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What Is Natural Authority?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2014
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Natural authority is a personal quality in which an individual is able to exert authoritative power that is not based on a formal position of authority. A manager, for instance, derives his authority from his formal position and does not necessarily possess an innately authoritative demeanor. An individual who takes control of a group that lacks formal structure, on the other hand, is likely able to do so because he possesses some degree of natural authority that emerges from personal qualities rather than from a title of some form. Authority is a common area of focus in social psychology, as many elements of group behavior are based, to some degree, on who has authoritative power and on why he has that power.

Two different qualities often lead to natural authority. The first is based entirely in personality. An individual with charisma, assertiveness, and direction is often able to assert authoritative control over a group. The second, on the other hand, is based on the possession of essential skills and knowledge in a given situation. An individual will take on a degree of natural authority if he possesses a skill set or a body of knowledge beyond that possessed by others in the group that is essential to success in a given situation.

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A great deal of balance and self-control is necessary for effective natural authority. It is actually possible to diminish one's natural authority by taking some of the defining qualities, such as assertiveness and self-confidence, to extremes. Doing so can make one appear stubborn, cocky, and unreasonable rather than confident, calm, and in control of the situation. Listening to and working with the ideas and advice of the other members of a group tends to inspire much greater respect than blindly adhering to one's own ideas and viewpoints. A group that decides that its natural leader is not concerned with their well-being or interested in them personally will likely cease to follow that leader.

Other important qualities that contribute to natural authority include reason and negotiating ability. A leader who not only exudes confidence, but also is able to use reason to convince others of the virtue of his plans and ideas will probably find success, where someone without such abilities will not. Furthermore, the leader is often called upon to represent the group to other individuals and groups through discussion and negotiation. The ability to increase the well-being and success of a group through negotiation tends to increase an individual's natural authority.

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