What are the types of authority

Four types of authority: Which one should it be?

In our conversations about authority we notice again and again that everyone understands something different by the term. Even in texts on the topic, things often get confused. Therefore we want to present four contexts of meaning that we come across again and again. And make it clear once again which of them we are attaching.

What all four readings have in common is the assumption that “authority” enables someone to influence others. “If a woman or man has authority” or “is a woman or man an authority” (these two formulations are also important!), You can get others to follow your own thoughts, conceptions, ideas and instructions. Authority therefore makes it possible to establish “allegiance”.

Four dominant readings of authority

How this happens, from our point of view there are four dominant worlds of ideas, all of which are connected with the term "authority":

  1. A "Natural authority"where influence and allegiance seem somehow to come from a person's characteristics and behavior. Some also speak of charisma here.
  2. A "Functional authority", where influence and allegiance are tied to formal offices, titles and hierarchy. The trump card here is a legitimation of one's own authority by another formal authority.
  3. A form of "Aggressive authority"where influence and allegiance can be traced back to pressure, exercise of power, and sometimes violence. Behavior that is often described as "authoritarian" and aims at unconditional "obedience".
  4. One based on expertise "Epistemic authority", where influence and allegiance are based on superior knowledge, skill and experience. Here we follow voluntarily, consciously and happily because we get orientation, the expertise we follow gives us security, and because we can learn and grow.

We favor the fourth reading and would like to promote this type of authority with our means.

Option 1 puzzles us and we do everything we can to find out more about it - if it even exists.

Variant 2 bores us to death, even annoys us in its self-assurance and arrogance - although we recognize its importance and its usefulness.

In our opinion, variant 3 should be banned from our lives for good, even if the opposite has recently appeared to be the case. Authoritarian behavior is gaining popularity again.

Literature on the subject

Authority in Germany. A study by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy. Herbert Quandt Foundation 2011

The understanding of authority by German top managers. In: Eugen Buß. The top German managers - how they became what they are. Origin, values, rules of success. Oldenbourg Science Publishing 2007.

“Who is Germany following?” A study of authority and a model for practice. Auctority, Freiburg 2018


Photo: Ronda Darby on unsplash