Concept of Authority

Concept of Authority:

Authority and responsibility are integral features of the process of administration. The administration is the process of coordinating and facilitating the work of the people in an organization. Each organization is like a battle or struggle ground for different interest groups in society because it is through such groups that people seek to satisfy their needs, interests, and desires. Interest groups are naturally formed by them. Since each interest group seeks to satisfy the interests of its members, it is involved in a conflict and struggles for achieving an advantageous position over other groups. Each group seeks to gain authority in almost every organization and there are present several groups in all the organizations which are at work in society. All these groups, therefore, get involved in the struggle for securing authority, rule or control, and responsibility. The struggle among groups emerges mainly due to the scarcity of resources, positions, and limited options available in the environment. This leads to a situation where people organized into groups get more concerned about who gets what, when, and how in the organization. Pfiffner and Sherwood rightly remark, “Here is where the basic values of an organization are involved, and here is where the struggle for control, power, and authority is at its lowest.”

What is Authority?

Authority constitutes the foundation of administration. It is the legitimate power to influence the behavior of a person or a group of persons. Authority is the right or recognized power of a person to command other people, to do things, and in general, to get work done by others.

(1) According to H. Fayol, “Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience. The distinction must be made between a manager’s official authority deriving from office, and personal authority compounded of intelligence, experience, moral worth, ability to lead, past services, and so forth….”

(2) According to Max Weber, “Authority is the willing and unconditional compliance of people resting upon their belief that it is legitimate for the superior to impose his will on them and illegitimate for them to refuse to obey.”

(3) In the words of Albert, “Authority is the sum of the powers and rights entrusted to make possible the performance of the work delegated.”

(4) Chester Barnard defines Authority as “the character of communication in the formal organization by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor to or a member of the organization as governing…or determining what he does or is not to do as far as the organization is concerned.”

In simple words, authority is a relationship between a superior and his subordinates. The former has the recognized power to make decisions and with them to get the work done by the subordinates. It also involves the legitimate right of the former to regulate the conduct of the latter. The subordinates accept and follow the authority of the superior as legitimate. They carry out the commands of the superior.

In short, authority is the legitimate right to guide people’s behavior in an organization subject to the condition that the persons accept that right by giving their obedience to it.

Difference Between Authority and Power:

To make the meaning of Authority more clear, we have to understand the distinction between Authority and Power.

Power is the capacity to influence the decision-making of an authority holder. Power may be described as the influence to change the behavior of a person or persons to serve the power holder’s objectives and advantages. It is the ability of the powerful to produce a desired change in the actions of another who is less powerful. On the other hand, authority is legitimate and positional. It is the legitimate power of commanding obedience and its basis is law or constitution or tradition. It is always recognized, specific, defined, and accepted power of the authority holder. The persons upon whom authority is exercised accept the power of the authority holder to command obedience to his rules and orders.

Authority is, however, very closely related to the concept of power. Authority may be defined as the legitimate power of the office holder in an administrative organization. It is recognized as binding upon the persons, the subordinates of the office holder, as the legitimate right of the latter to direct and command their behavior and functions.

Sources of Authority:

There are three main sources of authority in an administrative agency:

(1) Law- Authority has its genesis in the laws. The superior-subordinate relationship in organizational hierarchy and the division of labor reflects an authority relationship in the organization. Organizations are always constituted under the law and these always work according to the law. Their structure and functions are created and regulated by their laws, rules, regulations, policies, and decisions. The authority of each personnel has its basis in these rules.

(2) Tradition- Traditions also play an important role in the administration as a source of authority. An organization, over a period of time, develops norms, codes, and work habits or conventions. These norms or conventions or traditions are developed naturally during the course of the operation of the organization. These are adopted and obeyed for the sake of convenience and efficiency. The norms act as an extra-legal code and guide the behavior of the superiors and subordinates. A healthy code always acts as a source of authority since it commands the willing respect and obedience of the members of the organization. Tradition plays an important role in securing respect and obedience to authority. In the process, they add to the effectiveness of the authority itself.

(3) Delegation- Top administrators confer authority on their subordinates through delegation. Thus, delegation acts as a source of authority in an organization. In fact, one of the functions of an administrator is to develop his subordinate in such a way as can enable them to shoulder higher responsibilities. This is achieved by delegating to them some of the authority to achieve a particular purpose of the organization.

Thus, law, tradition, and delegation play an effective role in granting authority to administrative personnel. These three are the main sources of authority in an organization.

Pre-requisites of Authority:

Traditionally, it has been believed that authority flows from the top to the bottom. The chief executive gets authority from the law or statutes and from him, it flows to different levels or officials of the organization. However, in the contemporary era of democracy wherein people are held to be the source of all power and authority, authority flows from them to the elite and top leaders. Therefore, several scholars hold the view that authority flows from the bottom to the top.

Chester Barnard opines that authority comes from the bottom. According to him, the authority of a position-holder depends upon its acceptance by his subordinates, and hence it flows from the lower levels to the top level. Barnard further writes that four conditions are required to facilitate the acceptance of authority. These are:

(1) The subordinates must be able to understand the communication of the person holding authority.

(2) The subordinates should feel that this communication is consistent with the purpose of the administrative system.

(3) The matter of communication is in tune with the personal interests of the subordinates.

(4) The subordinate is mentally and physically in a fit position to carry out the instructions communicated to him.

Since the acceptance of the authority of the superior is an important factor of an authority relationship, it can be said that authority flows from the bottom to the top. However, it is a point of view not accepted and upheld by all. Most scholars still hold that authority in administration flows from the top to the bottom. Delegation is the process by which this gets accomplished in practice. The ultimate authority as well as responsibility stands vested in the top level of the organizational hierarchy from where it flows towards the lower levels of the hierarchy.

Factors Which Aid Authority:

Following are the factors which contribute to the authority.

(1) Career Jobs- Administrators enjoy the benefit of career jobs. They have a definite tenure in their jobs and their decision has a lasting impact on the life of society in general and the life of the groups in particular whose interests are being looked after by the organization in which the administrator is at work.

(2) Expertise- The administrative personnel possess knowledge and skills as a result of their education, training, and experience in the job. As a result, they have more skills and expertise. The expertise of an administrator contributes to his authority. In the words of Rourke, “The ability to use the skills and information contributes to the authority of the administrative personnel.”

(3) Outside Support- Outside support to the public administrator by the interest groups which are active in society also contributes to his authority.

Limits to Authority:

There are some controls that are necessary to check the misuse and abuse of authority for illegitimate purposes. The following are the limitations on Authority:

(1) Defined and Recognized nature of Authority- First of all, the authority has an in-built limitation. It is a definite, specific, defined, and recognized power of decision-making and getting these implemented. The holder knows its limits which stand prescribed by the constitution or law or statute or even conventions. His subordinates also know the scope as well as the limits of his authority. All this prevents any misuse of authority. Authority is a legitimate power, its exercise has to be within its character as such.

(2) Legislative Control- The parliament or the state legislature controls the authority of the administrators by making them accountable for their actions. It gives guidelines and directions to them. Through the control over the political executive, the legislature controls the administration. Several committees of the legislature, as well as the Auditor and Comptroller General, help the legislature to check the exercise of authority. Legislators can hold discussions on the functioning of the various departments and pass laws and policies for checking irregularities and possible misuse of authority.

(3) Constitutional Safeguards- There are some constitutional mechanisms at work that control the exercise of authority and check its misuse. Lok Pals, Lok Ayuktas, or Ombudsmen can look into specific complaints against governmental authority holders or public servants.

(4) The Press and the Media- The press and the media also act as a mechanism of control on the authority holders in administration. By periodical news reporting, various actions of the government and its agencies are put under public scrutiny. These mobilize public opinion against the misdeeds of officials. Organized interest groups. NGOs, social service organizations, social reformers, and the elite use the press to check the misuse of official authority.

(5) Consumer Forums and Citizen’s Grievances Committees- In contemporary times, the public continuously monitors the exercise of authority by the administrators. Their interest groups and other welfare or protection forums act as agencies of control over the administrators. These play a role in checking the misuse or overuse of authority.

(6) Courts- Judicial pronouncements act as effective controls on the working of administrative agencies. Courts have the power or scrutinize and review administrative actions. They can issue writs for protecting the rights, freedoms, and interests of the people against the misuse of power by the authority holders. Systems like Public Interest Litigation (PIL) have strengthened such a role of the courts.

(7) Hierarchy- Hierarchy acts as an internal control mechanism for administrative personnel. In an administrative organization, there are different levels of officials and staff with varying degrees of authority and responsibility. The action of the administrators is under the supervision of their immediate superiors in the organizational hierarchy. Organizational structure also acts as an inner-control mechanism.

These are the seven major limitations or checks upon the exercise of authority. They are designed to prevent any misuse of authority by the administrators. They are also intended to help the authority to maintain its legitimate status, and thereby to remain effective and productive of desired results.

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