Authority is often misunderstood by leaders and team members. Endless discussions about roles are a symptom of this misunderstanding. Authority has relativistic characteristics as well as some absolutes. How I’ve viewed authority is by considering the “preps”, that is prepositions, in front of authority. As a leader you can simultaneously be “in authority,” “under authority” and “of authority.” A mature leader knows when to operate “in”, “under” or “of” authority.
This one is the easiest to understand. Most people don’t want to be under anybody. But it is a safe place to be. It is a place of accountability which leads to growth. As a project manager I am under the authority of the sponsor and customer. A director is under the authority of a vice president and so on.
This is the area in which you are free to make decisions and chart the course. As a project manager, I have a project charter, team and budget to freely operate as I see fit to accomplish the goals of the project. Your position has a job description, which is another way of defining the boundaries of your authority. As a leader you have the responsibility to fully operate in that authority to accomplish the vision of your job description.
This is an area that I consider temporary authority or an empowerment given by a person in authority to a person under authority in order to accomplish something. For example, you are a manager and your boss, who is a director, asks you to represent her at a meeting. For that meeting you are of the authority of a director. You have a temporary expansion of your current authority to accomplish the task at hand.
Confidence is gained and frustration suspended when you understand all three areas of authority. It removes the ego out of the way and allows focus on the mission.