Authority (Weber)

Weber proposed a three-part typology for authority:

Traditional Authority -- resting on the estabilished belief of sancitity of traditions and legitimacy of those exercising authority under them

Rational-legal authority -- resting on a belief of the legality of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated under those rules to issue commands

Charismatic authority -- resting on devotion to sanctity, heroism, and character of a person, and the normative rules ordained by him or her. (from Scott p. 38)

Associated with each authority relation is a certain administrative structure. Traditional authority leads to gerontocracy, patriarchialism,and feudalism. Rational-legal authory leads to structures of which the most highly developed is bureaucracy. Charasmatic authority leads to a more personal structure of a leader and his devoted followers.

Authority in Organizations

Social scientists define authority as legitimate power. "Legitimacy is the property of a situation or behavior that is defined by a set of social norms as correct or appropriate" (Scott p. 305). So legitmate power is the combination of a set of persons and power relations and a set of norms governing the exercise of power and the response to it.

In informal groups norms develop where the subordinates to power see the relationship as acceptable and appropriate. Obedience becomes somewhat independent of the superior's individual characteristics and more dependent on the social norms regarding the position. Peer group controls become also important in supporting the emergent power structure. Scott adds that "a stable role structure has emerged that guides the expectations of the participants, making it possible for the leader to lead and for followers to follow without the generation of disruptive emotional responses" (Scott p. 306). The power relations become more impersonal and socially accepted. The subordinate considers requests as more like obligations than preferences.

Authority structures tend to be more stable and effective control systems than power structures (Scott p. 306). However, the emergent norms also restrict and constrain the power of the superior, and give the subordinate group collective strength over the superior. Scott concludes that "authority is legitimate power" and "legitimate power is normatively regulated power" (Scott p. 307).

Remember that in many cases there are multiple perspectives and competing authority schemes within organizations. This authoratative pluralism is a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition and is most prevelant in western democracies who create and maintain these "checks and balance" systems.

Katz and Kahn (1978) add that "The essential difference between a democratic and an authoritarian system is not whether executive officers order or consult with those below them but whether the power to legislate on policy is vested in the membership or in the top echelons" (p. 58).