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{Excerpt} In most types of organizations, formal authority is located at the top as part of an exchange against fairly explicit expectations. In networked, pluralistic organizations that must rapidly formulate adaptive solutions in an increasingly complex world, its power is eroding as its functions become less clear. In the 21st century, the requirements of organizational speed demand investments in informal authority.

Formal authority—the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior—is the defining characteristic of societal and organizational hierarchy. Ideally, after Ronald Heifetz, it is expected to serve five functions that most will agree are indispensable to social life. They are to (i) provide direction, (ii) offer protection, (iii) orientate roles, (iv) control conflict, and (v) maintain norms. Then again, in practice, there is a darker side to what formal authority can do on any given day: for instance, a boss can restrict a subordinate’s actions, invalidate his or her decisions, or move for dismissal.


Suggested Citation

Serrat, O. (2010). Informal authority in the workplace. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.

Required Publisher's Statement

This article was first published by the Asian Development Bank (