Acceptance Theory of Authority - Explained
What is Acceptance Theory?
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Table of ContentsWhat is the Acceptance Theory of Authority?How does the Acceptance Theory of Authority Work? Chester Barnard's Guidelines for a Manager w.r.t. Acceptance of AuthorityAcademic Research on the Acceptance Theory of Authority
What is the Acceptance Theory of Authority?
The acceptance theory of authority states that a manager's authority over his/her subordinates depends on the willingness of the subordinates to accept his/her right to give orders and comply with them.
While the acceptance theory essentially follows the traditional top-down management approach, it also embraces a much more contemporary philosophy of management that acknowledges the need to provide subordinates with a clear definition of company policies and initiatives.
As such, this theory seeks to foster compliance that is not blind, while encouraging subordinates to ask questions.
Back to: BUSINESS MANAGEMENT
How does the Acceptance Theory of Authority Work?
There are four commonly-recognized theories of authority:
- Formal or Classical Theory of Authority
- Acceptance Theory of Authority
- Authority Theory of the Situation
- Competence Theory of Authority
The acceptance theory of authority was originally conceived by Mary Parker Follett, but was popularized later by Chester Barnard (1886-1961) through his 1938 book, The Functions of the Executive.
This theory of authority emphasizes on the managers role in maintaining rapport with their subordinates in order to facilitate smooth communication and enlist the support of subordinates towards management decisions.
Also known as bottom-up authority, the acceptance theory suggests that authority actually flows from bottom to top and not the other way around. In this regard, the flow of authority is more comparable to a request by top-level management, which, when accepted by subordinates, results in the actual exercise of authority by the managers.
Conversely, a rejection of such a request by subordinates means that managers are unable to exercise authority.
The highlight of the acceptance theory of authority is that it acknowledges informal relationships within the organization and thus, provides a much more practical understanding (compared to the classical theory) of how formal authority actually works in an organization.
Barnard further formulates the concept of the zone of indifference, which states that although employees may initially accept the authority of managers in return for monetary compensation, such an acceptance of authority is not comprehensive, (i.e. employees only tend to accept authority within the range of acceptance).
The following are the limits drawn by individual employees within which they either accept or reject management authority:
- Actions that are generally deemed unacceptable by subordinates and hence, not carried out by them.
- Borderline actions that can be comprehended as both acceptable or unacceptable by subordinates.
- Actions that are generally deemed acceptable by subordinates since they lie within the zone of indifference. Such actions carried out by subordinates.
Chester Barnard lists four conditions, the satisfaction of which usually results in an acceptance of authority. These are:
- The subordinate is able to fully interpret the communication.
- The subordinate believes that the communication is consistent with the objectives of the organisation.
- The subordinate believes that the communication is consistent his/her personal objectives.
- The subordinate is physically and mentally capable of accepting the communication.
Chester Barnard's Guidelines for a Manager w.r.t. Acceptance of Authority
According to Barnard, there are several guidelines which a manager must follow in order to ensure that his/her authority is accepted. These are
- First, the manager needs to utilize a formal channel of communication since it is familiar to all members of the organization.
- Secondly, the manager needs to assign a formal communication channel to each individual member of the organization in order to communicate orders.
- Thirdly, it is in the best interest of the business to maintain as direct a line of communication between manager and subordinate as possible.
- Orders need to be issued using the complete chain of command.
- Managers need to possess communication skills that are at the least, adequate.
- It is mandatory for the manager to use formal communication lines for organisational business only.
- Lastly, for a command to be accepted, it must always be authenticated as coming from the manager.