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.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Organizational Change:
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.