Authority, power and legitimacy are perceived as fundamental elements of contemporary society for the sole reason that these are the defining features of a culture with political and social organisations and hierarchies. The term ‘authority’ is commonly misused by academics as a synonym for ‘power’ or ‘legitimacy’ which has led to confusion regarding the entire concept of authority. Authority is generally defined as a person (or group of people) who has the power or right to give orders to others, make decisions, and impose obedience. Although Cambridge dictionary defines the term as ‘the moral or legal right or ability to control’. A person has authority when his or her demands are abided by and carried out by others. There are several types of authority and there are various factors that give an individual authority over others which will be demonstrated below.
In order to illustrate the various explanations of authority one has to first understand Max Weber’s description of this term, as most academics relate their own view on authority back to his. Weber was a sociologist, political economist and philosopher and he classified authority into three different categories; the first is Traditional authority, the second Rational-Legal authority and the third Charismatic authority. Weber distinguished these three forms of authority in order to answer his question; why do people do what they are told. For, with the exception of slavery, people willingly enter into these three kinds of leader-follower relationships. Traditional authority is considered a patriarchal structure which is legitimised by the sanctity of tradition. As Weber phrased it: “The creation of new law opposite traditional norms is deemed impossible in principle.” (1958: 4) Consequently, this category is quit conservative in approach to authority.
Rational-legal authority is characterised as a form of leadership in which the administrative rulers are elected and their authority stems