What are Authority and Responsibility?


The rights inherent in a managerial position to give orders and expect them to be obeyed.


An obligation to perform assigned activities.

Authority refers to the rights inherent in managerial position to give orders and expect the orders to be obeyed. Authority was a major tenet of the early management writers; it was viewed as the glue that held the organization together. It was to be delegated downward to lower level managers, giving them certain prescribed limits within which to operate. Each management position has specific inherent rights that incumbents acquire from the position’s rank or tile. Authority, therefore, is related to one’s position within an organization and ignores the personal characteristics of the individual manger. It has nothing to do with the individual. The expression ‘The king is dead, long live the king’ illustrates the concept. Whoever is king acquires the rights inherent in the king’s position. When a position of authority is vacated the person who has left the position no longer has any authority. The authority remains with the position and its new incumbent.

When managers delegate authority, they must allocate commensurate responsibility. That is, when employees are given rights, they also assume a corresponding obligation to perform. And they should be held accountable for that performance! Allocating authority without responsibility and accountability creates opportunities for abuser and no one should be held responsible or accountable for something over which he or she has authority.

What are the different types of authority relationship?

Line authority:

The authority that entitles a manager to direct the work of an employee

The early management writers distinguished between two forms of authority: line authority and staff authority. Line authority entitles a manager to direct the work of an employee. It is the employer employee authority relationship that extends from the top of the organization to the lowest echelon, according to the chain of command. As shown below:

Chain of command:

Chief Executive Officer >

Executive Vice President > President > Executive Vice President

Vice president (6)>

Region (5)>

District (A, B, C, D, E, F and G)

As a link in the chain of command a manager with line authority has the right to direct the work of employees and to make certain decisions without consulting anyone. Of course, in the chain of command, every manager is also subject to the direction of his or her superior.

Sometimes the term line is used to differentiate line managers from staff mangers. In this context, line refers to managers organizational function contributes directly to the achievement of organizational objectives. In a manufacturing firm, line managers are typically in the production and sales functions, whereas managers in human resources and payroll are considered staff mangers with staff authority. Whether a manager’s function is classified as line or staff depends on the organization’s objectives. For example, at MaFoi Management Consultants which offers corporate staffing solutions, interviewers have a line function. Similarly, at Karvy Consultants, legal services are a line function and at many call centers tele-service is a line function.

Staff authority: Position that have some authority but that are created to support, assist and advise the holders of line authority.

As organizations get larger and more complex, line managers find that they do not have the time, expertise or resources to get their jobs done effectively. In response they create staff authority functions to support, assist, advise and generally reduce some of their informational burdens. The hospital administrator cannot effectively handle the purchasing of all the supplies the hospital needs, so she creates a purchasing department, a staff department. Of course the head of the purchasing department has line authority over the purchasing agents who work for him. The hospital administrator might also find that she is overburdened and needs an assistant. In creating the position of her assistant she has created a staff position.