Difference Between Power and Authority – Characteristics and Examples

We explain the differences between power and authority, examples, the origin of each term and what they have in common.

Difference between power and authority
Authority and power to be related but can sometimes be independent.

What is the difference between power and authority?

When we speak of power and authority, we are referring, in general, to different forms of leadership, that is, to make others do what is asked of them, or what is proposed to them. However, both terms refer to very different ways of doing it.

The term power comes from Latin potere, which is the historical precursor of our own verb “power”, and which logically translates into the ability to make something happen, either directly or indirectly. Seen like this, to have power is to have the ability to initiate an action or an event.

It is a term used even in scientific areas, but in its social and political dimension, refers to the possibility of occupying positions of authority or orchestrating social processes, political and even economic that shape society in one way or another. The powerful, then, are those who initiate certain actions in society.

Instead, the term authority comes from the Latin auctoritas, derived from auctor (“Author”), and this term in turn of the verb boom (“Promote”, “increase”, “progress”). Seen like this, has authority a person who creates, promotes, incites or leads something, inciting a natural compliance in others.

In fact, we call “authorities” people who hold positions of power, that is, people who in one way or another have been designated as leaders within an organization or in the State.

Thus, as we have seen, power and authority are closely related terms, so much so that one appears in the definition of the other. But at the same time they are different: power is something transitory, which is judged based on the possibility of making something happen (or not happen); while the authority possesses some form of investiture, formality or influence thanks to which others obey.

Let us explain this better through an example: imagine a group of soldiers who prevail in a town and force people to obey their commands, that is, hurting those who oppose them. But as soon as they are neglected, the villagers rebel and seize their weapons and command, putting the former mayor who ruled it before the invaders arrived in command of the town.

In this story, the military unquestionably have power: they wield it brutally, by force, and while they possess it, they force others to recognize their authority. But as soon as they lose power, when the people rebel and disarm them, they also lose their authority, and nobody pays any attention to them.

On the other hand, the former mayor does not initially have any power, but clearly the people consider him a man with authority, since as soon as they get rid of the military, they give him authority, that is, the voice of command, and with she has the power to decide, among other things, what they will do now with the military that previously subjected them.

The differences between power and authority can be summarized as follows:

It is a capacity: a person has or does not have power, that is, he may or may not make something happen.It is an ability to make others follow one’s instructions, either by conviction or by submission to the social order that is considered endorsed.
It can be exercised through any means or mechanism, including brute force.It consists in the recognition of the others of the leadership of one, and therefore in the voluntary submission to their decisions or their instructions.
You may be able to subdue others, but not necessarily accept such subordination.It has the voluntary subordination of others, due to the recognition of its own leadership.
It does not require laws, institutions or social agreements.It does require laws, institutions and social agreements.