Laws, social norms, obligations and rights, tradition , following the line of command in a company… In our daily life we often follow the indications of other people or bodies, while others follow ours. It is a process by which an agent influences the behaviour of others, modifying, inhibiting or provoking a certain behaviour.

The reason why people follow these indications is that a relationship of power and influence is established between the different agents, exercising authority over each other in order to maintain a certain more or less stable social order. In this article we will observe 12 types of authority that are given both in the family and in society in general .

The concept of authority

In a generic way and without entering fully into any of the different types of authority that we can find, we can define the concept of authority as the type of relationship of power and influence that is established between two or more people through which one of the agents has the power to modify the ways of acting or thinking of other people or beings , being able to make decisions that are obeyed to a greater or lesser extent and with a greater or lesser degree of acceptance by others.

Authority is the power one has over another person , regardless of whether it is deserved or not. It can come from respect for the capacities or virtues of the person or institution, from the desire to receive some kind of reward or reinforcement from that person or from the fear of punishment in case of refusal to obey.

Depending on where it comes from or in which direction or aspect it is applied, we can find different types of authority that we can see below.

Types of authority according to their origin

First, we can organize the types of authority into two categories depending on whether it appears by social imposition or by conviction in the capacities of the individual who holds it.

1. Formal authority

One of the basic types of authority. It is the type of authority that is exercised because of aspects that do not stem from respect for the capabilities of the other, but from their position and the ability to administer rewards and punishments. Authority is considered to be imposed and assigned by others , without the followers having any influence on it in principle (although the assignment of such authority may have been derived from previous respect).

Specifically, it is the kind of authority that comes from having provided some kind of positional superiority to an individual over others, allowing him or her to have decision-making power over them. It is the one that depends on the position or status quo. It can be subdivided into linear (based on a hierarchy) or functional (focused only on a specific area or task).

2. Moral authority

Moral authority is understood as that which is granted on the basis of respect for the qualities manifested by the leader , either by his experience or by his moral characteristics. It is not based on charisma, but on respect for what the person represents. Like charismatic authority (which we will see later), it arises from recognition and not from imposition. It can be subdivided into technical (based on knowledge and experience) and personal (based on morality).

According to Weber

The subject of authority has been studied from the perspective of sociology by different authors. One of them was Max Weber , who proposed three other types of authority.

3. Traditional authority

It is the type of authority that confers power through tradition and custom , having taught the subordinate to be so. Orders from superiors are justified by the subordinates themselves. Power is inheritable, irrational and can be delegated.

4. Charismatic authority

This is one of the types of authority that is held with the agreement of subordinates. Based on the capacity for charisma of the person in charge, is born of respect and admiration for the characteristics of the person in charge . They are accepted as justified because of this respect for the faculties or way of being of the subject in question.

5. Rational authority

Also known as bureaucratic or legal , people obey this type of authority because their decisions are perceived as in accordance with social norms, accepting them as legitimate.

Power relations in the family

Authority is exercised in many areas, both at the social level and at the level of work and family. In this last area, four types of authority have been highlighted. Although they focus on the family, these are elements that can be extrapolated to other situations and institutions .

6. Authoritative or coercive authority

It is a type of inflexible authority, which tends to be prolonged through domination and the exercise of force . Followers accept it because of fear of punishment or withdrawal of rewards.

7. Democratic authority

This is one of the most valued types of authority. In it, there are limits to behaviour that are clear and defined, although is valued and takes into account the opinion of each member . This makes the generation and implementation of innovative ideas more frequent. Although behaviours can be sanctioned, such sanctions are generally understood within a framework previously established between all of them. It is mainly found in the family world or in cooperative enterprises.

8. Inconsistent authority

This is a type of authority that is exercised in an inconsistent manner, varying the rules and orders and not having the same results according to the time or circumstances. The limits are not clear . It implies a high degree of confusion in those who follow it, and in the long run it may lead to reaction and disobedience.

9. Permissive or laissez-faire authority

Although it is considered a type of authority, the main problem of this type of power relations is that there is no limitation or regulation itself, or it is weak. The subordinate may do what he pleases , there not being an exercise of authority itself.

Other types

Apart from the above classifications, we can find other types of authority, some being considered subtypes of previous classifications.

10. Operating authority

This type of authority is unipersonal, although it is generally granted by others . On this occasion the power is not exercised over the persons themselves, but rather the authority is held with respect to a certain subject or action. It is the one that gives the right to act in a certain way or to make decisions with respect to certain aspects.

11. Administrative authority

This is one of the basic types of authority, in which people who obey do so because they belong to a specific group that is in principle committed to accepting such orders. Although it is similar to the rational one, in this case it does not get to the point of asking whether what the authority stipulates follows basic legal precepts.

12. Informal authority

It is a type of authority that is not born of social position, but of the predisposition to organize itself and to accept the orders of another. Authority can pass from one subject to another easily, without any formal recognition of it. It is born of mutual acceptance, resembling to a great extent charismatic, personal and moral authority.