Power & Authority


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Week 9
Essay 1
Power and Authority

     Although they are very closely related, power and authority are two different concepts. Power is needed in order to establish authority, yet it is also completely distinct from authority (Week 9 Study Notes).
     Power is defined in the course study notes as the “ability of individuals or groups to get what they want despite the opposition”. Power is derived from a variety of sources including knowledge, experience and environmental uncertainties (Denhardt et al, 2001). It is also important to recognize that power is specific to each situation. Individuals or groups that may be entirely powerful in one situation may find themselves with little or no power in another. The county Registrar of Voters, who is my boss, is a perfect example. In running the local elections office, she can exercise the ultimate power. However, in a situation where she attempted to get the county selected for a desirable, statewide pilot project, she was powerless, completely at the mercy of the Secretary of State. Power is difficult to measure and even to recognize, yet it plays a major role in explaining authority. In organizations, power is most likely exercised in situations where “the stakes are high, resources are limited, and goals and processes are unclear” (Denhardt et al, 2001). The absence of power in organizations forces us to rely on soley hierarchical authority.
     When power becomes legitimate, it is then recognized as authority (Denhardt et al, 2001). Power becomes authority when it is accepted and even desired by society. As stated by the course study notes, “authority refers to a situation where a person (or group) has been formally granted a leadership position”. An individual has authority when everyday norms and regulations support the exercising of power by that individual. In an organizational setting, “authority is hierarchal and vested in positions” (Week 9 Study Notes), which are defined by “organizational charts, positions and rules” (Week 9 Study Notes). Generally, power in authority also involves the possibility of rewards such as promotions and good performance reviews.

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The negative side of this is that it also presents the possibility of punishments, such as disciplinary actions and demotions. Power by way of authority is a more formal form of power. Authority figures within an organization are granted a level of power which individuals must comply with.

Denhardt, R.B, Denhardt, J.V. & Aristigueta M.P. (2001). Managing Human Behavior in Public and Nonprofit Organization. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.



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