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A structure or organization established for a certain purpose with the legitimacy to carry out said purpose. In a business context, certain organizations have authority to police, and, if necessary, punish certain business activities. For example, the SEC has authority to regulate any and all business transactions occurring in the United States. These organizations derive their authority from the ruling government and international conventions.


A government organization created to perform a certain function. A state or region, for example, may establish a public power authority to provide low-cost electricity to people living in a certain geographical area. The activities of an authority and its fundraising methods are ordinarily limited.


the capacity to give commands which are accepted as legitimate by others. In the modern ORGANIZATION the manager's authority to give instructions to subordinates is drawn primarily from his formal position as a manager, and the set of rights and obligations formally associated with the post, rather than from the manager's individual leadership qualities. However, both sources of authority can be important. Managers whose personal standing with their subordinates is low may find that their authority is not fully accepted. Equally, some managers claim that they are given insufficient powers to exercise their authority fully.

Modern analysis of authority relationships owes much to German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920). He discerned three forms of authority:

  1. traditional authority, where people obey those who occupy religious or monarchical positions;
  2. charismatic authority, where people obey those who have special inspirational personal qualities;
  3. rational-legal authority, where individuals obey laws or rules which have been devised as a result of the application of reason to achieve certain objectives.

In Weber's view the last is the distinctive form of authority in modern industrial societies, and is exemplified in the workings of the modern ORGANIZATION or BUREAUCRACY.

References in periodicals archive ?
Bar Advertising Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert said the Bar had sent copies of the proposed new amendments to everyone who had filed comments on the pending rules, members of the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services, several people who had appeared before the Standing Committee on Advertising on this issue, and several filers of ads using authority figures as spokespersons.
Jaworski understands authority figures, having been in the Army to pay for his education, so he empathizes with the reservists who unexpectedly went off to war in Iraq.
Sixty-five percent look to ordinary citizens to solve their problems, rather than authority figures (31%) or experts (18%).
At the end of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho, perpetual hothead Simon Oakland is brought in to explain murderer Norman Bates' pathology in irreproachable psychiatric detail, while authority figures from the church, the state, and the victim's family listen in rapt silence.
Civil Aviation Authority figures for February rank flybe as excellent with 87% of flights to Southampton departing within 15 minutes of scheduled time.
She also has an attitude that is sly and witty and sometimes wrong, creating trouble with the authority figures in her real life and in Kazaran Dahaani.
We've got together a team of players that youngsters would generally see as authority figures, and are providing an opportunity for them to meet in a different context.
Third graders depicted parents as authority figures.
National Roads Authority figures show that younger drivers are involved in more accidents with young male drivers being fifteen times more likely than females to die at the wheel.
In both the educational and correctional institutions, Bickel has studied the ways that authority figures seek to gain control and the reactions of the controlled people.
More specific guidelines for managing conflict with peers, supervisees, and authority figures are outlined in Figure 3.
She finds, too, that although the British experimented first with the use of middle-class social workers as maternal authority figures on the factory floor, it was the French who embraced "welfare supervision" as a key strategy of social control in the metalworking industry.