Business Management, Ethics and Entrepreneurship

What is the difference between Authority and Responsibility?

Nature of Authority

Authority may be described as the right of a manager to command subordinates, issue them orders and instructions, and exact obedience from them. Authority is also the right of the manager to make decisions and to act or not to act depends upon how he deems fit to accomplish certain objectives of the organization.

Fayol defined authority as “the right to give orders and exact obedience”, and viewed this as an official authority. He also recognized that official authority vested in the job was often ineffective. Authority is greatly enhanced by personal authority comprising of intelligence, experience, moral values, leadership quality, etc. But as the key to a management job, authority is conveniently described as the power to command others, to act or not to act in a manner for the purpose of achieving some objectives. An individual without authority cannot occupy the position of a manager. It is the authority that makes the managerial position real and vests in him the power to order his subordinates and secures necessary compliance. In an organization with a chain of superior-subordinate relations, authority acts as the binding force and provides the basis for responsibility. Mooney1 described authority as “the supreme coordinating power”. Delegation of authority is one of the important means of securing coordination in the organization. Without authority, there would be no superior-subordinate relations and there would be chaos and anarchy in the organization.

Authority to command obedience is also known as the official authority or authority of position which a manager enjoys by virtue of his position in the organization. But a person may have the ability to influence the behavior of other people in the organization. This is known as the personal authority of the manager. The official authority of a manager becomes more effective when it is supported by his personal authority. Very often managers are found avoiding the term authority because of the impression of power associated with it and speak of having responsibility delegated to them, though it is the authority that is delegated and not the responsibility. Similarly, authority should not be confused with unlimited power. It should thus be clear that authority consists of certain permissions or rights to act for the enterprise in some specified area.


Very often we hear statements, like ‘delegating responsibility’, ‘carrying out a responsibility, ‘discharging a responsibility’, ‘possessing responsibility’. Such statements are a pointer to the fact that responsibility is a term clogged with a variety of meanings in the field of management. It is frequently described as an obligation on the part of the manager to perform a task himself. Those who accept the task should be held responsible for their performance as well. The basic essence of responsibility is an obligation. However, in the context of hierarchical relations in the organization, responsibility may well be described as the obligation of a subordinate to perform the duty or tasks assigned to him. Responsibility should then be construed in relation to a person and no other object. Implied in this is also the assumption that responsibility is founded on and emanates from superior-subordinate relations established in the organization. Thus a manager has the right to get the assigned duty performed properly by his subordinate. Moreover, he should ensure that the authority delegated to the subordinate gets properly discharged. From the above, it follows that authority flows downwards, whereas responsibility is exacted upward.

About the author

Shreya Kushwaha

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