Charismatic Authority definition

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Charismatic authority is one of the classifications of authority that make up sociologist Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority, alongsidetraditional authority and rational-legal authority.

Charismatic authority was defined by Weber as: “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.”

The personal qualities of the individual are central to the concept of charismatic authority and it is the individual’s real or perceived elevation above ‘normal’ people that fuels other peoples’ acceptance of their authority. Some commentators suggest that narcissism  is a core trait in charismatic leaders.

Charismatic authority is an interesting case because its success is not reliant on external formal structures or norms, as is the case with the other two forms of authority. Because of this, power structures that rely on charismatic leaders to succeed may dissolve should the leader die or leave. Because of this, succession planning is key and there needs to be a process to ‘transfer’ perceptions of charisma from one person to another for the incoming leader’s charisma to be accepted.