Difference Between Authority and Power

When it comes to influencing or modifying others, two situations go hand in hand in the field of management: power and authority. These two are often used to compel people to act in a specific way. Many people believe that power and authority are synonymous, but there is a fine line between the two. It is meaningful to know the difference between them.

Authority vs Power

The main difference between power and authority is that power is a person’s ability to influence the opinions, actions, or behavior of someone else, whereas authority is the absolute power that a person or a group of individual citizens possesses and exercises over other individual people.

Authority vs Power

A formal designation or leadership role that gives someone the ability to influence others within their organization is referred to as authority. A person in positions of authority is frequently powerful, but power is not required for authority. Many hierarchical systems and organizations rely on authority to function quickly and efficiently.

On the other hand, Power is known as a person’s capacity or power to affect the belief systems, motives, or behavioral patterns of others. To become powerful, a person or organization doesn’t seem to have any prominent place inside a hierarchy. For example, even if they do not hold a managerial title, an employee with high experience and technical expertise will often become powerful and influential to their peer group, supervisors, and customers.

Comparison Table Between Authority and Power 

Parameters of ComparisonAuthority Power
DefinitionAn Authority is the formal and legal right to issue an order and commands and make decisions.Power is defined as a people’s capacity or potential to influence and control the actions of others
What exactly should it be?It is an official right, granted to high-ranking representatives.It is a personality trait.
Hierarchy The hierarchy is followed by authority.There is no hierarchy of power.
Exists with DesignationIndividual
SourcePosition and locationCompetence and knowledge

What is Authority?

Authority is defined as the legitimate power that a person or a group of individual people possesses and exercises over others. This is referred to as legitimate power, as it refers to the power that individuals agree to follow according to specific procedures. They obey or listen to people in positions of authority even though they believe these people are fundamentally respected or just because they believe that these people are deserving of respect.

A typical example of how people communicate with figures of authority in daily situations is an encounter between a police officer and a regular citizen in the country. Other figures of authority that people generally acknowledge are public officials and elected representatives.

It is bestowed upon high-ranking officials to achieve the organization’s goals. It is centralized, flowing downward, that is, assigned from leader to subservient. In particular, authority is used to accomplish tasks through the use of others. It is affixed to the role, which means that anyone who obtains the position enjoys the authority that comes with it; the higher the position, the greater his authority. Because the authority is in the designation, the position offered to the person would be useless in the absence of authority. Furthermore, it is limited to the organization.

German Sociologist, Max Weber, distinguished three types of authority: traditional authority, charismatic authority, and legal-rational authority. The legitimacy of power exists in traditional authority leading to heavy culture. People accept charismatic authority because of the leader’s personal characteristics. Further to that, in the case of legal-rational authority, the power is legitimized through laws and written rules.

What is Power?

The term power refers to an individual’s personal ability to persuade others to do or not do something. It is self-sufficient and unofficial in nature, owing to status. It is a learned skill derived from knowledge and experience. It is the right to direct the behavior, choices, and actions of others. Most sociological scholars adhere to Max Weber’s definition of power, which states that power is the ability to exert one’s will over others.

Power has an impact on everyone in society. It can have an impact not only on close relationships, as well as on larger social groups and professional bodies. Some regard power as immoral or manipulating, while others regard it as beneficial and empowering. 

Power can be acquired through experience and ended up losing through mistakes and bad actions, but people do tend to become more important and successful as they work or live for longer periods of time.

Power is not hierarchical, because it can move in any direction, such as from senior to subordinate (downward) or junior to senior (upward), either between people who work at the same standard but in various departments of the same organization (horizontal), or even between people working at different levels and divisions of the same organization (vertical) (diagonal). It is not constrained in this way by any boundaries. Furthermore, it is frequently associated with politics.

Main Differences Between Authority and Power

The main distinctions between power and authority can be simply drawn on the following basis:

  1. The legal and formal right to issue orders and commands, as well as make decisions, is referred to as authority, whereas Power is known as an individual’s ability or capability to influence and control the actions of others. 
  2. Authority is an official right that vests in the hands of high-ranking officials or management personnel, whereas Power is a personality factor, i.e. an acquired ability.
  3. Authority is complex and static, whereas Power is flexible and adaptable.
  4. Authority can be depicted in an organizational chart because it flows downwards, whereas Power cannot be accurately depicted because it flows in many directions.
  5. Authority is legitimate power, whereas Power on the other hand can also be obtained illegally.


Following a review of the preceding points, it is completely transparent that power and authority are not the same things but both are the methods of persuading others. Power is neither legitimate nor formal, whereas authority is both. Power has nothing to do about a person’s level or position. On the other hand, authority is entirely dependent on such two factors, that is the position level defines an individual’s level of authority. Violence can be a powerful person’s strategy, but using violent acts usually causes an authority figure to end up losing legitimacy.


  1. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/222006
  2. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.103.4.1325
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