Power and Authority: Definitions & Comparison


Power can be defined as the ability to enforce decisions and to compel obedience from other people. It entails the exercise of control by the ruler over the ruled.

The exercise of power in any political system is in the hands of a few people, who use it to reward or punish their people as appropriate, or as they deem fit.

Sources of Power

There are ways by which power can be acquired and they include:

1. The use of force: The use of force by government refers to physical control over individuals or groups through state agencies, such as the police force, the armed forces, the court, prison and remand centers. These agencies could be used to elicit obedience to government policies.

2. Wealth: Those that control the factors of production in the society are usually able to easily influence or control government machinery through the use of patronage or other influences.

3. Position of authority: The position that one occupies sometimes demand making decisions and policies that affect some other people’s lives and actions. For instance, a state governor that affect some powers lives and actions. For instance, a state governor exercising some power over the whole state.

4. People’s support: One of the ways of acquiring political power is through competitive, free and fair elections, based on the consent of the people.

5. Skills: Power also comes from specialist knowledge or skills in government because they formulate and implement decision that have a serious effect on lives of citizens.

6. Constitutional power: Constitutional power refers to power or authority conferred on a person by the constitution.

7. Inheritance: People sometimes receive power by virtue of birth, e.g, the British monarchs.

8. Charisma: Power may be conferred on people through their personal qualities which make people tend to like them.


Political authority refers to the formal or legal right to make and enforce laws or policies which the citizens must obey. It implies the acceptance by the people of someones right to rule, irrespective of the sanctions the ruler may possess, e.g the right of the public to arrest and detain offenders.

Types of Political Authority

1. Traditional political: This type of political authority is based on the customs and traditions of the people. Leaders in this category inherit their authority from their predecessors. Their followers believe such rulers were chosen by the divine, as such they are obeying the divine when they obey the rulers.Examples are the Oba’s, Emir’s and Sultan.

2. Legal authority: This type of authority is derived from government rules and regulations. It is backed by laws enacted by the government. This is the reason why such law enforcement agents as the police are often obeyed when carrying out their lawful duties.

3. Charismatic authority: This type of political authority is exercised by leaders who poses unusual qualities which make them accepted to their followers. Example of these leaders are Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Comparison Between Power and Authority

1. Power is the ability to enforce decisions and compel obedience from others, while authority is the right to command and direct others.

2. The only difference between power and authority is that power usually involves the use of force and sanctions, whereas authority need not apply force to achieve obedience.

3. Power is often heavier in the use of penalty than authority.

4. Power is based on consent, whereas power may rely solely on force.

5. Both power and authority can be delegated hierarchically.

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Oluchi Chukwu

Oluchi is a seasoned Information blogger, content developer and the editor of Nigerian Queries. She is a tech enthusiast who loves reading, writing and research

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