Everything you need to know about authority and responsibility in management.
Authority means a formal, institutional or legal power in a particular job, function or position that empowers the holder of that job, function or position to successfully perform his task.
Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to perform a duty, which has been assigned to him by his superior.
This shows that the obligation is the essence of responsibility. In view of organizational set up, the superior-subordinate relationship gives rise to this responsibility as the superior is vested with the authority to get the specified work done by his subordinates.
According to Barnard,
“Authority is the character of a communication (order) in a formal organization, by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor to, or member of, the organization as governing the action he contributes; that is, as governing or determining what he does or not do, so far as the organization is concerned.”
According to Koontz and O’Donnell,
“Viewed internally with respect to the enterprise, responsibility may be defined as the obligation of a subordinate, to whom a superior has assigned a duty to perform a service required. The essence of responsibility is then, obligation.”
Learn about the meaning, definition, concept, relationship of authority and responsibility in management.
Authority and Responsibility in Management – Meaning, Definition, Concept, Characteristics and Relationship
Authority and Responsibility in Management – Meaning, Definition and Characteristics of Authority and Responsibility in Management
Authority means a formal, institutional or legal power in a particular job, function or position that empowers the holder of that job, function or position to successfully perform his task.
According to Barnard, “Authority is the character of a communication (order) in a formal organization, by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor to, or member of, the organization as governing the action he contributes; that is, as governing or determining what he does or not do, so far as the organization is concerned.”
As Simon puts it, authority is the power to make decisions which guide the action of another. It is a relationship between two individuals—one of them superior, and the other a subordinate. The superior frames and transmits decisions, with the expectation that the subordinates will accept and comply with them. The subordinate expects such decisions, and his behaviour is determined by them.
Authority means the right to influence the behavior of others. The right may flow from a legal-institutional framework (a law governing the organization, or a manual, or guidelines framed by the organization). The right may also be rooted in tradition, or the charisma of a person.
Shareholders of a company appoint directors and delegate to them authority to manage the affairs of the company. They do so because the Company Law gives them this authority. Parents ask or order children to do or not to do anything.
This is example of traditional authority. A person with extraordinary characteristics (charisma) exercises authority over his followers, even though the followers are neither bound by any law or tradition to do so. They follow the leader because, according to their perception, he articulates their feelings and aspirations.
Decision-making is the main feature of authority. A manager has authority to order his subordinates to act or not to act in a particular manner. He does this because he has made decision about the work behavior of his subordinates.
There is legal or traditional framework in an organization within which authority may be exercised. A manager has authority to reward and punish his subordinates based on their performance. But his decision to do so is often influenced by his personal likes and dislikes and socio-economic, educational and cultural background.
A manager who started working decades ago on a three-digit salary might have butterflies in stomach when he appoints staff on a salary many times exceeding his own when he had jointed the organization. For a while he forgets that under the current global business scenario, an efficient worker would stay only if his compensation package compares favorably with that of similarly qualified workers in other organizations.
Which is the Fountainhead of Authority?
Authority is a formal or institutionalized form of power vested in a position or office.
There are various theories to explain the sources of authority, important among them are as follows:
1. ‘Formal’, ‘Traditional’ or ‘Top-Down’ theory.
2. ‘Acceptance’ or ‘Bottom-up’ theory.
3. ‘Competence’ or ‘Personal Authority’ theory.
Formal authority flows from law, rules, and regulations that are framed by, or with the consent of all stakeholders. For example, shareholders of a company are the source of all legal authority to control and manage its affairs. Through legal process, they delegate this authority to Board of directors elected/selected by them.
The Board, on its part, selects and appoints staff that will help it accomplish the tasks and responsibility necessary to achieve organizational goals. Then, it assigns tasks and responsibility to the staff, based on their competence levels. Assignment of tasks and responsibility will be meaningful only when it is accompanied by delegation of necessary authority to perform the assigned tasks and responsibility.
Top managers of the company owe responsibility and accountability to their superiors—the board of directors—who on their part are responsible and accountable to shareholders. Top managers appoint senior and junior level managers and assign tasks and responsibility to them to perform and delegate them appropriate authority to operate and control the resources placed under their control. Their reward is the salary and prospects of promotion to higher responsibility positions in the organization.
The flow of legal authority is top-down at each level. Delegation of authority from a manager to a subordinate is in proportion to the nature of tasks and responsibility assigned to the subordinate. However, delegation of authority does not diminish the authority and responsibility of the manager- he continues to be the source of authority vested in him and also continues to be responsible for performance of the assigned task by him and/or his subordinate(s).
Acceptance theory of authority is the exact opposite of the traditional, formal theory of authority. According to acceptance theory, authority of a manager will be in direct proportion to the acceptance given to his authority by his subordinates. Legal authority or social or cultural norms become irrelevant here. If the subordinates do not accept the authority of manager, they may not willingly comply with his decisions and orders – they may even defy them.
The acceptance theory was formulated by Chester Barnard who held that authority lies in the character of a communication (order) issued in a formal organization which makes it acceptable to the persons for whom it is intended. The essence of the theory is that any authority is as effective or ineffective as the willingness or unwillingness of subordinates to accept it.
According to Barnard, “an individual will accept the exercise of authority by his superior if the advantages to him from accepting the authority and the disadvantages from not accepting the authority are greater than the advantages from not accepting and the disadvantages from accepting; conversely, he will not accept the exercise of authority if the latter factors are greater than the former.”
This means that a subordinate will accept authority only if it falls within his zone of acceptance. His zone of acceptance will be determined by a number of factors.
For example, exercise of authority by his manager will fall within his zone of acceptance if the following conditions are satisfied:
(a) If the rewards arising from acceptance of authority are greater than the value of skills and effort that he would be required to spend on performing the task or responsibility;
(b) If he has a strong sense of belonging to the organization and hence would willingly accept the authority without subjecting it to cost-benefit analysis; and
(c) If the consequences of not accepting the authority would damage his career prospects in the organization, including perhaps loss of job.
Acceptance theory would be put to test only when a manager takes a decision and communicates it to his subordinate(s). If the subordinate ably and willingly accept to perform the assigned tasks or responsibility, and performs it in the manner desired by the manager, he can rest content that his authority enjoys acceptance.
Now the question – What source of authority would best enable a manager to perform his task? Formal and legal authority would empower him to secure performance from his subordinates through adoption of the ‘carrot and stick’ policy—reward to subordinate if the task or responsibility assigned to him is performed to the satisfaction of the manager, and punishment if it is not.
However, the ideal source of authority is that under which the subordinates accept to perform the assigned task and responsibility because they trust the ability and integrity of the manager. To sum up, the ultimate source of authority rests equally on legal, social and cultural norms that fulfill the test of validity and voluntary acceptance of authority by subordinates.
A person can influence the behavior of others even if he does not command any formal, legal or traditional authority. This happens when he enjoys support and confidence of his followers because they see him as personification of their urges and aspirations. They do so also because they trust his extraordinary technical, social and human qualities.
At the root of his authority are his competence, charisma and leader-like qualities. Thus, union leaders of an organization may select a relatively junior worker to present their case before the top management for increase in salaries because they feel he is forceful and logical in arguing the case and has at his command well-documented evidence to support his viewpoint.
Every civilized society follows certain traditions and carefully protects and preserves them. Respecting and serving elders in family and society is an age-old tradition, so is responsibility of parents to raise and properly educate and train children for life ahead. Lord Ram went into exile to honor the promise once made by his father. Shravan Kumar spent his youth carrying parents on his shoulders to pilgrim centers. It is a different matter though that in the modern society this tradition-conferred authority is suffering dilution.
Senior citizens are willingly offered seats in crowded buses and trains; no one minds their jumping the queue to visit a doctor, or to withdraw money from bank. Tradition-centric authority has a lot to commend itself, only it should not become a tool to exploit people who respect it.
The term responsibility has been interpreted in two different ways. Some writers define as a duty while others call it an obligation. In a more comprehensive sense responsibility can be defined as an obligation of a subordinate to perform the duties assigned to him.
Thus the responsibility is the obligation to perform certain functions and achieve results. It is the liability for proper discharge of duties. According to Koontz and O’Donnell “the obligation of a subordinate to whom a duty has been assigned to perform the duty”.
“Duty” or “responsibility” refers to an obligation or liability for performance of a task or responsibility that is assigned. Assignment of a task or responsibility casts a duty to perform something. It means the person who has been assigned a task or responsibility has a duty or obligation to perform it. Koontz and O’ Donnel define it as the obligation of a subordinate, to whom a superior has assigned a task and delegated authority, to perform the task as required.
Accountability means an obligation on the part of a person to account for, or explain, why the task or responsibility assigned to him has not been performed as desired. A person will be accountable only when he has been assigned any task or responsibility by the person who commands authority over him.
Accountability will shrink or expand with the nature of responsibility assigned. A manager is accountable only to his superior but the top management owes the maximum accountability.
Task or responsibility can only be assigned to humans. Non-living inanimate beings – machine, tool, capital – cannot be assigned task or responsibility. They do not work on their own; they need humans to work them. For this reason they cannot be held accountable for failure or deficiency of performance.
Assignment of task or responsibility requires, first, an authority-holding person to assign the task or responsibility and, second, one or more subordinates to perform that task or responsibility. Only a person holding authority—legal, traditional or competence—can assign task or responsibility. Likewise, only a person who is subordinate to the authority-holding person can be assigned task or responsibility.
In a business organization a manager is vested with official and legal authority which empowers him to assign tasks and responsibility to his subordinates and demand accountability from them in respect of performance of those tasks and responsibility. The subordinates accept responsibility and are accountable because they are bound by service contract that requires them to do so to become entitled to monetary and other benefits and privileges provided by the organization.
Task or responsibility assigned to a subordinate may be a continuing obligation, or it may be limited in terms of time or tasks. The relationship between CEO and the production manager of a company is a case of continuing responsibility – the production manager must keep performing his task or responsibility so long as he is in the employment of the company. However, relationship between CEO and an auditor who is appointed annually to conduct audit of the company accounts is a specific duration task or responsibility.
Duty or responsibility may be in terms of functions, targets or goals. For example, when a worker is assigned the task of operating a machine, his responsibility is to ensure that the machine is operationally fit. But if he is assigned the task of producing 100 units daily on the machine, his responsibility is expressed in terms of a quantitative target. Responsibility in terms of quantitative targets is preferable to general, non-quantitative responsibility.
The task or responsibility to produce minimum 100 units per day is a task or responsibility expressed in quantitative terms. It will inspire the worker to achieve the target and he will experience a sense of fulfilment if he attains the target. But if the sales manager is assigned the task of improving sales performance, it will be difficult for him to work out at what point the sales performance will be deemed satisfactory by his superior.
These are the main characteristics of the responsibility:
1. The essence of responsibility is obligation to perform the assigned duty or task.
2. Responsibility arises from superior subordinate relationships. When a superior assigns some work to a subordinate, the latter becomes responsible for performance of tasks.
3. Responsibility has no meaning except as applied to a promotion. A building or machine etc. cannot be held responsible.
4. Responsibility may be a continuing obligation or specific obligation.
5. Responsibility is a personal attribute and it cannot be deleted.
6. Responsibility is a concomitant of authority, therefore authority and responsibility should be equal.
Authority and Responsibility in Management – Nature, Definition and Source
Organizing will not end by dividing the originations into smaller homogeneous units. These units must be structured together and their efforts directed towards attaining the goals of the enterprise. Establishing vertical and horizontal relationships can do this more effectively through the sharing of authority effected by delegation.
To run the organization towards its goal and objectives the authority of the executive has to be re-delegated to the managers down the line to reach the bottom line managers. In every organization, this process of re-delegation is essential to run the organization. Thus, the concept of authority arises from the chain, which ties together the sections emanating from different persons in the organization.
The word authority is used with different meanings as:
A person with superior knowledge and skill is described as an authority in the sense of an expert.
In a business organization, which is authoritarian in nature, the word authority refers to the power of an individuals to direct others by giving orders.
Henry Fayol defines authority as “the right to give orders and the power to extract the obedience.”
Allen defines authority as “the sum of the powers and rights entrusted to make possible the performance of the work delegated.” This definition emphasise the right and power aspects and adds another dimension, namely the implication that the authority is delegated with a view to performance of the work and is delegated to the extent of the responsibility for the work entrusted to the delegatee.
For practical purposes, the term authority can be defined as the legal and rightful power to command or to extract action from others. It is the power or the right to act, to command or to extract action by others. Because the manager gets the work done by subordinates, authority constitutes as the key to manager’s job. Authority and right to command helps the manager get work done by others in the organization and the degree of authority goes on descending down the line.
There are two versions of theory of authority.
(i) Formal authority theory, and
(ii) Acceptance theory.
But as per Koontz O’ Donnel source of authority is discussed under three headings:
(i) The formal authority theory,
(ii) The acceptance theory, and
(iii) The competence theory.
(i) The Formal Authority Theory:
The people who have belief in his theory, accept the basis that the ultimate source of authority in a business firm is embedded in the institution of private property, which is interested in a; person power over material resources. Many academic theorists of the formal authority view the legal aspects of private property as the source of authority.
(ii) The Acceptance Theory:
This theory is very simple, because the followers of this theory believe that the authority flows to a manager through acceptance by his subordinates of his power to make and implement decisions.
As Chester I. Bernard writes that “Authority is the character of communication (order) in a formal organization by virtue of which it is accepted by a contributor to or member of the organization as governing the action he contributes; that is, as governing or determining what he does or is not to do so fare as the organization is concerned”.
As per this definition, there are two aspects involved in the concept of authority.
(a) The subjective aspect that is the personal aspect of accepting a communication or order as authoritative; and
(b) The objective aspect that is the character in the communication by virtue of which it is accepted.
The subordinate will accept the authority of a command, understand it, believe it and follow it in the interest of the organization. Bernard says that the subordinate automatically accepts most orders given by the manager. The acceptance theory really emphasizing the leadership function of management that is the ability to persuade others to work well in the interest of goals/objectives of enterprise.
(iii) The Competence Theory:
This theory believes that the technical competence and personal competence are the basis of authority. Some persons having attractive personality command others to work. By mere his personality people seek his advice and obey it. Sometimes it so happens these attractive and commanding personality do not have any authority, but people waits for his guidance and follow it taking it as an order.
But one must understand that the fact that the fundamental source of authority is formal authority emanating from an institutional framework or from an organizational structure.
Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to perform a duty, which has been assigned to him by his superior. This shows that the obligation is the essence of responsibility. In view of organizational set up, the superior-subordinate relationship gives rise to this responsibility as the superior is vested with the authority to get the specified work done by his subordinates.
In general, in business organizations, the authority is a result of the contractual agreement, under which the subordinate have agreed to perform certain services in return of monitory benefit. Authority flows from superior to the subordinate manager to whom certain duties are assigned and responsibility is the obligation of the subordinate to accomplish these duties. Responsibility can be discharged by a single action or it may be a continuous obligation.
A manager can delegate his authority to his subordinate, but responsibility cannot be delegated. A manager is responsible for the performance of the duties even though he may delegate to a subordinate authority to accomplish a service and the subordinate also in his turn may delegate a part of his authority received by him. Delegation of authority to a subordinate will not relieve a manager from responsibility to perform his duties.
Authority and Responsibility in Management – Concept and Relationship between Authority and Responsibility in Management
Concept of Authority:
Authority is one of the important considerations in the process of management. Managerial action in a formal organisation needs authority. Without authority, the executive cannot secure compliance of his orders from his subordinates. It is always considered to be the key to a successful Managerial job. It is the power of the superior to make decisions which guides the actions of his subordinates.
Getting things done by people is not possible without compliance on the part of subordinates and the authority which ensures compliance. Authority is the only cohesive force that sets in motion the integrated activities of sub-ordinates in an enterprise. It is the means through which co-operative activity becomes a success and common objectives are achieved.
Securing compliance or obedience is the main objective behind the whole concept of authority. It can be acquired through persuasion, sanction, coercion, constraints or force.
The managerial authority is a rightful permission to act for the enterprise instruct the subordinates, impose penalty for wrong doings, use company property or to speak or act as a representatives of the enterprise.
The whole organisational structure is based on the concept of authority without use of authority, anarchy and utter confusion will prevail all around the enterprise Authority is usually respected, recognised and followed in the organisation as a matter of course. Authority is generally adopted with power to secure obedience. This customary acceptance of authority is a part of our culture and day- to-day behaviour.
But compliance of actions and carrying out of instructions by subordinates cannot always be assured merely because the authority is customarily accepted. Delegation of authority establishes relationships. Vertical delegation of authority determines relationship between a boss and his subordinate and the horizontal division of authority determines the degree of decentralisation.
A few definitions of the term “authority” are given below:
“Authority is the right to give orders and the power to obedience”. – Henry Fayol
“Authority is the official and the legal right to command action by others and to enforce compliance. Compliance is obtained in a number of ways trough persuasion, sanctions, request, coercion, constraint or force”. – George R. Terry
“Authority means the Power to command others- to act or not to act in a manner deemed fit by the possessor of the authority and is exercised in furtherance of the enterprise or departmental purpose”. – Koontz and O’Donnell
From the above definitions, two points become clear that the possessor of authority influences the activity and behaviour of other individuals or groups and that he has the right to issue orders and ensure their compliance by subordinates.
Authority vs. Power:
Authority may not mean the same thing as power A person many have the power to influence the activity and behaviour of other persons but he may not have the official or legal right of command and thus enforce compliance by others. Such a person would have power but no authority. It may, therefore, be said that authority includes power but power may or may not be supported by authority. Also, all authority is formal.
Types of Authority:
Authority is of Five Types:
1. Formal Authority:
According to some writers all authority is formal. It stems from the top and is transmitted downwards through the line by the process of delegation. The authority which a manager possesses, because of his organisational position, is known as formal authority.
2. Acceptance Authority:
Under the acceptance theory, it is believed that authority comes to the manager by the acceptance of power to make and enforce decisions through his subordinates. Accordingly manager has no authority until it is conferred upon him by his sub-ordinates.
A subordinates may accept the authority of the manager because – (i) he wants to contribute to the accomplishment of organisational objective (ii) he wants to obtain some reward by accepting it. (iii) He wants to avoid disciplinary action, (iv) he regards the maturity, age or experience of superior (v) he wants to avoid responsibility, (vi) he believes that the authority is legitimate and should be followed.
But the acceptance theory has been criticised on the grounds that:
i. It is unrealistic.
ii. It assumes that a subordinate has the option to accept or reject authority and
iii. It ignores the organisational situation of the possessor of the authority.
3. Authority of the Situation:
G. R. Terry observes “In almost every enterprise, emergency and unusual events accrue which are not provided for in the organisational set-up. When such an event occurs, the person assuming authority to meet the particular circumstances is said to have derived the authority of the situation. Such an authority exists only till emergency lasts”.
4. Position Authority:
It is the authority a person enjoys by virtue of his superior position in the organisation. Normally subordinates recognize authority of those occupying higher hierarchical positions.
5. Technical Authority:
Since 1950 the term technical authority or computer authority has come into use. Such authority stems the decision making power granted to the processed data by a computer. But since authority is a human possession, such authority may be described as that authority which is possessed by the person who either interprets computer processed results and data or underlines their significant managerial meanings for others.
Unlimited authority always tends to be an instrument of corruption, It should therefore, have arid generally does have some limitations, which may be express and implied.
Some of these limitations are:
1. Authority is subject to the physical and mental capacity of the subordinate who has to exercise it.
2. Authority may be subjected to the bye-laws, standing orders, rules and regulation of the company (as per articles and memorandum of the company)
3. Authority may be subject to the social beliefs, codes, creeds and habits of the group over which it has to be exercised.
4. Laws, trade practices etc. may also impose certain limitations on the use of authority.
Thus, as a matter of fact, there should be blending of power and influence to make the authority really effective. The other means, that it can help in making authority more effective and may include the backing and support to lower executives, from the top executives, due attention to their advice, usually confirming their decisions, permitting command to flow through proper channels and supplying adequate information and materials to them.
Other General Limits of Authority:
There are any limitations to the concept of authority. Authority is never absolute like responsibility. It changes with time, position and group behaviour of the subordinates etc. While exercising authority, the manager must keep the following limitations in his mind. It will help him in successful utilization of his authority.
They are as follows:
1. Regard for the Mores and Folk Ways of the Group:
Authority when used commands reaction from individual as well as groups. It may be favourable or unfavourable. So a manager while using authority, must keep in his mind, the reaction of his orders on employees, shareholders and customers etc.
2. Legal Limitations:
A manager’s authority is restricted by the enterprise goals, objectives, politics, programmes and procedures etc. These are governed by the articles and memorandum of association which are governed themselves by the commercial and industrial laws of the country. Every manager at any level in the organisation, must respect the laws, traditions and restrictions etc.
3. Natural or Biological Limitations:
No subordinate can be ordered to do a job which is impossible to be performed due to biological limitations. For example, one can hardly order a person to walk up to side of a building or do such impossible things.
4. Physical Limitations:
Physical limitations such as climate, geography, chemical elements and so on, have their limiting effect on authority. For example an order to make gold from copper.
5. Technological Limitations:
There are technological limits on authority too. Until and unless any performance is technically possible an order to do any such work would be unworthy.
6. Economic Limitations:
Sometimes a manager may not get the work done from the subordinates if the wages are not according to their expectation. The competition in prices of the product and other economic factors also affect the authority.
7. Authority Delegation Limitations:
The extent of delegation of authority also restricts the authority of a manager. Generally the authority to make decisions or the right to command decreases as it proceeds from the highest to lowest level of an organisation.
Responsibility is the most misunderstood term in the literature of management. It is common to hear about delegating responsibilities, holding a person responsible, discharging responsibilities and carrying out a responsibility. The term Responsibility is, most of the times, used to mean duty, activity, liability, accountability or even authority.
According to Koontz and O’Donnell, “Viewed internally with respect to the enterprise, responsibility may be defined as the obligation of a subordinate, to whom a superior has assigned a duty to perform a service required. The essence of responsibility is then, obligation.”
Responsibility is also an important concept and has been defined as follows:
Responsibility is an obligation of the individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction of his executive leader. – Keith Davis
Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to perform his duty as required by his superior – Theo Haiman
Responsibility results from a superior subordinate relationship. It may continue or cease with the accomplishment of the desired objective.
2. Obedience and
Failure to observe these elements may call for a penalty, punishment or disciplinary action against the erring subordinate.
Responsibility Relates to human beings only. A building, a machine or an animal cannot be held responsible. Responsibility arises from the superior subordinate relationship, from the fact that a superior has the authority to get specific services from his subordinate. The relationship between a president and his sales managers is typical of the continuing type of obligation.
On the other hand, when the president hires some lower for seeking legal advice and advocating a particular case in the court of law, his obligation comes to an end when the assignment is completed. In an enterprise responsibility is accepted by a subordinate due to contractual relationship and in turn, he gets monetary or other rewards.
While the authority flows from a superior to a subordinate when assignment of duty is made, the responsibility flows from a subordinate to his superior when former undertakes the obligation of accomplishing the duties assigned to him.
Thus, responsibility is an obligation to carry out certain tasks. In an organisation responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to perform his duty as required by his superior. Responsibility is closely related to authority. It is exacted upwards whereas authority flows downwards. A manager is responsible ultimately for the performance of his duties even though he has delegated it to his subordinates. Therefore responsibility cannot be delegated.
Authority – Responsibility Relationship:
Authority and responsibility of a manager should be co-equal i.e. authority should be commensurate with responsibility. According to George R. Terry, responsibility is inseparable, there is every danger that it may be misused by the possessor. Similarly, if responsibility is greater than authority, the tendency of the management becomes difficult and even ineffective. In order to ensure that authority and responsibility are co-equal, a correlative action may be resorted to.