Authority Vs. Power: 8 Key Differences Between Power and Authority [Explained]

Authority Vs. Power

Authority and power are the two terms simultaneously used in management practice, even understood as the same, but there are many differences between them.

While power is one’s ability to command and influence someone else behaviors. Authority is the legitimate or legal right to exercise over others (usually, by a superior to subordinates) one holds by the virtue of the given position.

Authority is inherent in a managerial position. Authority to be powerful does not need power, when a person holds a position he becomes powerful because of the position.

On the other hand, the power is earned. It is the result of a person’s personality, competency, skills, and knowledge. For power, an individual does not necessarily need to hold any position.

What is the main difference between power and authority can be best understood as, because of the power a manager working at an operational level may have more power over his subordinates than a manager at a higher level.

Let’s understand the meaning of authority and power and the key differences between them.

What is Authority?

Authority is the legal, legitimate, or formal right one holds in an organization because of his position. It is a legitimate power of a manager to make decisions on his job responsibility.

It is the formal right a manager or superior hold to command and guide subordinate to accomplish the job effectively and efficiently. Authority forms a hierarchy in which at the top maximum authority rests and when it comes down the hierarchy the authority levels also slow down.

In organizations, authority is exercised to get things done through others. Usually, top managers hold the highest authority and guide, give instructions, and orders to lower-level employees to complete the task to make possible the achievement of the organizational goals.

Authority is vested in a position, the higher position you get the more authoritative you will be. It is totally dependent on what position you hold in the organizational setting. As it is formal power, it can be delegated to subordinate employees when needed to.

What is Power?

Power is the ability of a person to influence and command others’ behaviors to do or not to do something. It is personalized, informal, self-sufficient, and charismatic in nature. Power rests with a person.

Power is the earned or acquired aspect of a person that can be from experience, knowledge, personality, competency, etc. For power, to have a person does not need to have any position.

For example, an individual is an ex-employee of a company, had a good image, and respectful person, and now even if he asks for something from that company’s employees his influence will be the same.

Power lasts long. Power can be earned through experience and doing the right things but it can easily be lost by doing mistakes. Thus, power totally differs from person to person.

Main Difference Between Power and Authority

The following are the key points that are worth noting to differentiate between power and authority.

Definition

Authority is the legitimate right a manager enjoys by the virtue of the position he holds whose main purpose is to direct and control subordinates to ensure the jobs will be done following the organizational objectives.

With authority, managers must have some responsibility for which they are given that position. They should be obliged to that responsibility and exercise their authority to fulfill it.

On the other hand, power can be defined as the ability a person has to influence other behaviors in the direction he wants. It is personalized in nature and can be used for personal benefits.

Direction

Since authority forms a hierarchy in the organizational setting it goes in a downward direction. Only the superior has the right to command, guide, and give instructions to subordinates.

Whereas power does not create any hierarchy rather it can go in any direction as per needs and situations. Power can flow in direction of superior to a subordinate, subordinate to superior, or between any position.

Source

Mainly the source of authority is the job position and the office. The job position and the organization determine a person’s authority. Whenever a person holds a specific position he has a right to enjoy the authority attached to that position.

However, the source of power is mainly a person’s unique personality or competency over others. In addition, a person’s job position is also a source of power in many cases.

However, some believe that charisma, prestige, even money, and social standing all contribute to one’s personal power. It is an acquired ability that often stems from superior knowledge and expertise.

Lasting

As compared to power the duration of authority is not so long. The authority lasts till the individual holds the position. This means whenever a person leaves the job position, resigns, or gets fired he lost authority.

On the other hand, power is long-lasting. However, it depends on the person to person. If a person maintains his behavior on the source of his power, the power lasts. And, if he commits any mistakes or involves in illegal activities power can also be lost.

Formality

Authority is formal in nature. Authority is given and used for the prosperity of the organization. Whereas, power is informal and more personal. It is a personalized aspect.

Provision of Delegation

Since authority is the formal right it has the provision of delegation. This means that the superior or manager can easily delegate some part of his authority to his subordinates to facilitate them in the course of performing the assigned tasks. It is a great way for the superior to reduce his workload.

Since power is a personalized aspect it can not be delegated to others. By power, a person can only influence others’ behaviors.

Legitimacy

Authority is more legitimate than power. Just take an example of a person who got hired by a bank because of his relatives (who are powerful) working in it.

Although it is true in many workplaces, in such cases, employees do not respect such a person although he holds a superior position. Because of this illegitimate way, he got hired his power can not be valued.

However, they are more likely to respect a superior who has legally reached that position. The legality behind authority also provides added legitimacy in some cases.

Example

Examples of power include various managerial positions such as CEO, BODs, managers, supervisors, etc. Examples of power may include prestige, social standing, financial standing, a job position, etc.

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