Authority is Overrated

July 15, 2021
Daniel Waycik

How authority can influence behaviour

Authority gives an imbalance to an interaction. It allows a person in authority to skip past many of the steps a person takes to make a decision. They have the prerogative to prioritize their reality to a given situation. Nonetheless, authority is ultimately necessary for many situations.

However, I would argue that our society is too quick to apply authority when it comes to safety and security. This is often done when starting the narrative at the point of the worst possible outcome. Therefore, this associates the authorized person and their services with a traumatic experience for the individual. As a result, this takes away a person’s ownership in their own decisions.

Effective authorization

If you empower a person or group with all the available knowledge, skills and perspectives available they can be effective. Here are some examples:

  • Ability to carry a conversation, which requires knowledge, perspective and humility.
  • Gives the individual the power to make their own informed decisions; obliges our professional to always hear the perspective of others, ultimately informing practices going forward.
  • Continuing education.
  • Removes the barrier of authority, which allows the person to be more approachable.
  • Focus on giving a voice to people and their situation as you start to have a less filtered view.
  • Recognize recurring issues because of consistent and disciplined reporting.

The downside

Adding trauma to a person’s life can do nothing, except contribute to them continuing to experience similar future issues. People always remember this type of interaction (e.g. think about the last time you got a speeding ticket). However, if the experience is positive, this person will have the tools for future similar situations. People make the decision to take corrective actions, conserving ownership in their actions. Over time, intervention actions shorten as the community and personnel build a relationship centred on trust, protection and support. By investing time and resources to this approach, this will result in sustainable future returns and have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the community. This personnel is not seen as an enemy; but – as intended – there to help and support the community in its safety and well-being.

If a person in a traditionally authority-centred role – such as safety and security – has never had to work without it, they will tend to skip many of the steps along the way; deferring to their authority to force the matter or at least take some shortcuts. While this brings an end to a given conflict, it is not the same as bringing it to a resolution.