Authority means a special permission which is obtained by a person from his higher officer and on the basis of that a person gets the rights to do the work in the organisation. It is positional and comes with the territory. It is key to managerial functions. No any person can perform his duties with full responsibility, without authority.

Authority is defined as institutionalised and legal power inherent in a job, func­tion, or position that enables the job holder to successfully carry out his/her respon­sibilities.

It refers to power that is delegated formally and legally. It includes right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders, and expect them to be obeyed. It is accompanied by responsibility for one’s action and failures to act. Additionally, true authority also means that the target accepts the authority.

Learn about: 1. Meaning and Concept of Authority 2. Definitions of Authority 3. Characteristics and Features 4. Elements 5. Factors 6. Types 7. Sources 8. Differences 9. Elements of Delegation 10. Limitations.

Authority in Management: Meaning, Concept, Definitions, Characteristics, Elements, Types, Sources, Limitations and Factors

Authority in Management – Meaning and Concept

Authority is the power to make decisions which guide the action of others. Delegation of authority contributes to the creation of an organisation. No single person is in a position to discharge all the duties in an organisation. In order to finish the work in time, there is a need to delegate authority and follow the principles of division of labour. Delegation permits a person to extend his influence beyond the limits of his own personal time, energy and knowledge.


In practice, managers perform mostly the same functions as they are all concerned with getting the work done through people irrespective of the type of organisation in which they are working.

Authority means a special permission which is obtained by a person from his higher officer and on the basis of that a person gets the rights to do the work in the organisation. It is positional and comes with the territory. It is key to managerial functions. No any person can perform his duties with full responsibility, without authority.

Authority is defined as institutionalised and legal power inherent in a job, func­tion, or position that enables the job holder to successfully carry out his/her respon­sibilities. It refers to power that is delegated formally and legally. It includes right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders, and expect them to be obeyed. It is accompanied by responsibility for one’s action and failures to act. Additionally, true authority also means that the target accepts the authority.


Let us now look at another definition. Warren Bennis and others define authority as the ability to reward and punish, derived from the rights associ­ated with a position to control the behaviour. In other words, power is the actual control, while authority is the legitimised control derived from rights asso­ciated with a position.

Although control was exercised in both cases, authority existed only in the latter case. It may be helpful to note that in sociological literature, the term ‘influence’ is used while referring to power and authority, whereas in management lit­erature, the term ‘control’ is used to refer to power and authority.

In sum, we can say that effective authority is legitimised use of power, wherein the target accepts that the agent can exercise such power.

A manager need not be an expert in all the skills which he is directing. However, he should have an idea about the work, acquired either by reading or through experience. A manager can successfully use the technical skills of others but he need not possess all the skills himself. Managers should know what type of skill is necessary for a particular job so that they can enlist the help of that skill or the department engaged in that skill. Also, a manager should know the interrelationship between skills. This is particularly important when a number of departments are involved in a project.


The task of management becomes easier if people at different levels of hierarchy understand in general terms how others are engaged. This is because at times people at operative levels feel that it is they who do all the work and the executives/managers do nothing. Such misconceptions are not conducive to the proper understanding of working relationships. An understanding of men and human relations is an important aspect of managing them and, therefore, proper attention should be paid to it.

Authority is a legal power which is possessed by a person from his superior officers and with the help of which he succeeds in getting the things done by his sub-ordinates. Authority is the key to managerial functions. If the managers are not delegated required authority in the field of management, they will not be able to perform their duties properly. A manager is in a position to influence his sub-ordinates only by the use of his authority.

It is the authority which enables him to discharge the important functions of Planning, Co­ordination, Motivation and Control etc., in an enterprise. If proper authority is not delegated to him, he cannot perform these functions in the required manner and he cannot be held responsible for all these functions in the absence of proper authorities. It is only the authority by virtue of which he dominates his sub-ordinates and gets work done by them.

Concept of Authority:


Authority is the key to managerial jobs. The performances of the managerial functions along with the possession of ‘authority’ are the essentials of a manager. Authority is the basis of organization in as much as an organization is described as system of authority relationships. According to Mooney and Reiley “Authority is the principle at the root of organization and so important it is that it is impossible to conceive of an organization at all, unless some person or persons are in a position to require action of others”.

In spite of its importance, however, its meaning is not very precise. In everyday life, authority has a number of meanings; it may mean a person who has superior knowledge and skill in a particular area; it may refer to some official such as – Commissioner of Police, Vice-Chancellor of a University, or Managing Director of a Company; the expression “Authorized Dealer” has still a different connotation, that of a legally- constituted relationship; there is also the concept of the authority of situation in which it is the circumstances, and not the person, which dictate a decision. These every-day meanings of authority are not adequate, however, for management purposes.

Authority in Management – Definitions

(1) “Authority is the right to give order and the power to exact obedience”. -Henri Fayol

(2) “Authority is the power to command, to act or not to act in a manner deemed by the possessor of the authority to further enterprise or departmental performance”. -Koontz and O’Donnell


(3) For Franklin G. Moore-“Authority is the right to decide the power to act, to carry out discussions”.

(4)Koontz and O’Donnel consider authority as “a legal or rightful power, a right to command or to act”.

Authority is a right to take a decision pertaining to a matter granted or delegated by the superiors. Decisions taking is not sufficient. The decisions are carried out by those who are assigned the job of implementation of the said decision. Here authority becomes a right to command and also to get the decision implemented.

In short, authority may be –


(1) A legal right to take a decision which may either be granted or delegated,

(2) A right to command,

(3) A right to see that the decision is rightfully and honestly implemented,

(4) According to Bernard authority involves two aspects—subjective and objective.


For him the acceptance of the authority and the character in the communication by virtue of which it is accepted in objectives. Again, authority is not unlimited. On authority the following limits are usually applied-(a) Biological Limits, (b) Technological Limits, (c) Physical Limits, (d) Economic Limits.-(e) Limits of Individual and Group Interest. Limitless authority leads to dangerous consequences which should be guarded against at all cost.

While concluding the meaning of authority it can be said that authority in ordinary sense of the term is nothing more than a legal right. It empowers an individual to take decisions. He is given a right to command and to exercise control over those who are responsible for the execution of policies and programmes of the enterprise. For decisions taken the authorised person is held responsible and is made answerable to his superiors and the organisation as a whole.

An authority is given or delegated to someone with a view to see that the organisation moves forward without interruption and with ease.

It has been defined by many authors as under:

Authority denotes certain rights granted to a position in an institution. It includes right to take decisions and get them executed from the subordinates. – G.R. Terry

Authority is the legal or rightful power, a right to command or to act. Applied to the managerial job authority is the power to command others to act or not to act in a manner deemed by the possessor of the authority to further enterprise or departmental purpose. – Koontz and O’Donnell


Authority is the character of an order in a formal organisation by virtue of which it is accepted by the members of that organisation as governing the action, they contribute that is governing or determining what they are to do or not to do so far as the organisation is concerned. – Chester Bernard

Authority is the legal power, the possessor of which may order his subordinates to do or not to do a particular act and if they do not followed his directions, he is in the position to take the disciplinary action against them if the need arises to do so. – Theo Haimann

On the basis of above definitions, it can be concluded that the authority is the legal power and right to give order to his subordinates. As per views of Louis A Allen, “authority of knowledge is possessed by the staff specialists appointed by the organisation. The purpose of using the authority is to influence the behavior of the subordinates in terms of doing right thing so as to achieve organisational goals. It also involve punishment for the erring subordinates and rewards for the outstanding.”

In common parlance, authority is the right to give orders and make others obey; it is a right given to somebody; it relates to the persons having special knowledge and skill on a particular subject or subjects, etc. In the field of management, authority has special significance. In fact, without authority and responsibility there cannot be an organisation. The term ‘organisation’ is itself conceived as the network of authority relationship.

Authority gives dynamism to organisation, management and human relations. Perhaps, this is the reason why McFarland says, “Authority is the central mechanism through which the executives’ decision-making activities take place.” A manager who is entrusted with the tasks of planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling cannot work without authority. In fact, without authority he cannot be called a manager.

In the words of Koontz and O’Donnell, “Authority is the key to the management job. It is the right inherent in a position to utilize discretion in such a way that the enterprise or department objectives are set and achieved.” In a nutshell, authority is the binding force in organisation. Different experts and authors have defined authority in their own ways.


According to Koontz and O’Donnell, “Applied to managerial jobs, authority is the power to command others, to act or not to act in a manner deemed by the possessor of authority to further enterprise or departmental purpose”. Herbert Simon regards authority as the power to make decisions which guide the actions of others. The person who makes the decisions is the ‘Superior’ and the person who accepts them and is guided by them is called the ‘Subordinate’.

Authority can be said to be exercised by a ‘superior’ on his ‘subordinate’ only when the subordinate accepts the decisions of his superior. Authority in management may be defined as – “the right to guide and direct the action of others and to secure from them responses which are appropriate to the attainment of the purposes and goals of the organization”. Again, authority is the cement of organization structure, the thread that makes it possible, the means by which groups of activities may be placed under a manager and co-ordination of organizational units may be promoted.

Here, we present a few definitions of authority:

“Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience.” —Henry Fayol

“Authority means the power to issue varied instructions which others must follow.” —Burt K. Scanlan

“Authority is the official and legal right to command action by others and to enforce compliance”. —George R.Terry


“Authority is the sum of the powers and rights entrusted to make possible the performance of the work delegated.” —Louis A. Allen

“Authority …is the right to require action of others.” —Lyndall Urwick

“Authority is the right to command.” —Earl P. Strong

In this way, authority is a legal power. It is a right to command or to act. It is the right to direct the actions of others. Authority influences the activities and behaviour of the group. It is a power to impose sanctions or to coerce. In the words of Theo Haimann, “Authority is the rightful legal power to request a subordinate to do a certain thing or to refrain from doing so, and if he does not follow these instructions the manager is in a position, if need be, to take disciplinary action, even to discharge the subordinate.” It may be noted that all authority is considered formal in nature.

Authority in Management – Characteristics and Features

The characteristics of authority are briefly explained below:

1. Basis of Getting Things Done:


Authority gives a right to do things in an organisation and affect the behaviour of other workers of the organisation. It leads to the performance of certain activities for the accomplishment of the defined objectives automatically.

2. Legitimacy:

Authority implies a legal right (within the organisation itself) available to superiors. This type of right arises due to the tradition followed in an organisation, custom or accepted standards of authenticity.

The right of a manager to affect the behaviour of his sub-ordinates is given to him on the basis of an organisational hierarchy.

3. Decision-Making:

Decision-making is a pre-requisite of an authority. The manager can command his subordinates to act or not to act. This type of decision is taken by the manager regarding the functioning of an office.


4. Implementation:

Implementation influences the personality factors of the manager, who is empowered to use authority. The subordinates or group of subordinates should follow the instructions of the manager regarding the implementation of decisions. The personality factor of one manager may differ from another manager.

The following features of authority:

(a) It is the legitimate right of an individual.

(b) It allows the position holder to decide things.

(c) It implies the capacity to get compliance.

(d) It is exercised to influence the behavior of subordinates in a certain manners.

(e) It flows from top to bottom in the organisation.

(f) It is supreme coordinating force because it binds together different individuals working in the organisation.

(g) It is used to achieve organisational objectives.

(h) It is differentiated from power. Power is the capacity to influence others’ while authority is the right to influence others.

Authority in Management – 5 Elements

Authority includes the following elements:

(i) Use of Power – It is regarded as power. In other word where there is an authority, there is a power on the basis of which the authorized person issues the orders and instruction to other persons under his control.

(ii) Influential Personality – If the power are delegated to a person of influential personality, he will make the effective use of these power, easily because the subordinates accept his orders easily.

(iii) Performance – An important element of authority is that the performance of power of authority is necessary. Such performance may take place in different manners such as, in writing, with the request and issuing orders etc.

(iv) Effective Leadership – The person possessing authority must be an effective leader so that he may direct his subordinates and in turn his subordinates should follow his directions.

(v) To influence the subordinates – For effective performance of authority, it is necessary the person possessing authority must have of the quality influence his subordinates so that they may accept and follow his orders.

Authority in Management – Factors to be Kept in Mind During the Use of Authority

The successful use of authority depends upon the environment of the organisation and the persons working in that organisation.

The following factors must be kept in mind during use of authority for its successful use:

(i) Favorable Atmosphere – The favorable atmosphere is very important criteria for the successful use of authority. Therefore, it is responsibility of management to create favorable atmosphere in the organisation so that harmonious human relations may be established in the organisation.

(ii) Justified Behavior – The second important use for successful implementation of authority is the justified behavior of the officers towards their subordinates. They must feel not to treat all the employees on an equal ground.

(iii) Factual Cooperation – There must be mutual cooperation and trust between officers and employees to the organisation for the successful use of authority.

(iv) Interests to Work – The employees must have an interest in the work to which they are responsible. If they are not interested in their work, it may be very difficult for the higher officers to implement their authority.

(v) Respect to Superiors – The employees pay their best regards to their Bosses. If they do not have a feeling of regard to them, they may riot obey their orders.

Authority in Management – 2 Types: Line Authority and Functional Authority

In an enterprise you may find different types of authority operating within the organisational set up and it is rather difficult task to identify proper authority actually meant for a specific purpose. Over the years, constant changes have taken place in the organisational structure. Similarly, there have been changes in the degree of influence of various authorities.

1. Line Authority:

This is the formal power to exert the command and control. Line is the unbroken chain from the top to the bottom of the organisational set up. Persons vested with line authority are involved in activities that directly relate to the organisation’s objective. Normally, one reaches the top position in the organisation by working up in the line.

2. Functional Authority:

Formal power to give order and control is limited to specified area of expertise. For example; Finance, Technical, Maintenance, Human resource, so on and so forth, are known as functional authorities. It may also be directed across the departmental boundaries, such as a staff executive to give direct orders to the operating personnel.

This may sometimes lead to intra-organisational conflict. Functional authority, therefore, should not be delegated indiscriminately. It should be delegated to staff personnel only on certain conditions. The line staff conflict is a common phenomenon and it is on the increase because of the changing nature of organisational relationship.

No organisation can function without its members’ voluntary consent to the authority system. The consent of the personnel makes it binding for the psychological contract between organisation and its members.


Responsibility is intrinsic, in other words, uncompromising to each work performed. In any case an individual is not supposed to compromise to his responsibility. When an individual is assigned a particular duty, it is essential to have personal communication and commitment to accomplish it with utmost responsibility.


It is the capacity to influence the behaviour of others. It is the ability of a person to dominate others. There are mainly two methods by which others are influenced to act according to the direction of a person having power. These are persuasion and coercion.

Persuasion means to make a person to do or make him believe something by reasoning to act according to the desire of the person, who persuades him. Coercion is a method of making a person to be obedient by force and under pressure.

An executive can use his power on his subordinates to make them obedient by using ‘sanctions’ (positive or negative).

A sanction of an executive means a penalty for disobeying the law or a reward for a good work. Reward is a positive sanction and penalty is a negative sanction.

There are mainly two types of power. One is legitimate and the other, illegitimate. A person acquires legitimate power through legal channel. When power is delegated to an individual by the law or an authority is legitimate and when he acquires power by coercion, it is illegitimate.

Authority in Management – Sources

Authority to managers means the right to command others. Since managers are primarily engaged in getting work done through people, a superior-subordinate relationship develops. It cannot be avoided. It is this authority which becomes the force behind compliance of many vital instructions even though they may not be to the liking of others. Authority becomes the basis for responsibility, and the binding force in an organisation.

There are mainly three schools of thought regarding the source of authority. They are as follows:

(1) The Formal Authority Theory:

According to this principle the rights of every individual originate from his immediate boss directly and from the constitution of his country. It is traditional concept assuming the authority a right based on natural law or on the sanction of legislation. This theory is also known as ‘immediate source theory’. Law recognizes that board of directors have certain rights and obligations with regard to corporations.

Such boards may delegate part of their authority to chief executive, who in turn may delegate to lower officials and so on. So, according to this principle, the authority flows from the top to down through the organisation. Such authority may be expressed or implied.

(2) The Acceptance Theory:

This theory of authority has been advocated by Barnard and Simon. They hold the view that the authority in the relationship that exists between individuals when one accepts the directive of another. A communication carries authority if it is accepted by the recipient as authoritative.

Similarly, the source of authority of the manager is the acceptance by his subordinates. This expression of the source of authority is based on the behavioural approach of management. It shows that the manager has no real authority until and unless the individual subordinate confers it upon him. Thus, the acceptance theory permits attention to the legal and social basis for authority. It depends to a large extent on the personal traits of leadership, ability to persuade others to work well to accomplish organisation goals.

(3) The Competence Theory:

In this theory a man gets ample authority from his managerial position but in addition to it, it is derived from the technical competence or personal qualities of a manager too. For example, a person who is a recognized expert in one particular field is often referred to as an authority on certain problems of that field.

His authority in accepted not because of any position he holds in the organisation but because of his authority of knowledge. Thus, this principle is very much akin to the theory acceptance but here its basis is personal expertise and not the status or position of the person concerned. Therefore, to become an effective and successful manager, one should develop one’s personal competence also.

Authority in Management – Difference between Authority and Responsibility


1. Origin – It arises from a formal contract or from legal provisions.

2. Meaning – It is legal right of the superior to command his subordinates.

3. Delegation – It can be delegated by superior to his subordinates.

4. Direction of flow – It always flow’s downward i.e., from superior to his subordinate.

5. Continuity – It usually has a longer life than responsibility.

6. Termination – It may be terminated by a notice.


1. Origin – It arises either from a superior-subordinate relationship.

2. Meaning – It is the obligation of subordinate to perform the duties assigned to him by his superior.

3. Delegation – It is absolute and can never be delegated.

4. Direction of flow – It always flows up wards i.e., from subordinate to his superior.

5. Continuity – It generally comes to an end after the assigned duty is performed.

6. Termination – It cannot be terminated.

Authority in Management – Elements of Delegation

Delegation of authority is an important organization process, with the increase in work and size of business, the manager must have ability to get results through others, He has to divide the work among his subordinates. This process of dividing the job is known as ‘delegation’. Delegation is the process of entrusting part of the work by a manager, to subordinates. According to Louis A. Allen it is the ability to get results through others. According to Col. Urwick, ‘the transfer of responsibility by the superior to his subordinate is known as delegation’.

Delegation is the formal mechanism by which a network of superior- subordinate relation is established. McFarland has defined it as that part of the organizing process by which a manager makes it possible for others to share in the work of carrying out the company’s purpose. According to him, it also includes the process of assigning duties, responsibilities, and authority to those, whom he expects to help him in doing the work. In short, it is the process by which authority is distributed throughout the organization.

Elements of Delegation:

(1) Delegator assigns duties.

(2) Delegator grants authority.

(3) Delegator creates obligation.

(4) Delegator retains accountability.

(1) Assigning Duties:

The principal reason for executive to delegate authority is to reduce the burden of work which otherwise he himself would have to perform. When an executive finds the activities to be performed as too many for him to perform efficiently, or when he is not interested in some of them, or does not possess the necessary technical knowledge and skill to carry them out, the logical way out is to delegate some of these activities to others who could perform them better or at least as efficiently as he has been doing. While assigning duties the executive has to express them in term of functions or in terms of goals or results. An individual’s duties are clear to him only when he knows what activities he must undertake and what missions he must fulfil.

(2) Granting Authority:

A manager confers on a subordinate the authority to decide within a limited area, and to act in the best possible way. The subordinate exercises his authority according to his understanding of the intentions of the delegator and within the framework of such controls as the latter chooses to establish. A problem for a delegator is to examine the scope of authority he wishes his subordinate to exercise, and to so frame his communication to them as to mark out clearly for them range of expected and permitted actions.

Two rules have been suggested for executives while delegating authority. They are as regards clarity and amount the delegator should ensure to clarify the nature of authority he is delegating to the delegatee. If there is lack of clarity as to the scope of hi; authority, it may lead to confusion in his mind and to conflicts with other executives. This will impair his efficiency and may slow down the work of the organization. It is, however, possible to avoid this if there are up-to-date organization charts and organization manuals for reference.

The other rule is that authority and responsibility should be co-terminus or equal. The reason is obvious, for, if authority exceeds responsibility, a subordinate may be tempted to misuse it and this might create resistance among those who are subjected to it. On the other hand, if authority is less than responsibility, he may not be able to take appropriate actions; neither would he be able to compel others to co­operate with him in discharging his responsibility. As a result, he might experience constant frustration which could sap his energy and destroy his desire to give loyalty to the organization.

(3) Creating Obligation:

The next step is to create an obligation on the part of the subordinate for satisfactory performance of the delegated responsibility. While delegating an executive has to make sure that there is moral compulsion to accomplish the assigned duties and to report to the authorities and be accountable to them.

(4) Retaining Accountability:

The process of delegation has peculiar feature of leaving the delegating executive as much authority as he had prior to delegating even though, seemingly, he has disposed it of by giving it out, in various amounts, to his subordinates. This is also true of responsibility – that is no matter to what degree he establishes an obligation on the part of his subordinates; he still remains accountable to his superior for performance of the job which he delegated to his subordinates. In short, an executive, while delegating, does not abdicate his responsibility, obligation or accountability.

Authority in Management – 6 Major Limitations

Authority is based on human behaviour and relations. Therefore, it is affected by group behaviour, reaction and social changes. Hence, the limits on authority which while exercising should be taken note of.

The important limitations of the use of authority are as follows:

(1) Behavioural Limitations:

This relates to the moods and folk ways of the group over which authority is being exercised. The reaction to an authority differs from one individual to another and from one group to another. One has to take care of and calculate beforehand the reactions which will follow after the authority is exercised.

(2) Biological Limitations:

This relates to physical abilities of a human being. The authority should not be exercised to cross the biological limits, otherwise a revolt on the part of workers may not be possible to avoid. Officers should not give any order which in practice may not be implemented. For example—an officer cannot order his sub-ordinates to work for five days without stop because it will not be possible and practicable for his sub-ordinates to do so.

(3) Limitations Caused by Nature or Natural Limits:

This limitation relates to natural limitations such as geographical situation, climate and the laws of nature. These limitations should not be violated by an authority because the sub­ordinates cannot go beyond nature. For example—coal cannot be converted into gold and any authority should not insist on it.

(4) Technological Limitations:

This limitation relates to technological developments. The authority may be flouted if any order is given to do something which cannot be done in the absence of technological development needed for the execution of the said orders. For example—an officer cannot order his sub-ordinates to produce something without tools.

(5) Economic Limitations:

In economic limitations no officer can issue the orders which cannot be implemented because of economic limits. Economic reasons relate to the competition, market conditions, value determination, price determination etc. For example—a manager cannot order his sub-ordinates to purchase a commodity for Rs.15 the market price of which is Rs.20.

(6) Other Limitations:

These limitations relate to the laws of the land, objectives and bye-laws of the enterprise which no authority should flout, neither it should expect its sub-ordinates to flout. Such orders invite disobedience and may cause indiscipline.

Thus, responsibility is an obligation of an individual to carry out a particular task or duty. Required authority is delegated to him so that he may discharge his responsibility properly. A person can delegate his authority but he cannot delegate his responsibility. Thus, a person cannot be freed from his responsibility even if he delegates it to others.