Authority can be defined as the right to exercise power, whether this is in a family context, workplace or even in your relationships or circle of influence. As a parent , you have a certain authority over your children, as a boss, you have authority over your employees and even as a friend, people can give you specific authority in their lives starting with the fact that you are allowed to influence or help with their decision making process.
The problem with authority is that throughout history, it has been used and abused. Used to intimidate, to diminish and to accomplish selfish ambitions. One of this examples is the life of famous dictators around the globe, whom after proclaiming themselves governors of a country, used their authority to restrict people’s freedom and undermine their value.
But authority in itself was never meant to be used for harm. It is a very important element in leadership that absolutely facilitates any job and if used well can bring amazing benefits to any organisation.
Types of authority
- Given by a superior
In the workplace authority is usually given by head leadership or by managers to different employers who are in charge of certain areas. When authority is publicly given the bright side is that it is much easier to exercise when it comes to communication lines in the workplace and decision making processes, simply because of the fact that everyone knows the boss has appointed a person to own and develop a specific area.
On the other hand, this is sadly the type of authority that can be easily abused, for it can be given with bias or given to someone whose character and skills cannot carry it appropriately. This type of authority can also be very hard to manage if the people you work with do not think you deserve it, for even though you have been given the power to oversee or supervise certain areas, your decisions can be easily ignored or mocked by co-workers who do not agree with them.
- Earned by skills / knowledge
When you have a certain set of skills or knowledge, people in the workplace automatically see you as someone who carries the authority to have a voice in certain matters. This authority is earned through effort and sometimes naturally carries more weight than the authority simply given by an oversight. When people know you have certain expertise, they will automatically ask you for your opinion in certain matters and will make sure everyone knows you are the go to person in that specific area.
The challenge with this type of authority is that it is not the “fake it until you make it” type of power. As soon as people see that you do not know what you are doing, and don’t have enough knowledge to come up with a solution throughout time, they will slowly lose trust in your decision making process and it will be harder to work as a team.
- Earned through respect / relationship
This is the authority that is earned through connection with the people you work with. When people know that you have their best interest at heart, they will trust you and give you the authority to lead them in the case of the workplace. This can be pretty much described as the authority given to you by the people you lead simply because they know that you care for them and for the organisation.
All of the mentioned above ways of getting authority are important, and absolutely valid in the organisation, but it is the combination of the three used well, that will help bring your business forward. Remember no type of authority is more important than the other, they are simply given for different reasons and different purposes.
Authority for a purpose
If I could leave you with one thought about authority, is that from beginning to end it is given for a purpose. The well-known phrase “With great power comes great responsibility” is absolutely true when it comes to this topic, because those who are given a greater authority are hopefully working hard for a greater cause. If you understand that authority is the power given so that others can recognise and follow your lead in certain decisions and projects (and not a power given to show how much more important you are than other employees in the company), you can hopefully be an example of what a healthy and empowering leadership looks like.
What other things come to mind when you think of authority in the workplace? Have you seen examples of it being used the right way? What type of authority do you carry in your job or sphere of influence?
Let us know!