What Is Workplace Authority?

by Daniel R. Mueller; Updated September 26, 2017
Management should treat employees with respect without avoiding necessary discipline.

Workplace authority is a concept directly relating to job site leadership. In most cases, workplace authority is predetermined either by ownership or external promotion directly to management. In more egalitarian workplaces, employees sometimes work their way up via internal promotion and are more likely to command a level of personnel respect as well as generalized workplace authority.

Maintaining Workplace Authority as Management

Management staff has the enviable position of starting with a moderate level of intrinsic authority based on their management level. This intrinsic authority, when properly cultivated with respectfulness toward lower employees and stern but justifiable discipline when necessary, can allow managers to achieve a soft authority that yields respect out of friendship and shared goals rather than respect borne of fear for the lower employee's job. As a manager, balancing just discipline with an approachable attitude of general camaraderie will ensure that workplace authority is maintained over time. To this end, managers need to understand that clearly insubordinate behavior cannot go undisciplined.

Earning Workplace Authority as an Employee

Entry-level employees do not generally start at any position of authority in the workplace. However, by consistently working hard and attempting to assist other employees when possible, some employees can develop a rapport with the other workers that translates into a de facto level of workplace authority. It is important to note that there is a difference between entry-level workers who are bossy amongst other employees to the detriment of the work environment and entry-level workers that demonstrate potential for management advancement. The best way to tell whether an entry-level employee who seems to be leading the group is providing effective leadership worthy of promotion, or simply being a taskmaster, is to take employees that frequently work alongside them aside and ask for an honest evaluation of this person's behavior. Generally, workers well respected by their peers are good candidates for promotion, demonstrating to other workers that there is room for advancement for deserving individuals and promoting a better work ethic amongst the general staff.

Effects of Positive Workplace Authority on Profitability

The reality of many workplace situations is that even amongst technically equal peers, someone generally needs to take a leadership role in order to ensure that tasks are completed in an effective and logical manner. At the most basic level, these leadership candidates simply try to form consensus amongst the group in a very simple democratic vote-like process. In other groups, some employees are simply comfortable with allowing one of their peers to make the strategic decisions for them. Base-level employees with strong recognizable leadership skills are a commodity to be valued, since they are the proverbial “golden goose” that allows business to get done. Along the same lines, management individuals that are considered friendly and approachable as well as just in their decision-making and disciplinary practices encourage workers to put forth their best effort. Management staff perceived as being overly disciplinarian may lead to a loss of profit due to workers leaving in an attempt to find a more positive work environment. On the same note, management unable to make critical disciplinary decisions about problem individuals run a similar risk, albeit created by inaction rather than by negative actions. Ultimately, the effect is the same, with a higher cost to retrain new hires and quicker turnover amongst employees.

Negative Economic Consequences of Abuse of Power

Most employees have some degree of power, whether it is over each other or over the customer interaction with the company, since front-line employees effectively form the public relations face of the organization. Abuses of these powers, ranging from mistreatment of customers to mishandling of internal employee affairs, are a severe problem and can cause talented individuals to leave companies. Because of basic human nature, consumers are more likely to talk about a negative customer service experience than a positive one. One problematic customer service situation can have a large net effect on potential profits. Imagine a situation where someone buys a faulty product and the customer service desk agent does not take them seriously, makes them feel uncomfortable or even offends them somehow. That one customer is not the only one lost, since they are likely to tell their friends, which could result in a loss of many thousands of dollars of retail trade based upon one negative experience.

About the Author

Daniel R. Mueller is a Canadian who has been writing professionally since 2003. Mueller's writing draws on his extensive experience in the private security field. He also has a professional background in the information-technology industry as a support technician. Much of Mueller's writing has focused on the subjects of business and economics.

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