social systems. These are two interrelated concepts . Although power is necessary for authority, it is sometimes possible to have power without authority.

MeaningIt refers to the ability of people to influence others and control their actions.Refer to the formal and legal right to command and give orders.
SourcesPersonal traitsTitle or position
FormalityInformal influenceFormal influence
Possibility of losing itIs not easyVery easy
Use of violenceQuite violentNonviolent
Inside or outside the systemBoth inside and outsideOnly inside
HierarchyIt does not follow any hierarchyFollow the hierarchy
Resides withPersonPosition

What is power

We can define power as the ability or ability of a person to influence the beliefs, actions or behavior of others . Most students of sociology use Max Weber’s definition of the concept of power, that is, ” power is the ability to exercise one’s will over others . 

Power can affect everyone in society. It can affect not only personal relationships, but also larger social groups, professional organizations, and governments. Some see power as bad or corrupting, while others see it as good and empowering.

The power of a government is not limited only to controlling citizens, but also a powerful country can influence or support other countries or try to take control of them. The joining of the United States to the Allied Forces during World War II and the imposition of sanctions on the North Korean government are two examples of dominant countries impacting other governments in the world. Attempts to gain power can sometimes lead to wars, violence, abuse or exploitation , for example military coups or rebellions.

However, it is possible to dominate power without violence or military action . Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were able to become powerful influences and positively impact people by using non-violent protests to combat injustice and corruption in society.

What is authority

As we discussed in the introduction, authority is interrelated with power. We can define it as the legitimate power that an individual or a group of individuals possesses and practices over other individuals . We call this legitimate power and it refers to one that individuals agree to follow according to specific procedures. They follow or listen to people in authority because they believe that they are in a position that inherently has a degree of respect orbecause they believe that these people are worthy of respect. An interaction between a police officer and a normal citizen of the country is a common example of how people interact with authority figures in everyday life. Government authorities and elected officials are some other authority figures that people tend to accept. As seen in such interactions, people generally perceive the actions and demands of such authority figures as legitimate, reasonable, or true .

Max Weber divided authority into three categories: traditional authority, charismatic authority, and legal-rational authority . In traditional authority, the legitimacy of power exists due to a long tradition, for example, the king in a country. In charismatic authority, people accept power because of the personal characteristics of the leader. Napoleon and Martin Luther King, Jr. are examples of such leaders. Finally, in rational-legal authority, power becomes legitimate through laws, written rules, and regulations.

Characteristics of authority

  • Authority is considered a relationship between the two people : the subordinates and their superior. People with superiority frame the decision and transmit it. They think that subordinates will accept these decisions and execute them.
  • The person who is granted a position of authority is legitimate and legal . This position is supported by law, tradition, and standards of authenticity. Therefore, authority is also considered formal.
  • Authority is necessary to achieve organizational goals . Therefore, the basic use of authority is to influence the attitude and behavior of subordinates in terms of doing the right things at the right time.
  • So, organizational goals are achieved by subordinates. The person in authority influences the behavior of individuals who might otherwise do something.
  • The person who has a position of authority does not enjoy it unlimitedly . There are limits and ranges in which the position of authority can be reached. It is predefined. The person with the authority is expected to use it within the rules, policies and regulations.
  • Authority also gives the person the right to make a decision . Also, a manager can only decide his orders about what his subordinate should or should not do. Thus, authority is exercised by using the decision and watching when they are carried out.

Differences between Authority and Power

Although the concepts of Authority and Power are related to each other, there are some differences between them which are described below:

Skill vs. Law: Power is a general ability that an individual has to influence the actions of others. Authority is vested in formal management or administration positions. Gives the position holder the right to influence behavior and demand compliance. The legitimate formal position is only one of the bases of power. Therefore, authority is a form of power and the latter 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 also in non-formal situations. Authority has rational legal implications, while power may or may not have such implications.

Personal-impersonal: authority is impersonally conferred on jobs. But the other bases of power, such as charisma, knowledge and reference, have personalized bases and do not have to flow from the position of the individual power holder in question. This means that authority can be delegated. But power based on other sources, for example, experience cannot be delegated.

Degree of structure: The authority is more structured in organizations and is governed by various forces, procedures and due restrictions. It flows downward and can only be exercised in a well-defined functional way. On the other hand, some forms of power are less structured. They are more flexible and open. They flow not only downward, but also upward and sideways, such as the power of subordinates to deny their superior cooperation. In power relations based on sources other than authority, there are no fixed superiors and subordinates.

Association with responsibility: authority and responsibility go together, whereas in the case of other forms of power, a sense of responsibility may or may not coexist with them. For example, a person can use their experience in making bombs and explosives to terrorize people. It is equivalent to the exercise of the power of an expert without liability.

Nature of compliance: Compliance with “attempts at authority” or the exercise of authority by a manager in organizational situations and in task-related matters is mandatory by subordinates and is not left to their free will. . Defiance of authority by subordinates is normally considered insubordination and is likely to be taken seriously. But in the case of some other power bases, compliance is not mandatory. For example, one can ignore the expert opinions of a group or individual and get away with it.

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