Power vs authority

in your interest

In any work environment, it is perceived that ultimate power and authority reside with the employer and/or management. This is rightly so, as these have the  privilege to hire, fire, and make financial and management decisions that will determine the path the enterprise takes towards realizing its goals.

It therefore stands to reason that with such vested powers in the employer and management, they are called upon to establish systems or operational procedures, control mechanisms and/or institutional regulatory frameworks for the purpose of ensuring that policies are implemented, and practices, procedures and processes are followed.

This places an awesome responsibility on those who are so charged, as the onus is on them to account for their actions.

In exercising what is known as “power”, both the employer and management are using their ability to influence the actions and behaviour of subordinates. As the cliché goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. This is practically demonstrated in the workplace where the employer/management can dictate what happens, how and when. Where employees may be seen as mere actors who wait to be directed, they nonetheless have the right to challenge the actions, policies and directions given by those at the top.

The employer and management find themselves in a unique position from which they can influence the buy-in of employees. How this is done is another matter.

There is strong support for the implementation of motivation strategies and for the incentivizing of workers, rather than the resort to coercion in whatever form. There should also be an appreciation that workers also have a semblance of power. The unionization of workers at the enterprise level and their ability to organize themselves so that a collective bargaining unit is established, means that they would have graduated into a position of strength. This allows them to influence intended actions, or to break the perceived ultimate power that employers and management personnel assume unto themselves.

The exercise of authority by employers and managers falls into a different context to that of the wielding of power. It is a fact that embedded in authority is the given right to act. The authority to act is however governed by accepted guidelines, customs and practices, regulations and/or statutory regulations. This dismisses the notion or perception that the exercise of authority is founded in any form of dictatorial behaviour. Forms of dominant behaviour would therefore suggest an absence of discretion. In the absence of discretion, the wielding of power and authority becomes totally counterproductive.

Employers and managers should guard themselves against working at odds, since their failure to act with discretion can only serve to undermine their own efforts. The wise counsel which ought to be followed is found in this quotation: “Authority cannot be bought or sold, given or taken away. Authority is about who you are as a person, your character, and the influence you’ve built with people.”


(Dennis De Peiza is labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.)


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