The concepts of authority and responsibility in management are important ideas that can help in the establishment of an effective work environment. The concepts indicate the roles of individuals in an organization as well as provide an overview of existing hierarchies. However, some companies and groups may lack sufficient understanding regarding these ideas. This can lead to abusive use of power and underperformance. Leaders that do not understand the concept of authority may apply ineffective managing techniques. Also, subordinates that do not understand the concept of responsibility may disregard the proper completion of tasks. In contrast, Organizations that properly utilize authority and responsibility may notice an improvement in work productivity and the health of the workplace. This research paper will provide an extensive definition of authority and responsibility as well as discuss the integral relationship between the concepts.

Defining Authority in Management

The concept of authority is related to power and leadership. According to Merriam-Webster, authority is the power to give orders. In management, authority possesses a similar definition. Henry Fayol defined the concept of authority in business management as an individual’s right to exercise the power to command obedience. Other sources, such as legalpaathshala.com states that authority is a superior’s power over their subordinates or a relationship between the superior and the subordinate. These definitions imply that authority in management pertains to the power of superiors to give instructions to their subordinates. Superiors in a business environment are the managers, officers, and other departmental leaders. These organizational leaders possess authority over their subordinates which allows them to give instructions and delegate responsibilities.

Sources of Authority

Authority in a professional environment can come from various sources. Management experts utilize various theories to assess the source of an individual’s authority. The formal theory and acceptance theory are general theories that can discuss the sources of authority and categorize them into two groups. The formal theory states that authority comes from organizational hierarchies that involve managers and subordinates (Pooja n.d.). The theory argues that an individual will receive authority from their position of power related to the organizational hierarchy. For example, a manager receives power over their subordinates due to their hierarchy position which is above the regular employees. Top organizational leaders, such as a Chief Financial Officer, grant this authority. Alternatively, the acceptance theory states that an individual can gain authority over others through acceptance (Gordon 2021). The theory implies that subordinates can grant an individual the authority over them. Subordinates grant authority when they respect an individual’s expertise and are willing to follow their instructions. The formal and acceptance theories effectively describe the two common sources of authority in the workplace.

Aside from the two theories that describe the sources of authority, there are also five sources of power that management experts agree upon. Psychologists John R.P. French and Bertram Raven introduced the concept of legitimate power, coercive power, reward power, expert power, and referent power. These sources of power apply the formal and acceptance theories as individuals can possess some of the authorities through formal means while others rely on the informal acquisition of power. While these concepts vary in their approach regarding the acquisition and delegation of authority they all refer to the relationship between a superior and their subordinates.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is a form of authority that comes from a structuralized system. The system can be an organizational hierarchy with managers and employees or a cultural system that promotes patriarchal or matriarchal leaders. The key to this source of authority is the legitimate acquisition of power. This can be in a formal form where a superior delegates authority to a manager. Legitimate power may also comply with the acceptance theory when subordinates legitimately vote for their representative and grant them authority. This form of authority is present in most democratic government systems where constituents vote for their leaders. Legitimate power depends on organization systems for the acquisition of authority and the delegation of instructions.

The nature of legitimate power promotes a positive effect on an organizational environment. This source of power increases reason-based trust and voluntary cooperation (Hofmann et al. 2017). Individuals with legitimate power obtain their authority through subordinate acceptance or a delegation from a superior which refers to the two parties’ positive perception of the authority figure. Subordinates will trust legitimate authority and will be willing to comply with their instructions. However, legitimate power may also increase forced cooperation due to social coercion from the workplace (Hofmann et al. 2017). Subordinates may hesitate to question a legitimate authority due to the latter’s respected position. Due to this, legitimate power can lead to blind compliance which may be an unhealthy practice in a workplace. 

Coercive Power

Coercive power is a form of authority that comes from coercion or fear. This form of authority utilizes punishments to force subordinate compliance with instructions. An individual that acquires their position through superior delegation may use coercive power if they do not garner the respect and trust of their subordinates. They utilize coercion and punishments to promote enforced compliance and ensure the performance of tasks. A good example of coercive authority is a dictatorial ruler, such as the Nazi Party, that uses fear to instill obedience. They order harsh punishments to individuals that do not comply with their rules which coerce the public to follow them to avoid the negative experience. Coercive power relies on the subordinate’s fear of failing which leads to the completion of their tasks.

Coercive power’s utilization of fear and coercion tends to lead to an unhealthy work environment. According to Hofmann et al (2017), coercive power decreases implicit trust and promotes an antagonistic workplace climate. Subordinates may less likely trust the decisions of a coercive authority since they do not willingly accept the power over them. Coercive power leads to forced compliance to avoid punishments that do not promote a healthy relationship between superiors and their subordinates. This results in an antagonistic workplace climate where the trust is low between managers and employees. However, an environment with both legitimate and coercive power will not experience a decrease in implicit trust (Hofmann et al. 2017). This is due to the reason-based trust from legitimate power which negates coercive power’s negative effect on implicit trust. Despite this relationship, coercive power’s antagonistic effect on the workplace environment makes it an unideal source of authority.

Reward Power

Reward power is a form of authority that utilizes rewards to promote compliance. It is the opposite of coercive power since it uses positive reinforcements instead of fear and coercion. Kariuki (2020), conducted a study to assess performance-based reward systems. The study revealed that in this structure, employees kept track of their performance and showed competence in their work. Employees participated more while organizational management provided support which improved the workplace climate. A positive culture in a work environment promotes employee competence as they aim to do their best (Kariuki 2020). An individual that utilizes reward power provides incentives for completing a task as well as positive affirmations to acknowledge work performance.

Expert Power

Expert power comes from an individual’s knowledge, skills, or expertise. Individuals with this form of authority possess a high level of expertise in a particular field. This form of authority is an example of power that the acceptance theory discussed. Individuals with expert powers may not have supervisory or managerial positions. They can be individuals from outside an organization that helps in various task performances. Skogstad (2003), stated that expert authority is an alternative to centralized power. This is because an individual with expert power acquires their authority from others' respect towards their abilities. For example, an organization will rely on the advice of a financial consultant regarding its annual budget. The financial consultant’s authority comes from their knowledge about finance and the organization recognizes this.

Referent Power

Referent power is another form of authority that complies with the acceptance theory. Referent power comes from the respect and trust of subordinates towards an individual. This form of authority relies on the subordinate’s perception of the superior figure. Referent power differs from legitimate power as it does not come from a structuralized system. Subordinates may grant referent power to any individual that they perceive as role models. Due to this, referent power is common in religion. Religious leaders act as role models for their followers which grants them referent authority over them. Fans of popular actors and actresses also grant referent authority to their idols. They aim to imitate the image of their idols which allows actors and actresses to dictate their fan’s appearances, beliefs, and lifestyles. In a professional environment, employees may grant referent authority to a superior that they perceive as a promoter of proper behavior and conduct. Referent power tends to be a form of authority where subordinates attempt to mimic the status of the individual in power.

Responsibility Concept in Management

The concept of authority coincides with responsibility in business management. Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to complete a task that an authority figure assigns to them (Aparna n..d). Responsibility is the subordinate’s commitment to do a task and to accomplish it with the best of their ability. However, it is important to note that responsibility is not only present in subordinate roles but also in managerial positions. According to Niagara Institute, responsibility is an obligation to task performance or an obligation to manage others (Brown 2021). This definition implies that individuals with authority possess responsibility regarding the subordinate’s completion of the task. Additionally, individuals cannot delegate responsibility to another individual (Authority and Responsibility n.d.). This is because responsibility is a concept that applies to an individual. Managers can delegate authority to a subordinate but they will still hold the responsibility of the accomplishment of the task. For example, a manager’s responsibility includes ensuring that a subordinate records a meeting’s minutes. The manager can give the subordinate authority over the recording process, however, the manager will still possess the responsibility of the task’s completion.

It is important to note that responsibility increases depending on an individual’s organizational role. Both managers and subordinates have a level of responsibility, however, a superior’s responsibility will involve managing the responsibility of others. Due to this, managers measure responsibility through qualitative and quantitative methods. Quantitative methods of measuring responsibilities focus on recording quotas and other quantifiable factors. This will vary depending on an organization’s operations. Qualitative methods tend to focus on assessing the quality of the performance as well as the result. This can be in the form of customer feedback and an assessment of the organization’s performance. Measuring responsibility is necessary to assess the effectiveness of authority and the subordinate’s ability to take responsibility.

Responsibility and Accountability 

In management, the concept of accountability is integral to the assessment of responsibility. Accountability is the principle of accepting the consequences of a task’s accomplishment or failure (Brown 2021). Accountability is an important principle as it can dictate the effectiveness of authority and a subordinate. According to Cornett (2018), effective leaders must possess accountability to oversee the completion of a subordinate’s responsibility. Accountable leaders will utilize various methods to ensure that their subordinates accomplish the task. Authority may utilize coercive or reward power to gain the compliance of subordinates. Additionally, accountability depends on an individual’s level of responsibility (Aparna n.d.). Superiors have a higher responsibility which results in higher accountability. They are accountable to the performance of their subordinates as well as their own. The concept of accountability is integral to ensure that a superior or a subordinate performs their tasks.

Relationship Between Authority and Responsibility

While the concept of authority mostly pertains to the power of superiors, subordinates may also possess a level of authority. According to Bhasin (2019), all members of an organization possess a level of authority and responsibility that is dependent on their position. A subordinate’s position grants them a certain level of authority and responsibility that pertains to their daily tasks. Managers, while possessing high levels of authority, are also under certain responsibilities. Additionally, a shift in authority from a manager to an employee can lead to the successful performance of daily tasks (Thibault and Kelley 1959, cited in Tasie 2017). This is due to an employee’s ability to exercise authority over themselves and manage the task. This delegation of authority results in the subordinate receiving a higher level of responsibility. However, it is important to note that while a superior can delegate authority, they cannot transfer their responsibility (Aparna n.d.). For example, a restaurant manager may delegate their authority to create a monthly budget to their subordinate. The subordinate will hold the responsibility of accomplishing the task and the authority to influence the budget. They will have power over other employees as they can dictate the flow of resources. However, the restaurant manager will still possess the responsibility of ensuring the proper completion of the task. Additionally, the increased responsibility of the subordinate will motivate them to complete the task. This exercises the influence of authority on responsibility and vice versa.

Authority without responsibility may not be productive and responsibility without authority produces the same result. Authority oversees the accomplishment of responsibilities as well as possesses accountability regarding the task. Without authority, a subordinate may disregard the proper completion of a task and have no motivation to perform. Authority is concerned with the completion of responsibilities which motivates the coercive and reward power. The lack of the concept will result in the dismissal of certain responsibilities and a lack of accountability in the workplace. Alternatively, without responsibility, an authority may disregard the management of subordinates and poor workplace environment. The lack of responsibility can lead to a nonproductive organization as employees may do the bare minimum of their work.

Conclusion

The concepts of authority and responsibility possess an integral relationship that leads to a strong organizational structure and productivity. The concept of authority focuses on the power to delegate tasks and ensure their accomplishment. Authority has different forms and sources which organizational leaders utilize to promote productivity and workplace compliance. These forms include legitimate power, coercive power, reward power, expert power, and referent power. With these forms, leaders accomplish their responsibilities as well as oversee the responsibilities of others. The concept of responsibility is integral in exercising authority as it provides subordinates with an obligation to perform. A productive workplace must possess both of these concepts to ensure productivity and a healthy environment.

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