Kinds of Authority

I had a conversation last week with my friend Jeff Jones, the pastor at Chase Oaks Church. Jeff Jones and Gene Getz along with some other guys wrote the book on pastoral transitions. Jeff has been really kind to sit down with me every few months and walk me through the lessons he learned having walked an extremely similar road to the road I am walking.

Last week we had a conversation about their leadership structure moving through transition. One of the most helpful things about their leadership structure is (and was) its clarity when it comes to authority. A primary reason is some work they did with Brad Smith several years ago which helped them define and assign three primary kinds of authority that can be held by various groups. It is available as a part of a field guide produced by The Center for Church Based Training.

Input Authority is the authority to be heard on a specific issue. Decision Authority is the authority to make a final call concerning a specific issue. Veto Authority is the ultimate authority to overrule or overturn a decision. 

One of the most helpful things an organization can do is to clarify which roles carry which authorities. When lines get muddy, communication and expectations almost always break down. When people are asked for their opinion without clarity about the type of authority they carry, they normally always expect that they carry decision authority. 

People at high levels on organizational charts normally have implicit veto authority. When they express an opinion, it carries a great deal of weight even if they do not mean for it to. When they are clear about the type of authority they carry on a decision they are able to  express opinions with care. 

In my experience, almost everyone in an organization is okay with not having veto authority on most decisions. They are not okay with confusion about where authority and accountability lie. Great organizations are organizations in which every team is clear on every decision about what kind of authority they hold.