3 Types of Authority Structures in Social Organisations – Explained!

Read this article to learn about the types of authority structures in Social Organisations!

1. Traditional Authority Structure:

In organisations with a traditional authority structure, the leader has authority by virtue of the status they have inherited.

The extent of the authority is also fixed by custom, in other words, tradition.

In feudal systems, the authority enjoyed by the king is by virtue of the status he has inherited from his predecessors, a result of the privileges and the customs associated with his office.

Assignment 3 | Brad Sherburne CDF

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Traditional leadership is usually found in pre-industrial societies. One finds that even positions in villages are hereditary; if the father is a headman of the village, he will most probably be succeeded by his son and not by any other person, no matter how competent the person is. Similarly, the son of a ruler will succeed his father irrespective of his shortcomings.

However, there can be occasions where modern business organisations may adopt traditional leadership and succession. Managerial positions are often handed down from father to son and this is quite often legitimised by the fact that a competent father can produce a competent son. Many firms establish their own dynasties based on hereditary succession.

In these cases, the selection and appointment in superior positions are based on kinship ties rather than on expertise. This is observed in most of the larger industrial houses in the country. Normally, large dynastic companies induct the children of the top management but not merely on the basis of heredity, for in many cases, the incumbent would have acquired specialised skills such as a management or engineering degree from a reputed university at home or abroad. This tends to justify their induction.

2. Rational-Legal Authority Structure:


This type of organisation is based on bureaucratic principles strictly on a person’s abilities to pursue organisational tasks. Weber saw this as a dominant institution of modern society. The organisation is rational because it is designed to meet specific goals; it is like a well-designed machine in that respect.

Every part of that machine contributes to the attainment of the highest performance. The organisation is legal because authority is exercised by means of a system of rules and procedures through the office that an individual occupies at a particular time. The power that this organisation or its leadership exerts over the others is legitimate and hence its rules are accepted willingly.

3. Charismatic Authority Structure:

This comes from the Greek word kharisma, which implies that the personality of the individual sets them apart from others because of exceptional qualities, which could be rated as ‘superhuman’ or ‘supernatural’. This type of leadership is typically found in religious or political movements.

In the case of quite a few organisations, their founders were charismatic leaders. These could include pioneering industrialists like Henry Ford, Jamshedji Tata and G. D. Birla, among others. Social and political leaders like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar were also regarded as charismatic.


In such cases, the basis of authority lies in the characteristics of one person, and what they say and stand for is an inspiration to many. Such organisations often have a built-in instability because they attain their peak during the tenure of the charismatic leader, after whose death there is instability and sometimes a struggle for succession.

Often, there may be infighting even if the leader nominates his/her successor who may lack the leader’s charisma. If succession is hereditary, the organisation becomes traditional in form while if succession is determined by rules, it develops into a bureaucratic organisation. The problematic part of Weber’s analysis is that charisma can be both positive and negative; Mahatma Gandhi was a charismatic leader and so was Hitler but Weber fails to make a qualitative difference between different types of charismatic personalities.

While looking at the three types of organisations, one finds that they cannot be viewed in watertight compartments for there is considerable overlap. For instance, industrial houses were often founded by personalities who had charisma; at the same time, these organisations were rational-legal because they were run on bureaucratic principles and the succession also resembles the structure of traditional authority. Hence, all three types of organisation are prevalent in the major industrial houses in our country especially those that are run as family businesses.

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