In the first installment of this series, we examined the interrelationships between power, authority, and influence, emphasizing the value that a systems view provides. Let's take a closer look now at the kinds of authority we find in organizations, beginning with kinds most often recognized as formal.
- Cognitive authority
- This term, coined by Patrick Wilson, denotes authority that influences thoughts that people consciously recognize as proper. It's specific to some particular field of knowledge. People usually confer it only upon someone whom they consider influential. In organizations, a common form of cognitive authority relates to the organization's mission and work. Since the organization's work usually factors into weakly interacting cells, its cognitive authority usually factors similarly.
- We're most comfortable citing cognitive authority. Even when we must yield to other kinds of authority, we sometimes seek cognitive authority to support our choices. We call this process "rationalization."
- Legal or regulatory authority
- Because laws and regulations can constrain everything we do, this form of cognitive authority deserves special attention. Since it is one of the few forms of cognitive authority that doesn't factor easily into cells, those who possess it usually work closely with those at the center of power.
- Ironically, legal authorities don't necessarily understand how to apply their authority in detail to the organization's work. Collaboration between legal experts and content experts is often necessary. The need for this collaboration is not always fully appreciated.
- Administrative authority
- Since this is the authority vested in an organizational position, it is sometimes (somewhat illegitimately) called "legitimate" authority. Administrative authority is thus founded on three relationships: that between the bearer of the authority and the organization; that between the organization and the conferrer; and that between the conferrer and the bearer.
- For some, being influenced by administrative authority is difficult, because it entails acknowledging one's own inferior station in the organization. On the other hand, to some, using administrative authority can also be difficult, because it can feel like saying, For some, being influenced by
administrative authority is
difficult, because it entails
acknowledging one's own
inferior station in
the organization"Because I said so." Thus, the exercise of administrative authority can be stressful to the relationship for both parties. This can lead both of them to seek the haven of cognitive authority, real or illusory.
- Resource authority
- This authority derives from control of inanimate resources, such as facilities, equipment, or finance. Although it's usually a form of administrative authority, resource authority is unique in that it excludes administrative authority over the people. Exercising resource authority as a means of influence entails, for example, the using rewards, rationing, withholding, bribing, granting, secreting, scheduling, and so on.
- Using resource authority can be constructive or destructive for relationships. It can be facilitative or coercive. And there are gray areas: people can assert authority over resources that aren't formally theirs to control. Resource authority can thus be fertile territory for political wrangling.
Next time we'll investigate less formal kinds of authority. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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