Line Management: What is Authority, How to Get it and How to Use it
When you think of authority, you probably think about power or respect. While they are both terms that help to define authority, they aren’t exactly the same and don’t cover it.
Power is more of a blanket term for influence and authority, whereas respect is something that has to be earned. In management, power is when permission is granted to you to lead a team by an organisation, whereas respect is something that you are granted by or earn from your team.
The difference between these two can be part of the issue that people have when learning new line management roles.
So, what is Authority?
In technical terms, authority means having the right to do a certain job, having the power to make certain decisions without reference to others and so to exercise discretion based on judgement.
But in terms of being a manager – especially a newly appointed one – authority isn’t just about being allowed to make decisions but it also being required to make decisions, both the easy ones and the tough ones.
As a manager, your job is to get things done and to do this you will need to exert authority.
How do you get it?
Even though authority is given to you as a manager by the organisation that you work for, (the authority to oversee tasks, to have a say in employment decisions and to challenge poor performance in your team) it is respect that will help you to get there with more easily as that will mean that you’ve brought your team along with you.
So how do you make it more likely that you will earn your team’s respect? On what basis do most managers earn theirs?
Some managers are naturally charismatic, and their charisma is what influences people to follow them and gives them a big advantage when getting their team to follow them. For them, authority comes easily as they have the likability to get their team’s buy-in.
This kind of charismatic authority can cause issues when faced with difficult decisions that take a charismatic manager out of their comfort zone, however, this issue isn’t specific to charismatic leaders.
Difficult decisions are a big test for all types of leaders.
Some managers derive much of their authority from their decisiveness and their ability to analyse data or information to make the right decisions. When their decisions work out well it usually inspires people to follow them and respect their authority.
The issue with this style comes when managers focus too much on the analytics and to little on their interpersonal skills.
Their authority can be lost if they don’t have a good physical presence with their team.
Prior experience (especially success) says a lot to a team about a manager. The team will naturally give a manager their respect based if the manager has a track record of previous successful accomplishments.
The main issue for this type of manager is living up to the expectation.
They will need to continue to be successful if they want to continue to be respected.
Being part of a big idea can be a great way to bring a team together and earn their respect. Belonging to something great can push anybody to do their best at work. Using their authority to inspire people, managers of team pursuing big goals can earn respect relatively easily.
Obviously this type of respect can be quite fragile. If the plans to hit the big dream go off course then the respect earned by ‘selling the dream’ can go with it.
How to Use Respect
Once you have earned your teams respect you then need to keep it.
Let’s look at some way to keep respect once you have earned it.
What is your role? What permissions do you have?
You need to know where your boundaries begin and end so you can meet your job description and get your team to meet theirs.
Have you introduced yourself? Are you catching up with team members regularly?
You can’t manage a team sitting behind a desk alone. You need to be out of your office catching up with your team and understanding what is going on.
A crisp and clean look is associated with authority. This doesn’t mean power suits for every occasion but utilise the “smart” in “smart-casual” to its advantage. If you look the part, you will feel the part and look the part.
Are you always worried what your team think about you? Does it hold you back?
Being well thought of by your team is important, but it is more important to be effective at what you do.
Being liked and respected at the same time is possible, but you should never compromise on your work impact in an effort to be liked. Your team will pick this up and harm your credibility and authority.
Can you admit to your mistakes?
Having authority does not mean that you need to be right every time.
Admitting that you were wrong is not a sign of weakness. Your team will view you as a relaxed, confident line manager if you have the courage to admit that you have made a mistake, and see this as an indication that you are a confident open leader and respect you all the more.
This is not an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts but rather food for thought when considering your own authority, especially if it is not working as effectively as you would like.
Once you have a firm grasp on your management style and have started to gain the respect of your team, it is definitely worth thinking about how you communicate your authority.
There will be occasions where you need to present to an audience or hold team meetings and the way you present yourself is key to giving an authoritative impression.
From your posture to your stage presence and your ability to command attention, the authority you have within your team can translate across a whole audience.