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What is Petty Authority?

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Petty authority is the use of authority by an individual to justify unreasonable, unfriendly, manipulative, cruel or arrogant behavior. In some cases, a small amount of authority is enough to trigger negative changes in an individual's behavior.
Organizations that bestow authority such as governments and companies are generally viewed as responsible for ensuring that it isn't abused. There are several common ways to prevent abuse:

Customer Satisfaction

Using metrics that capture negative behavior for performance management. In many cases, customer satisfaction ratings that can be tied to an individual's work is useful in this regard.


A system of checks and balances such as a governance body that is responsible for oversight of a management or administrative hierarchy.

Complain Handling

An open, accessible and fair system for dealing with complaints from customers, partners, employees, community members and anyone else who has interactions with your organization. Ideally, these are handled by a separate organization that isn't influenced by the management or administrative structure related to the complaints.
Overview: Petty Authority
The use of authority by an individual to justify tyrannical behavior.
Risk Factors
Organizations that interact with individuals who aren't viewed as customers. For example, organizations that primarily interact with individuals they view as threats or adversaries.
Organizations that lack an effective governance body.
Organizations that make it difficult to complain or that don't take complaints seriously.
Organizations that are allowed to be secretive and closed.
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about authority.
Accountability Measures
Delegated Authority
Formal Authority
Informal Authority
Negative Selection
Petty Authority
Power Imbalance
Public Authority
Reporting Lines
Words For Authority
More ...
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