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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

The Difference Between Power and Authority

Some words in our businesses and everyday vocabulary become interchangeable. We sometimes use them as if they mean the same thing. One such instance I have noticed is power and authority.

The difference between the two is in their definitions. Power is often derived from a title or position in an organization. Often, when someone has more power than you, they can intimidate you or hold you to certain standards. They can require things of you. They can dismiss you or let you go if they choose. The power someone has over you comes directly from the position they hold over you.

Let's now look at authority. Authority is not position driven. It doesn't come from a title or from compensation. Authority is delegated and earned. In order to attain authority, one must demonstrate value and wisdom in decision making concerning resources and people around them. Unlike power, authority is granted by others.

One such example could be examined in a local Sheriff's office. Authority to uphold the local county laws and directives is given to the office of the Sherriff, and the person holding the Sherriff's position has the power and authority of the office vested in them. Some defined and limited authority is delegated to the Sherriff's deputies to carry out certain activities and duties. Because of that authority (but not necessarily the power), deputies can effectively carry out certain things on behalf of the Sherriff and the local county government. The same applies to organizational hierarchy, except in organizations, people do not necessarily have to hold certain "in-line" positions to have authority delegated to them to oversee and take action on certain resources and initiatives.

People can obtain and administrate authority in many different ways: you can have authority on a certain subject. You can be a subject matter expert (SME). You can display authority in your behaviors and conduct. You can display authority in your attitude and how you respect and help others. You can display authority in how you help others and invest confidence and trust in others. This is especially effective if the people are not in your career trajectory. In other words, they really can't reciprocate to you in any way down the road. There are endless ways to display authority in a positive way.

So, to sum this up, power is inherited, and authority is earned. Authority comes from other people seeing value in you and by which authorizing you to lead them in various ways. The question becomes, what can you do today, so people invest authority in you to benefit them? In addition, how can you make the transition from power to authority?

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