Articles

How Do Managers Know That Their Authority Is Accepted By Those They Exercise Authority Over?

November 08, 2018 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

The key issue for those in authority is to first gain, and then retain, acceptance of their authority by those they exercise authority over.

It is clearly naïve, however, for those in authority to believe that they will ever have total authority or power. Politicians know that their party may get the majority, but never 100%, of the votes. Managers know that in any organisation there will always be people who are anti-authority, who are disaffected and distrust those in charge.

What is of utmost importance to those in authority in organisations, however, is to know the size of the pro- and the anti-establishment groups – to gain insight into what proportion of their employees are for and against them and the makeup of those two fundamental populations.

Even more useful is to establish the degree to which, and the reasons why, employees trust different levels of leadership. Finally, to understand the patterns of allegiance in the organisation or with whom employees loyalty is vested.

Armed with this knowledge, the leadership of an organisation can then develop and implement a strategy to gain, retain or increase their authority and, as a consequence of that, the commitment of their people to going above and beyond in pursuit of the organisation’s objectives.

One way to gain this knowledge and understanding is by means of employee opinion surveys. There is no shortage of organisations, including Legitimate Leadership, which conduct what are known nowadays as employee engagement surveys.

A less formal and less expensive way for management to know where they are positioned on a scale from “total rejection” to “total acceptance” of their authority, is to simply gauge the general climate which prevails among employees.

When those in authority are accepted, their visibility outside the boardroom is welcomed. Employees take their concerns to them rather than to their employee representatives or to the human resources function. They abide by managerial decisions and, if disciplinary action is taken, do not challenge it or fight against it. The average employee willingly does what is expected and more.

The degree to which the authority which is exercised is not accepted, on the other hand, is reflected in how much resistance there is among employees to that authority. The “resistance” may be covert (evidenced by snide remarks/sarcasm, gossiping, a dragging of heels) or overt (manifested in a breakdown in communications, a “them” and “us” situation, a withholding of labour, or even violent protest).

If resistance exists in whatever form, other than among a disaffected minority, there is leadership work to be done.

Wendy Lambourne
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