Everything you need to know about authority, responsibility and accountability. Authority is the degree of discretion conferred on people to make it possible for them to use their judgment.
When an enterprise is small then decision-taking power is centralised in few hands. As the enterprise grows there is a need to delegate authority to more and more people to cope with the work.
Responsibility is the obligation to do something. It is the duty that one has to perform in organisational tasks, functions or assignments. Authority and responsibility go side by side. When authority is delegated then some responsibility for getting the assigned task is also fixed.
Accountability is a liability for the proper discharge of duties. It is an obligation to carry out responsibility in terms of performance standards set by the superior.
Accountability arises out of the exercise of authority given to a subordinate by his superior. It is an obligation to keep his superior informed about the progress of work on a regular basis.
Additionally, learn about the concept and characteristics of authority, responsibility and accountability and the differences among them.
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability – Concept and Characteristics (With Distinction between Authority, Responsibility and Accountability)
Concept of Authority:
Authority is the right to give orders and power to command subordinates. It is the power to take decisions and guide the actions of others to attain organizational goals. It is a commanding force that compels the subordinates to do the right thing to attain organizational goals. It consists of the right to command and to utilize organizational resources. Authority is the core of the structure of an organization. The strength of an officer is known by the authority he enjoys.
Authority refers to the relationship which exists between two individual employees (i.e., superior and subordinate). Various managerial positions are created by delegating authority from higher to lower levels in an organization. It is the power to command subordinates to act in a desired manner. Authority always flows downward in an organizational structure. It can be delegated by every superior to his subordinates to get the work done.
‘ Authority is the right to give orders and power to have obedience.’ – [Henry Fayol]
‘ Authority is the legal power to request subordinates to do a certain thing (or to refrain from doing a certain thing).’ – [Theo Haimann]
‘ Authority is the sum total of powers and rights entrusted to make performance possible.’ – [Louis Allen]
‘ Authority is a power to take decisions which guide the actions of others.’- [H. A. Simon]
‘ Authority is the power to command others to act or not to act in a manner deemed by the possessor of the authority.’- [Koontz & O’Donnell]
‘ Authority is the power to exert others to take actions for the achievement of predetermined objectives.’ – [George Terry]
‘ Authority is the right to take decisions and to command subordinates.’ – [Davis]
Therefore, authority includes the following rights:
i. Right to take decisions on problems;
ii. Right to use resources for performing assigned activities;
iii. Right to give instructions to subordinates regarding their work;
iv. Right to seek compliance to given orders.
The following characteristics of authority deserve special attention:
i. Right to command – Authority is the legitimate right to command, direct, guides, and control the activities of the subordinates to attain organizational goals.
ii. Right of decision-making – Authority includes the right to take decisions and get them executed by the subordinates. Generally, decisions are taken on problems related to assigned activities.
iii. Positional in nature – Authority is always positional in nature. It refers to the relationship between superior and subordinate. Once the superior vacates his position, he ceases to have authority.
iv. Limited scope – The extent of authority is determined by the rules and norms of the organization. The limit of authority enjoyed by a position is limited.
v. Delegated downwards – Authority is always delegated downwards. The superior can delegate part of his authority to his subordinate in discharging his assigned duty.
vi. Longer stability – Authority has a longer stability. The authority, once granted, remains in force unless it is withdrawn prematurely.
vii. Possibility of withdrawal – Authority granted to a position can be withdrawn at any time if the situation so warrants. Generally, authority is withdrawn with a view to reduce the damage for better results.
viii. Downward flow – Authority always flows downward in an organizational structure. The superior grants authority to his subordinates to get the work done.
ix. Legal right – Authority implies a legal right (within the organization itself) available to superiors. It is granted as per the statute (i.e., rules and regulations) of the organization to achieve the pre-decided organizational goals.
x. Influencing behaviour of subordinates – Authority influences the behaviour of subordinates in terms of doing the right things at the right time. It is a commanding force that compels the subordinates to do the right thing to attain organizational goals.
There are three theories regarding the sources from which authority generates.
These theories are enumerated as follows:
1. Formal authority theory;
2. Acceptance authority theory;
3. Competence authority theory.
This theory states that authority flows downward in an organizational structure. The higher authority grants powers to his subordinates to get the work done through his subordinates. The authority flows from the general manager to the departmental managers and in turn, from the departmental manager to the superintendent (or section manager) and the like. Therefore, authority flows from top to bottom through the delegation process. The ultimate source of authority derives his authority from laws, customs, and cultural norms.
In the case of a public limited company, the ultimate authority is in the hands of the shareholders. They delegate their authority to the Board of Directors. The Board delegates authority to the chief executive (General Manager or Manager). The chief executive delegates his authority to departmental heads and so on.
This theory states that the authority of a superior is determined by the acceptance of it by his subordinates. In other words, the authority flows from the superior to the subordinates only when there is an acceptance of it on the part of the subordinates. The authority of a superior can be effective provided the subordinates show their willingness to accept the authority.
The acceptance of authority by the subordinates may be influenced by the personal traits of the superior. The superior gets real authority only when the subordinates confer it on him. A subordinate accepts the authority delegated to him as he knows the consequences of non-acceptance of authority (such as fines, penalties, dismissal, etc.).
This theory states that the source of authority is the competence of the managerial personnel. A superior’s authority is accepted not only because of the position he holds but because of his intelligence, technical competence, and leadership qualities. According to Urwick, formal authority is conferred by organization, technical authority is implicit in special knowledge, and personal authority is conferred by popularity. A superior, without any formal authority, can exert his authority because of his technical competence and leadership qualities.
Responsibility is the obligation to do something. It refers to the duties assigned to a person by virtue of his position in the organization. It is the physical and mental activities that must be performed to complete a task. It is the obligation of the subordinate to perform any duty required to be performed by his superior.
Responsibility is a derivative of authority. A person becomes responsible to perform the assigned task as soon as authority is delegated to him. Responsibility is absolute and cannot be delegated. It flows upward as a subordinate is responsible to his superior.
‘Responsibility is the obligation of an individual to perform the assigned task to the best of his ability.’- [R. C. Davis]
‘Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to carry out assigned activities under the direction of his superior.’ – [George R. Terry]
‘Responsibility is the duty to which a person is bound by reason of his status.’ – [M.E. Hurley]
‘Responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate, to whom a superior has assigned a task, to perform the duty as required by his superior.’ – [Koontz & O’Donnell]
‘Responsibility is the duties and activities assigned to a position.’ – [Mc Farland]
Therefore, responsibility involves three main elements of conduct, namely – (a) compliance, (b) obedience, and (c) dependability. These elements provide the basis on which the relationship of superior and subordinate is established.
Responsibility is generally marked by the following features:
i. Results of assigned duty – Responsibility are the result of the duty assigned to subordinates. It is an obligation of an individual to perform the assigned duties under the direction of his superior.
ii. Obligation to perform – The essence of responsibility is the obligation to perform the assigned work in a satisfactory manner.
iii. Assigned to human beings only – Responsibility can be assigned to human beings only. In other words, non-living things cannot be assigned responsibility.
iv. Non-transferable in nature – Responsibility cannot be transferred. It is absolute and cannot be delegated.
v. Upward flow – Responsibility always flows upward in an organizational structure. A subordinate is always responsible to his superior.
vi. Derivative of authority – Responsibility should be commensurate with authority. A person becomes responsible to perform an assigned task as soon as authority is delegated to him.
vii. Superior-subordinate relationship – Responsibility arises from a superior-subordinate relationship. Only a superior can assign duties to his subordinates to get the work done. Subordinates are bound to perform the duties assigned to them.
viii. Goal (or target) orientation – Responsibility may be fixed in terms of function (or target). It may be a continuing obligation or confined to the performance of a single function.
Accountability is a liability for the proper discharge of duties. It is an obligation to carry out responsibility in terms of performance standards set by the superior. Accountability arises out of the exercise of authority given to a subordinate by his superior. It is an obligation to keep his superior informed about the progress of work on a regular basis. Accountability flows from a lower level to a higher level in the organizational structure.
Accountability is the logical outcome of authority and responsibility. Authority is delegated, responsibility is assumed and accountability is imposed. Responsibility arises from assignment of work, authority arises out of responsibility and accountability arises from the use of authority. Therefore, accountability is a derivative of responsibility.
The following characteristics of accountability deserve special attention:
i. Obligation of the subordinate – Accountability is an obligation of the subordinate and it arises out of the exercise of authority given to him by his superior.
ii. Keeping the superior informed – It is an obligation to keep the superior informed about the progress of work on a regular basis.
iii. Proper discharge of duties – It is the logical outcome of authority and responsibility. It ensures fair use of authority and accounts for the proper discharge of responsibility.
iv. Derivative of responsibility – It is a derivative of responsibility. A subordinate becomes answerable for results to his superior once he is assigned a duty
v. Legal responsibility – Accountability is, in fact, a legal responsibility. It can neither be shared nor be delegated.
vi. Upward flow – Accountability always flows upward in an organizational structure. It flows from a lower level to a higher level.
vii. Unitary in nature – It is unitary in nature. A subordinate is accountable only to one superior who has delegated authority to him. It avoids confusion and conflict.
viii. Completing the task of delegation – The process of delegation does not end with only the assignment of duties. Delegation is complete only when accountability is created. As a result, a subordinate is liable for punishment if he fails to do his assigned task in a desired manner.
Authority arises out of responsibility; responsibility arises out of assignment of work and accountability arises out of use of authority. Authority flows from higher to lower levels, whereas responsibility and accountability flow from lower levels to higher levels. In brief, authority is delegated, responsibility is assumed, and accountability imposed.
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability
Authority is the degree of discretion conferred on people to make it possible for them to use their judgment. When an enterprise is small then decision-taking power is centralised in few hands. As the enterprise grows there is a need to delegate authority to more and more people to cope with the work. The main purpose of delegation is to make organisation possible.
In the words of Simon, “Authority may be defined as the power to make decisions which guide the actions of others.”
The main characteristics of authority are as follows:
1. There exists a right in authority. The right is given by a superior to the subordinate.
2. The authority enjoyed by a subordinate is not unlimited. The person is required to use authority as per rules, regulations and norms of the organisation.
3. The authority is given to influence the behaviour of subordinates so that right things are done at right time.
4. Authority is a relationship between two individuals, one superior and the other subordinate.
5. Authority is the key to the managerial job. It provides a basis for getting things done. Authority also helps in coordinating various activities.
6. Authority is exercised by making decisions and seeing that they are carried out.
7. Though authority is always objective but its existence is always subjective. The personality traits of a manager who uses authority influences its exercise.
8. Authority can be delegated. A manager may transfer his authority to a subordinate instead of exercising it himself.
Responsibility is the obligation to do something. It is the duty that one has to perform in organisational tasks, functions or assignments. Authority and responsibility go side by side. When authority is delegated then some responsibility for getting the assigned task is also fixed. One can delegate authority but not responsibility. In the works of Koontz and O’Donnel, “Responsibilities may be defined as the obligation of a subordinate to whom a duty has been assigned to perform the duty”. George Terry defines it as – “Responsibility is the obligation to carry out assigned activities to the best of his abilities.”
1. Responsibility can be assigned to human beings only.
2. It arises from superior-subordinate relationship.
3. It arises from the duty assigned. It may be a continual obligation or restricted to the performance of a single task. For example, the responsibility of a consultant may be for the completion of his assignment whereas the responsibility of a salesman is of a continuing nature.
4. The responsibility may be defined in terms of functions, targets or goals. For example, the responsibility of a marketing manager may be in the form of a function and the responsibility of a salesman may be in terms of targets.
5. The responsibility of a subordinate is an obligation to perform the assigned task.
6. Responsibility cannot be delegated. A subordinate may perform the assigned duty himself or get it done from his subordinates, but he remains responsible for the work.
7. Responsibility always flows upwards. A subordinate remains accountable to his superior.
8. Responsibility arises out of the delegation of authority. When a person delegates authority to a subordinate then the later becomes responsible to perform the assigned work.
Accountability is the obligation of an individual to formally report to his superior about the work he has done to discharge his responsibility. When a subordinate reports about his performance, success or failure, to his superior he discharges his accountability. So accountability is related to assigned work and reporting of its performance. Louis Allen defined accountability, “as the obligation to carry out responsibility and exercise authority in terms of performance standards established”.
In the words of Mc Farland, “Accountability refers to the fact that each performer who is given authority and responsibility must recognise that the executive above him will judge the quality of his performance.” Responsibility and accountability go hand in hand, the later arises out of the former.
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability – According to Henry Fayol, Herbert A. Simon, Louis A. Allen, F.C. Moore, Keith Davis and a Few Others
Henry Fayol – Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience. Superior can delegate to a subordinate the authority to perform and accomplish specific job. Authority may be of formal authority, acceptance authority, authority of situation, position authority, and technical authority.
Authority is the basis of organization in as much as organization is described as a system of authority relationships. In line authority, a superior exercises direct command over a subordinate. Line authority is represented by the standard chain of command that starts with the board of directors and extends down through the various levels of an organization.
Staff authority is merely advisory in nature. Authority is the power to command others to act in a manner deemed by the possessor of the authority to further enterprise or departmental purpose. It is the power to make decisions which guide the actions of others.
The person who makes the decisions is the superior and the person who accepts them and is guided by them is called one subordinate. Authority is different from power, which is the ability to influence or to cause a person to perform an act. French and Raven- Suggested five types of power as Reward, Coercion, Reference, Expertise and Legitimacy.
A subordinate accepts his superior’s authority because he considers it to be legitimate. According to Max Weber, the three major bases of legitimacy are tradition, rationality and charisma.
Herbert A. Simon- Most subordinates are unwilling to accept the authority of the superiors outside certain limits, which refers to as “zones of acceptance”.
Chester I. Bernard- Four conditions must exist to make an order acceptable to a person:
1. He must understand the order.
2. He must believe that it is not inconsistent with the purpose of the organization.
3. He must believe that it is not incompatible which his personal interest.
Difference between Authority and Power:
1. It is the institutionalized right of a superior to command and compel his subordinates to perform a certain act.
2. It rests in the chair
3. It is delegated
4. It is well defined
5. It is what exists in the eye
6. It is a dejure concept
7. Basis for formal organization
1. It is the ability of a person to influence another person to perform an act.
2. It rests in the person
3. It is earned by own efforts
4. It is undefined
5. It exists in fact
6. It is defacto concept
7. Basis for informal organization
1. It enforces obedience to norms.
2. It secures expertise in the making of decisions.
3. It permits centralization of decision-making and coordination of activity.
Delegation of Authority:
Louis A. Allen- “If the managers require his subordinate to perform the work, he must entrust him with part of the rights and powers which he otherwise would have to exercise himself to get that work done.”
Terry- “It is something like imparting knowledge. You share with others who then process the knowledge, but you still remain the knowledge too.”
F.C. Moore- “Delegation means assigning work to the others and giving them authority to do so.”
O. S. Miner- “Delegation takes place when one person gives another the right to perform work on his behalf and in his name and the second person accepts a corresponding duty or obligation to do that is required of him.”
Louis Allen- “Delegation is the dynamics of management, it is the process a manager follows in dividing the work assigned to him so that he performs that part which only he, because of his unique organizational placement, can perform effectively, and so that he can get others to help him with what remains.”
Delegation means assigning of certain responsibilities along with the necessary authority by a superior to his subordinate managers. Delegation of authority is the base of superior-subordinate relationship.
It involves following steps:
a) Assignment of duties to subordinates.
b) Granting of authority to enable the subordinates to perform the duties assigned.
c) Creation of obligation on the part of subordinate to perform duties in an orderly manner.
1. To reduce the excessive burden on the superiors i.e., executives and managers functioning at different levels.
2. To provide opportunities of growth and self-development to junior executives.
3. To create a team of experienced and matured managers for the organization. It acts as a technique of management and human resource development.
4. To improve individual as well as overall efficiency of the organization.
1. Assignment of duties to subordinates
2. Transfer of authority to perform the duty
3. Acceptance of the assignment
4. Creation of Obligation / Accountability / Responsibility
Advantages of Delegation of Authority:
1. Relieves manager for more challenging jobs
2. Leads to motivation of subordinates
3. Facilitates efficiency and quick actions
4. Improves employee morale
5. Develops team spirit
6. Maintains cordial relationships
7. Facilitates management development
1. Unwillingness of the manager to delegate authority- The attitude that ‘I can do it better myself’ on the part of superior acts as an obstacle to delegation.
2. Fear of competition
3. Lack of confidence in subordinates
4. Lack of ability to direct
5. Absence of controls that warn of coming troubles
6. Conservative and cautious temperament of the manager
7. Desire to dominate subordinates
1. Knowledge of Objectives
2. Parity of Authority and Responsibility
3. Unity of Command
4. The Scalar Principle
5. Clarity of Delegation
6. Absoluteness of Responsibility
7. Use of Exception Principle
8. Completeness of Delegation
9. Effective Communication Support System
10. Reward for Effective Delegation
It is the situation which exists as a result of systematic delegation of authority throughout the organization. The term decentralization carries different meanings to different people. Decentralization is an extension of delegation. Decentralization implies a systematic delegation of authority throughout the whole organization.
Large companies having independent product or service lines may adopt a form of decentralization. Under decentralization the whole organization is divided in to self-sufficient divisions.
Having experienced many difficulties in the smooth running of such centralizes organizations, decentralizations of authority has been suggested and largely resorted to particularly to achieve the following purposes-
a. Easing burden of chief executive
b. Facilitating diversification
c. Providing product of market emphasis
d. Developing managers and
Advantages of Decentralization:
i. Decentralization leads to specialization.
ii. Encourages decision making and assumption of authority and responsibility,
iii. Decentralization makes the subordinates to work with involvement
iv. Facilitates diversification in large scale,
v. Promote the development of general managers,
vi. Aids in adoption of fast changing Environment.
i. Makes it more difficult to have a uniform policy,
ii. Decentralization leads to problem in co-ordination,
iii. May be limited to external forces,
iv. Leads to increase in cost.
v. May some time leads to misuse of power in high levels,
vi. Leads to expenses in training a manager,
vii. May be limited by the availability of qualified managers.
i. Delegation is the process while decentralization is the end result.
iii. Delegation is vital and decentralization is optional.
Keith Davis- “Responsibility is an obligation of the individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction of his executive leader.”
Responsibility refers to duty, activity or sometimes even authority. It really means that the obligation of a subordinate to perform the duty assigned to him. The essence of responsibility is, then obligation. In the normal functioning of an enterprise much of the responsibility in the nature of continuing obligation which means that the subordinate has an obligation to discharge his functions as required by the superior continually.
Responsibility involves compliance, obedience and dependability. A failure to observe these elements may call forth a penalty, punishment or disciplinary action against the erring subordinate. Responsibility cannot be delegated or transferred- Superior can delegate to a subordinate the authority to perform and accomplish specific job.
Authority is the legal right of person or superior to command his subordinates while accountability is the obligation of individual to carry out his duties as per standards of performance.
Authority flows from the superiors to subordinates, in which orders and instructions are given to subordinates to complete the task. It is only through authority, a manager exercises control. In a way through exercising the control the superior is demanding accountability from subordinates.
(a) It is the legal right of a person or a superior to command his subordinates.
(b) Authority is attached to the position of a superior in concern.
(c) Authority can be delegated by a superior to a subordinate
(d) It flows from top to bottom.
(a) It is the obligation of subordinate to perform the work assigned to him.
(b) Responsibility arises out of superior-subordinate relationship in which subordinate agrees to carry out duty given to him.
(c) Responsibility cannot be shifted and is absolute
(d) It flows from bottom to top.
The term accountability can also be used as a substitute for responsibility. Accountability refers to the liability of a subordinate for a proper discharge of his functions. It includes responsibility and arises from it. But accountability cannot be delegated. Thus to be accountable is to be answerable for the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the authority or responsibility assigned.
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability – With Definitions
Authority is said to be a thread connecting the various units of an organization. Authority is one which empowers the managers to exercise power. It is the one that holds the entire organization together. The term ‘authority’ is used to connote different things like superior knowledge, official position, legal relationship, leadership and so on. A manager ceases to be a manager in the absence of authority.
“Authority is the right to give orders and power to exact obedience”. — Henry Fayol
“Authority is the sum of the powers and rights entrusted to make possible the performance of the work assigned”. — Louis A. Allen
“Authority is the willing and unconditional compliance of people, resting upon their belief that it is legitimate for superior to impose his will on them and illegitimate for them to refuse to obey”. — Max Weber
“Authority may be defined as the power to make decisions which guide the actions of another. It is a relationship between two individuals; one superior, another subordinate. The superior frames and transmits decisions with the expectation that these will be accepted by the subordinate. The subordinate executes such decisions and his conduct is determined by them”. — Herbert A. Simon
“Authority is the organization’s legitimised power that is linked to each position within the organization. It typically involves the right to command, to perform, to make decisions and to expend resources”. — John A. Pearce II and R.B. Robinson
“Authority is the right in a position (and, through it, the right of the person occupying the position) to exercise discretion in making decisions affecting others”. —Heinz Weihrich, M.V. Cannice and Harold Koontz
1. Positional Nature:
Authority is positional in nature by virtue of one’s position in the managerial hierarchy. A superior is rested with authority.
Authority held by any officer is subject to a limit. The extent and limit of authority is pre-fixed. The incumbent is supposed to exercise authority as per rules, regulations, policies, norms of the organization.
The authority creates a relationship between two individuals. One is called superior and the other one subordinate. The superior makes decisions and transmits them to those down the hierarchy. The subordinates execute the decisions.
Authority empowers the manager to certain rights like decision-making, issuing order, right to secure compliance of orders from the subordinates, right to use organizational resources and so on.
5. Influencing the Behaviour:
Authority is to be exercised to secure goal attainment. It is to be used judiciously. Arbitrary exercise of authority creates resentment and acrimony among the subordinates. The basic logic behind the authority is to influence the behaviour of subordinates in terms of doing right things and at the right time.
Lines of authority links the various parts of the organization and integrates, the various parts of the organization to accomplish common goals. Thus authority is key to achieve coordination.
Authority can be delegated. It is through this process that managers are able to focus on key issues.
Authority empowers the managers to make decisions. Authority is exercised by making decisions and ensuring that decisions are carried out.
Line authority is the authority of the line manager to command and control his subordinates. It is an authority to direct the work of subordinates and requires the subordinates to conform to decisions, policies, rules, procedures and goals. It is based on superior-subordinate relationship. This authority is key to securing coordination of various activities of different segments. Line authority contributes directly to strategic goals of an organization.
Staff authority is to give advice, recommendations, ideas, input and counsel. The staff authority is advisory in nature. It does not form a part of the chain of command. According to Harold Stieglitz, staff perform three roles.
a. Advisory Role:
As per this role, they function as consultants to line officers. For example, a quality inspector may advise the line production manager to make certain modifications in the production process to ensure prescribed quality standard.
b. Service Role:
They provide services as suppliers to line persons who become the customers. They provide the service as a group. For example, HR manager recruit, employ and train employees for various departments. In this case, HR department is in the position of a supplier and the departments requiring manpower are in the position of customers.
c. Control Role:
Under this role, staff provide a mechanism for evaluating the effectiveness of organizational plans. Staff personnel act as agents or representatives of top management.
This authority represents the right to give orders within a segment. This authority is usually delegated to individuals to supplement the line/staff authority they already possess. Functional authority generally covers specific task areas (viz., process, practices and policies). This authority can be exercised for a limited time. Functional manager wields line authority over his departments and over other departments which are related to his domain.
The functional manager with line authority can give other experts in the department the functional authority. For example, production manager who is a line authority may empower a quality control manager to ensure quality standards. Line executives at times have functional authority over other department.
For example, marketing manager may be given functional authority over production matters in scheduling customer’s order, packaging, etc. Whenever functional authority is given to the line manager, it is called functional line authority. Whenever it is given to staff, it is called functional staff authority.
The term responsibility is used in management literature in two senses. Some refer it to task/duty assigned to a subordinate by virtue of one’s position in the organization. While some others imply it to the compliance with directives of the persons making the initial delegation. In short, it can be explained as one’s obligation to perform the duty assigned to the best of one’s ability under the direction of a leader.
i. Assignability to humans – It can be assigned to human beings only.
ii. Born out of superior-subordinate relationship – It springs from superior- subordinate relationship. Manager gets authority by virtue of his position and he assigns duties to subordinates who are bound by service contract to perform the assigned duties.
iii. Continuing obligation – It is a continuing obligation or confined to the performance of a single function.
iv. Defined in terms of functions – This can be defined in terms of functions or targets or goals.
v. Obligation of subordinate – It is an obligation of a subordinate to perform his duty.
vi. Derivative authority – This is a derivative of authority where a subordinate is delegated authority. He, in turn, becomes responsible to the superior for performance.
vii. Absoluteness of responsibility – Responsibility is absolute and it cannot be delegated at all. R.C. Davis compares it to magical pitcher where the water level is static irrespective of its usage.
viii. Upward flow – Responsibility flows upward, as subordinate is always responsible to his superior.
ix. Accountability for performance – The person who assumes responsibility becomes accountable for his performance.
The term accountability denotes the obligation to carry out responsibility and exercise authority on the basis of performance standard. This is mostly used in military parlance and in public sectors. Where a person assumes liability, accountability automatically comes into picture. In other words, he/she becomes answerable for results. Accountability is derivative of responsibility.
Simply stated, accountability means answerability. A subordinate who is delegated authority becomes answerable for performance of his duty. Authority is delegated; responsibility is assumed and accountability is imposed. In short, authority is the medium to create responsibility and accountability.
Authority, Responsibility and Accountability
Authority – Concept and Nature:
Authority is based on the recognition of the legitimacy or lawfulness of the attempt to exert influence. The individuals or groups attempting to exert influence are seen as having the right to do so within recognized boundaries. This right arises from their formal positions in an organisation. Heinz Weihrich and Harold Koontz defined, “Authority in organisation is the right in a position to exercise discretion in making decisions affecting others.”
Authority is the right or legitimate power to utilize organizational resources and to make decisions. For example, the chief executive of a project assigns the project manager to utilize resources to complete the project within the proper span of time. It means the project manager should have the authority to make decisions and to utilize the resources allotted to him.
In simple terms, Authority is the legitimate right to give orders and get orders obeyed. According to H.A. Simon, “Authority may be defined as the power to make decision which guides the actions of another.”
Louis A. Allen defined “authority as the sum of the powers and rights entrusted to make possible the performance of the work assigned.”
These definitions of authority reveal the following characteristics:
1. Authority is formal. The right of giving of order is legitimate and legal. It is granted to a position.
2. Authority is the right or power to give order and control the subordinates.
3. The extent or limits of authority is already defined. The powers and rights entrusted; to be used within a limit that is already ascertained.
4. Authority is the relationship between two individuals, one superior and the other subordinate. The superior assigns some work and transmits decisions with the expectation that these will be accepted or followed by subordinates.
5. Authority influences the behaviours of subordinates in terms of doing right things at the right time so that organizational goals are achieved.
6. Authority can be delegated.
7. Authority may flow from various sources.
8. Authority is a key to managerial functions.
9. Authority originates from the top and travels down through the process of delegation.
Power may be defined as the ability to exert influence. To have power is to be able to change the behaviour or attitudes of other individuals. Harold Koontz and Heinz Weihrich defined power as the ability of individuals or groups to induce or influence the beliefs or actions of other persons or group. Power is used in terms of ability or capacity to do something or to get intended results.
The essence of power is control over the behaviour of others. Formal authority is a type of power. It is based on the recognition of the legitimacy or law fullness of the attempt to exert influence. A person can more influence on others behaviour having any authority and this is done through power. Thus, it may also not have any legal sanction.
Power is the potential ability of a person or group to influence another person or group. One obvious aspect of this definition is that it expresses power in terms of potential; that is, we may be able to influence others but may choose not to exercise that ability.
Nevertheless, simply having the potential may be sufficient to influence others in some settings. We should also note that power may reside in individuals (managers and informal leaders), in formal groups (departments and committees), and in informal groups (clique of influential people).
As, we have used the word ‘influence’; that is the mechanism for affecting others. If a person can convince another person to change his or her opinion on some issue, to engage in or refrain from some behaviour, or to view circumstances in a certain way, that person exercised influence and used power. Influence as action causes a change in behaviour or attitudes of another person or a group.
The most widely used and recognized analysis of the bases of power is the framework developed by John R.P. French and Bertram Raven-French and Raven identified five general basis of power in organizational settings. Legitimate, Reward, Coercive, Expert and Referent power.
1. Legitimate Power:
Legitimate power, which is essentially the same thing as authority, is granted by virtue of one’s position in the organisation. The organisation itself thus provides the source of power. A manager has legitimate power over his or her subordinates, over their subordinates, and so on.
The organisation declares that it is proper, or legitimate, for the designated individual to direct the activities of others. The right of manager to establish work schedule is an example of “downward” legitimate power.
2. Reward Power:
Reward power is the extent to which a person controls rewards that are valued by another. Reward power is based on one person having the ability to reward another person for carrying out orders or meeting other requirements. The most obvious examples of organizational rewards are pay, promotions, and work assignments.
Reward power can extend beyond material rewards; as people work for a variety of reasons that include more than just pay, i.e., recognition, acceptance, acknowledgement.
3. Coercive Power:
Coercive power exists when someone has the ability to punish or physically or psychologically harm another person. It is based on the influencer’s ability to punish the influence for not meeting requirements, is the negative side of reward power. A manager has the coercive power to punish subordinates who turn up late for work.
4. Expert Power:
Expert power is the extent to which a person controls information that is valuable to someone else. It is based on the perception that the influencer has same relevant expertise or special knowledge that the influence does not. A Software Engineer/developer expert power so has a successful doctor. Expert power can reside in many niches in an organisation, it transcends positions and jobs.
5. Referent Power:
Referent power is basically power through identification. It exists when one person wants to be like or imitates someone else. It often involves trust, similarity, acceptance, affection, willingness to follow, and emotional involvement. It usually surfaces as imitation.
For example, a manager will have referent power over subordinates if they are motivated to emulate his work habits. The celebrities in advertisements, sports stars have referent power and influence as in our actions.
These are potential sources of power only. They are the ways in which one person can influence another person. Possession of some or all of them does not guarantee the ability to influence particular individuals in specific ways. The role of the influence in accepting or rejecting the attempted influence remains the key one. Normally each of the five power bases is potentially inherent in a manager’s position.
There are disagreements about the sources of authority; whether it is originated at the top and flows downward in traditional way. Secondly, it flows upward as a kind of consent of the subordinates. Thus, various views exist about the bases of authority. These are classified as – Formal Authority Theory, Acceptance Theory, and Competence Theory.
(1) Formal Authority Theory:
The classical views suppose that authority originates at the top of an organizational hierarchy and flowing downward therein through the process of delegation. The shareholders are the real source of authority; because they are the owners of the organisation and have right to manage the affairs of the organisation; this is because of the institution of private property by virtue of holding the shares. The chief Executive officer gets the authority from Board of Directors – and CEO who in turn delegates it to departmental heads, and so on.
The concept of authority as being a right transmitted from the public through social institutions to business manager is the internal in one of this theory. The various social factors, lives, political & ethical consideration put union limits on this authority and the organisation was to function within these limits. In this way, the basic source of authority can be trances to social institutions.
Manager gets the authority from his superior; he derives his authority from his formal position in the organisation. Authority and legitimate power/right is concentrated at the top. It travels down through the scalar chain. Formal authority arises from their formal position in an organisation. It always flows downward from top to bottom in an organization.
(2) Acceptance Authority Theory:
The acceptance theory is based on the perspective that the authority of a manager depends upon the subordinate’s acceptance of the manager’s right to give and expect compliance with the directive. According to advocates of this theory, formal authority becomes real authority only when it is accepted by subordinates. The authority seems to be meaningful and real only when it is used effectively.
Chester I. Barnard has defined the conditions under which a person will comply with higher authority – A person can and will accept a communication as authoritative only when four conditions obtained –
(i) He can and does understand the communication;
(ii) At the time of his decision he believes that it is not inconsistent with the purpose of the organisation;
(iii) At the time of his decision he believes it to be compatible with his personal interest as a whole; and
(iv) He is able mentally and physically to comply with it.
In addition to these conditions, cooperation in accepting authority is fostered, by what Barnard calls the “Zone of difference” and Herbert A. Simon refers to “Area of acceptance.” Both expressions refer to the inclination of individuals to accept most orders given to them by their superiors, provided the orders fall within a “normal” range.
The essence of acceptance theory is that people differ in the degree of effort they contribute to achieve the objectives of an organisation. The organization must in the same way secure their willingness to co-operate. The degree of effective authority possessed by a manager is measured by the willingness of the subordinate to accept it.
The acceptance theory has certain limitations. A manager is not able to know whether his order will be obeyed by his subordinates unless the order is carried out or disobeyed by them. This also emphasizes rewards and punishments a superior can use, but it overlooks the influence of social institution.
(3) The Competence Theory:
According to this theory, an individual derives authority because of his personal competence and qualities. There is a phenomenon that authority is generated by personal competence. L.F. Urwick identified formal authority as being conferred by organization, technical authority as being conferred by specialized knowledge and skills and personal authority conferred by seniority or popularity.
An individual may get his order obeyed because of his personal competencies. These are technical or personal qualities. For example, technical expert may get his order or advice obeyed; because he has technical knowledge of process and technology.
From the above analysis of various sources of authority, as we explained how and why an individual obeys the order of another; these are suggested by acceptance and competence theory. Formal authority theory has its own importance, because it is related to position or job.
Formal authority theory is the basis of organisation and acceptance and competence are regarded as products of leadership. Formal authority is the most important source and backbone of organizational relationships.
The authority is not absolute. The authority is exercised subject to various social, legal, political, and economical factors. A manager’s authority is also restricted in some means. As the authority decreases at successive levels, it is maximum at the highest levels and minimum at the lowest level.
The following are some variables which restrict the authority are:
(i) Organizational Constraints – A manager’s authority is limited or restricted by the objectives, policies, plans, methods and certain procedures lay down by management. Authority vests in the position which is required to accomplish a task. But this is subjected to management outlays.
(ii) Legal Constraints – Provisions of laws, Act and various ordinances and promulgations or legislative measures of state and Central Government impose restrictions and the exercise of authority by a manager. As a personnel manager will have to act within the legal framework while doing any task, Trade Unions Act, Industrial Dispute Act, etc.
(iii) Physical Constraints – Physical Laws, climate, Geographical factors or other environmental factors restrict managerial authority to a great extent. A manager may be forced to exercise authority with restraint because of the pressure of environmental forces.
(iv) Social Constraints – Human being is a social being. The use of authority is also subjected to social limitation. His behaviour is generally conditioned by social factors. Authority is limited, because of the behaviour is more dominated by group norms, values and beliefs.
(v) Economic Constraints – The authority of an executive is restricted by economic constraints. An organization takes any decision by keeping in mind the financial availability before them. An Executive cannot go beyond the financial range.
Generally, ‘Power and authority’ are used synonymously because of their common objective of influencing the behaviour of others. However, there is major difference between these two. Power is the ability or capacity to exert influence over others. The essence of power is control over the behaviour of others. While authority is the legitimate right to give orders and get orders obeyed.
It is the right to give orders and power to exact obedience. Authority may be defined as the power to make decisions which guide the actions of another. Authority is, of course, one type of power; but power in organisation setting. It has the legal sanction. But power may not have any legal sanction.
Now, let as clearly make a distinction between these two:
1. Nature – Authority is the right to command; power is the ability to exercise influence. Authority is the formal right to command while power is the personal power to command. Authority is positional in nature while power is personal in nature. It is acquired by people to exercise influence over others.
2. Formal or Informal – Authority is a legitimate power to do something. It resides in a position and so it is always formal. But power can be both formal and informal. Power may be illegitimate or extra-constitutional.
3. Relationship – The structure of the organisation depicts authority relationship or legitimate power or right to do a task. These are modified by power polities. Individuals may have more power and less authority or more authority and less power. Authority and power seldom go together.
4. Flow – Authority flows downward and can be delegated; whereas power flows in all directions and cannot be delegated.
5. Pervasiveness – Authority rests with important positions in the organisation, whereas power is all-pervasive.
6. Responsibility – The extent of authority is limited to the amount of responsibility. Responsibility and authority are coextensive Power may or not be limited to the amount of responsibility. There is no such balancing factor in case of power.
7. Narrower and Broader Concept – Authority is a narrower term. It is one type of power. Power is a broader term and consists of formal authority.
8. Allocation and Controlling – Authority is the right to allocate resources while power is the ability to control resources to achieve objectives.
9. Institutional or Personal – Authority is positional and usually resides in position held by a person whereas power is personal; because power is acquired by a person through personal qualities or political means. Power generally resides in a person who exercises it.
Responsibility can be defined as the obligation of an individual to perform activities or duties which are assigned to him. Responsibility comes into existence when a person with authority, accepts the obligation to perform the work. Authority gives rise to the acceptance of obligation and it is these obligations that give rise to responsibility. As this explanation, responsibility is something more than more duty or task.
The person carrying the responsibility has also the authority to perform the task. According to George R. Terry., “Responsibility is the obligation of an individual to carry out assigned activities to the best of one’s ability.” R.C. Davis defined it as the obligation of an individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction of his executive leader. Simply, responsibility is an obligation of a subordinate to his superior.
The main features of responsibility are as follows:
1. Responsibility can be assigned is human being only.
2. Responsibility arises from a superior-subordinate relationship.
3. Responsibility may be a continuing obligation or confirmed to the performance of a single person.
4. Responsibility may be a defined in terms of functions, targets or goals.
5. The essence of Responsibility is obligation of a subordinate to perform the duty assigned to him.
6. Responsibility is a derivative of authority.
7. Responsibility is its solute and cannot be delegated.
8. Responsibility flows upward.
9. Accountability arises out of responsibility and these two go together.
Accountability is the liability for the proper discharge of duties by the subordinates. Accountability is the logical derivative of authority. Accountability is the responsibility of accomplishing the duty or task.
When a subordinate is granted necessary authority to accomplish a task, he is responsible for results also. In other manner, the subordinate undertakes an obligation to complete the assignment by the use of authority and account for the discharge of responsibility assigned.
Responsibility comes into existence, when a person with authority, accepts the obligation to perform the work. Responsibility arises from the superior-subordinate relationship. The authority flows from the superior to a subordinate, when duties are assigned and responsibility is the obligation of a subordinate to perform the duty.
In brief, authority is delegated; and responsibility is assumed. Responsibility arises out of division or assignment of work. A manager, in subordination, can delegate the authority to his subordinate, but he cannot delegate responsibility of accomplishing that duty.
A manager has the overall responsibility of accomplishing the work assigned to him by his superior; though he delegates some authority for accomplishing activities. For example, the Chief Executive officer of a company is responsible for the entire activities to the Board of Directors, though he does not perform all the activities himself.
Thus, responsibility cannot be delegated. Responsibility is absolute, and cannot be delegated. Keith Davis has observed. “Responsibility operates somewhat like the table of the magic picture in which the basic level always remains the same, no matter how much water is poured out.”
Much confusion has arisen as to what “line” and “staff are. The question is what kind of authority is allocated in the organisation structure and what the relationship between various types of authority is. The question is related to the line and staff concept.
Line and staff are defined from two different viewpoints:
(a) One widely held view is that these denote different functions. Line functions are those that have direct impact on the accomplishment of the objectives of the enterprise; while staff functions are those that help the line persons in accomplishing the objectives.
According to Louis A. Allen, “Line functions are those which have direct responsibility for accomplishing the objectives of the enterprise and staff refers to those elements of the organisation that help the line to work most effectively in accomplishing the primary objectives of the enterprise.”
The organisation which hold this view invariably classify production and sales as line functions and purchasing, accounting, personnel, plant maintenance, and quality control as staff functions.
(b) Another more precise and logically valid concept is that they are simply a matter of relationship. In this context, line authority gives a superior line of authority over a subordinate. The exercise of this authority is always downward, that is, from a superior to a subordinate. Staff authority involves giving notice to line managers to carry on operations.
It, therefore, becomes apparent from the scalar principle that line authority is that relationship in which a superior exercises direct supervision over a subordinate, an authority relationships in direct lines. The nature of the staff relationship is advisory. Modern organization make considerable use of line, staff, functional authority and various combinations thereof.
Line authority may be defined as those in the organisation directly responsible for achieving the goals of the organization. Line authority is represented by the chain of command. The direct relationship between a superior and his subordinates is created by the force of line authority and this relationship is called line relationships. Line authority is the direct authority which a supervisor exercises over his subordinates to carry out orders and instructions.
The flow of authority is always downward, that is, from a superior and his subordinates. Such relationships exist in all the departments. Line authority is the ultimate authority to command, act, decide, approve or disapprove all the activities of the organization. According to Koontz and O’Donnell, the nature of line authority becomes apparent from the scalar principles – an authority relationship in direct line or steps. Herbert
G. Hicks, “Line officials are viewed as those having relatively unlimited authority over those to whom directions are given.
The relationship works as:
(i) Line authority acts as a chain of command. The superior is in line relationship, the subordinate in a staff relationship to his principal.
(ii) Line authority provides for the channel of communication, relationships in direct lines or steps.
(iii) Line Authority is accountable even for the activities assigned by him to his subordinates. Each individual in line is accountable for the proper performance of the activities assigned to him.
(iv) It provides the basic decisions and policies required for operating the enterprise.
The nature of staff relationship is purely advisory. Staff refers to those personnel who have responsibility and authority for providing assistance and services to line in the attainment of objectives. Staff relationship includes individuals and groups who provide service and advice to line.
Fayol described staff as adjunct reinforcement and a sort of extension of the manager’s personality. Herbert G. Hicks described that staff persons have authority which is restricted to functional areas. Staff helps the line to work most effectively to achieve objectives.
Staff offer line managers planning, advice, assistance, and information, and it depends upon the line manager whether these are put into action or not. Staff members do not have formal authority to give orders in most of their activities, and they are not supposed to have reward and coercive power.
Instead, they give advice and counsel, thereby exerting primarily expert power. They are expertise mostly in their-field. Staff personnel play an advisory or auxiliary role of recommending and assisting, which are very important for line managers.
Line and Staff function is distinguished on the basis of the degree of closeness of the function to the primary objectives of the organisation. Bank activities such as production, finance and marketing are usually line departments. Activities such as industrial engineering and costing, which consist mainly of assistance, advice or services cutting across several units, are generally set up as staff departments.
So, line and staff are differentiated by authority relationships. When one looks at an organisation structure as a whole, the general character of line and staff for the total organisation emerges. Certain departments are predominantly staff in their relationship to the entire organisation; other departments are primarily line. Line and staff are characterized by relationships and not by departmental activities.
There are two ways of organizing the staff positions- Personal staff and specialized staff. The Personal Staff reports to the manager and assists him or her in carrying out a variety of activities. The manager continues to perform and be responsible for those activities, despite the aid of the personal staff.
The specialized staff performs work requiring skills or objectivity that the line does not possess. Since the work of the specialized staff usually cannot be performed by the line, it may be completely delegated to the staff. The specialized staff is responsible for accomplishing this work.
Functional Authority is the right that is delegated to an individual or a department to control specific processes, practices, policies, or other matters relating to activities undertaken by persons in other departments.
The right to control activities of other departments as they relate to specific staff responsibilities is known as functional authority. It is the legitimate right to act with respect to specific activities, processes, practices, and policies in the organisation.
If the principle of unity of command is to be followed rigidly, authority over these activities would be exercised by line managers. But due to various reasons, line managers are deprived of some authority, i.e., lack of specialized skills or knowledge, lack of ability to supervise, etc.
It is delegated to a staff specialist. Functional authority is not limited; but it may be exercised by line and staff service. For example, a company controller is ordinarily given functional authority to prescribe the system of accounting throughout the company, but this specialized authority is really a delegation from the chief executive.
Functional authority arises due to the following reasons:
i. It should be granted only when enterprise wants uniformity in operations.
ii. It should be restricted to procedures and not policy matters.
iii. It should be confined to areas in which line executives do not possess expertise.
iv. It should be delegated which is directly below the position of the line manager.
The main features of functional authority are as:
i. The functional authority is restricted to a function only.
ii. The functional authority flows diagonally.
iii. Functional managers are specialists in their respective areas.
iv. Unity of command is not followed.
v. Multiplicity of command by various functional experts.
It is suitable for large scale operations where expert knowledge in certain areas is essential.
Line and Staff concept is based on the perception of mutual cooperation and collaboration and work harmony for the smooth functioning of the organisation. But instead of these, staff becomes the source of conflict for line. The major source of line and staff conflicts is the differences in their viewpoints and perceptions.
The important causes of differences between them are:
(1) Line’s View Point:
Line personnel often have the following complaints and reasons of their differences with the staff:
(i) Staff personnel encroach upon the line authority. They overlook the fact that their value lies in the extent to which they strengthen line managers; it means they undermine line authority. They interfere in the work of line personnel which become a source of conflict.
(ii) Staff personnel generally lack of practical implications; because staff people do not implement what they recommend. It is possible that staff may think in a vacuum. The alleged impracticality of staff recommendations often results in friction, loss of morale, and even sabotage.
(iii) Staff personnel only propose a plan; others must make the decision to adopt the plan and put it into operation. Staff personnel do not bear the direct responsibility for seeing it implemented. This creates an ideal situation for shifting blame for mistakes.
(iv) Staff personnel tend to impose their superiority on line managers. Staff personnel are generally more educated and specialists; as they consider themselves superior to line executives.
(v) Staff personnel fail to see the whole picture objectively. They tend to emphasize their specialty rather than the interest of the total organisation.
(2) Staff’s Viewpoint:
Similarly, the staff personnel also have complaints against the line personnel:
(i) Line personnel often ignore their advice and suggestions. Line managers generally do not make proper use of the services of the staff specialists. The link managers consult them only as last resort.
(ii) Line personnel generally resist new ideas and creative things in application whereas staff people are more anxious about new thinking and innovations. As attempts of staff personnel go waste such.
(iii) Staff specialists feel that if they have best solution of a problem, they should have authority on line managers to force the situation. But they do not have enough authority for practical implications.
(iv) Staff specialists consider line as over confident and short-sighted. This is not a positive attitude toward staff specialists.
(3) Organization’s Outlook:
The following weaknesses in the organisation structure also lead to line-staff conflict:
(i) Organizations have not defined authority relationship clearly. This results in overlapping and gaps in authority leading to conflicts.
(ii) There are fundamental differences in the orientation, viewpoints and perceptions of line and staff. Generally, staff feels their advice will produce positiveness; while lines feel it impracticable. Staff seeks change and experimentation whereas line often desires status quo and caution.
The conflict between line and staff is not in the interest of the organisation, and it should be resolved through some ways. They are expected to cooperate and collaborate with each other for the smooth functioning of the organisation. Both line and staff elements must become well acquainted with the role which each one is expected to play.
The following suggestions are important to resolve the conflict:
(i) The line of demarcation between line and staff should be clear. It should be made clear to all that line has ultimate responsibility for results while staff is responsible for providing sound advice and service to line executives.
(ii) The effectiveness of a line manager depends to a large extent upon how he makes use of staff. The more the line man makes use of the staff, the better acquainted they will become with his problem and his way of working. There should be proper use of staff; and Line managers take action directly affecting staff activities without informing the staff concerned.
(iii) The management should take steps to educate the staff to be aware of the line executive’s attitudes and sensitiveness and to educate the line of the value of specialized skills of experts. In this way, staff has a responsibility of letting line know what he can do for him.
(iv) Staff personnel should try to recognize and overcome resistance to change on the part of line. They should be convinced and consulted before introducing change and results of change should be made known to them.
(v) Line managers should give due consideration and serious thought on the advice of the experts before taking the final decision. In case, they do not accept the advice, proper explanations should be given to staff.
(vi) Line and Staff people should operate in terms of policies and objectives of the whole organisation. They should try to understand as to how they can contribute to these objectives. The staff official should have the tolerance power because his ideas are likely to be resisted in the initial stages.
(vii) Whenever possible for the organisation, Staff personnel should be placed in the position of line managers. Such position rotation will improve understanding and initial co-operation among line and staff.
(viii) Organisation forms certain code of conduct to maintain discipline in the organisation for line and staff personnel.
(ix) Management should give authority to staff personnel if specific task or work has been handed over to them. As usual, some authority upto a certain extent should be given to staff personnel, so that they feel positive.
(x) Committees should be constituted to resolve conflicts between line and staff. Such differences should be amicably resolved by unanimous decisions.