Government StudiesHistory Classroom

Concepts of Government: Power And Authority

What is Power in Government Studies?

Power is the capacity to affect another’s behaviour by the threat of sanction. The sanction(s) may either be negative or positive.

Therefore, a political leader may have the ability to control the actions of others by promising those who support him wealth or honours, or he may threaten to deny such rewards to those who oppose him. However, sanctions are used if there is non-compliance.

Power can be in four forms

  1. Political Power – This is the power derived from the people and constitution.
  2. Economic Power – This is the power one acquire from having economic resources.
  3. Military Power – This is the power used by the armed forces.
  4. Physical/Naked Power – This form of power uses force.

Sources of Power

  1. Through the constitution
  2. Through Inheritance
  3. Through Charisma
  4. Through economic resources or wealth
  5. Through force/coercion

Definition of Authority

Authority, propounded by Max Weber, refers to the formal or legal right to make and enforce law or policies.

Authority connotes the acceptance of the right to rule as conferred by the people, irrespective of the sanctions.

Types Of Authority

The sociologist and philosopher, Max Weber, classified authority into three types.

1. Traditional Authority – This is a type of authority legitimated by the power of the tradition. This kind of authority can be found in traditional societies where the king/chief exercises authority over his subjects based on the customs and traditions of the land. Traditional authority can be passed down to generations, often through hereditary.

2. Charismatic Authority – This is a type of authority that is bestowed on an individual based on the extraordinary characteristics of that individual. For example, if an individual is known to be trust-worthy in a society, the people can make him a king, or let’s come down to treasurer, because of the trust-worthiness the people see in him.

3. Legal/Rational Authority – This is an authority derived from the laws or constitution of a state. It may also be called political/constitutional authority. This kind of authority is mostly found in modern democratic state, private and public corporations and other associations. The people do not give obedience to an individual leader (e.g. President) but rather a set of principles (constitution) used in governing the state.

4. Delegated Authority – This authority is mostly given to someone to exercise functions and responsibilities on specific areas.

5. Technical Authority – It is based in the level of expertise the individual has acquired on the job. This kind of authority has to be respected, recognised and accepted in that particular area concerned.

6. Political Authority – This is the authority conferred in persons holding political offices, e.g. the president and legislators. Policies made and executed are based in the provisions of the constitution.

7. Coercive Authority – It is the authority based on the use of force. The fear of consequences for not accepting or obeying such authority is always there, e.g. military dictatorship.

Max Weber said no authority structure could actually be exclusively bureaucratic, because some positions would be held by a variety of charismatic leaders.

Non-bureaucratic legal authority could be found in organizations that have rotating office holders, such as Parliamentary and committee administration and all sorts of collegiate and administrative bodies. (Weber 1958)

Difference Between Power and Authority

1. Power is the capacity to affect another’s behaviour by the use of threat of some form of sanction while authority is formal or legal right to make and enforce law or policies.

2. Authority is based on acceptance and mostly legitimate while power could be legitimate or illegitimate e.g. The military in power.

3. It has been observed that authority can be delegated with legitimized responsibility but power cannot be delegated.

4. Again, since authority is legitimized, punishments that go with it is not as serious as that of power.

Thanks for reading,


  1. C. C. Dibie; Essential Government for Senior Secondary Schools; Tonad Publishers; August 2008
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (January 20, 2017). Concepts of Government: Power And Authority. OldNaija. Retrieved from


  1. pls my people I was given an assignment yesterday and I am a little bit confused, the question, (what do you suggest with the present restructuring of government in Nigeria) pls I need a good summary

  2. Honestly. May God bless you abundantly. You are a life saver and an inspiration to many of us. Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button