The Authority Matrix: a Tool for Empowerment and Role Clarification

Organized Change was instrumental in helping Wavecom (a French-based telecommunication company) identify and solve internal tensions hindering organizational growth. In a few weeks, Organized Change brought solutions to bring clarity

The word “empowerment” raises many feelings to those who hear it. For some, their eyes light up and extol the virtues of giving power to the workers. Others, however, shake their heads, roll their eyes and say that the term is meaningless. In trying to bring these two groups together, we have used an old technique with a new twist: the authority matrix.

An authority matrix is a critical supplement, if not a replacement, for the traditional job description and organizational chart. One advantage is that it focuses on decision-making rather than static activities. Another advantage is that it presents in graphical format the relationships between people and functions. Instead of describing people’s job in isolation from one another, it focuses on how they interact. Because of this, the authority matrix supports the movement away from individual, isolated work to a more coordinated, team-based environment.

The authority matrix

More specifically, an authority matrix tries to solve two of the more problematic issues in human resources: role clarification in today’s changing work environment; and the transfer of decision-making to “lower” levels in the organization. Here is how it works.


K = Know I = Inform S = Support D = Do A = Approve

Above is an empty, generic authority matrix. Major or critical tasks are listed down the first column; employee names (to clarify personal roles) or department functions (to clarify inter-department roles) are listed across the top.

The boxes in the matrix is filled in with one or more of the following. Note that not all boxes have to be filled in.

K (Know). These employees need to know and understand the action, but do not actively participate in this decision.

I (Inform). These employees communicate the decision to those people who need to know (K).

S (Support). These employees provide staff support to those to make the decision.

D (Do). These employees perform the task.

A (Approve). These employees evaluate the actions of those who do (D) and can give orders to those who do.

The following are two examples of how you can use authority matrices: the first concerns role clarification/task transfer, the other empowerment.

Role clarification/task transfer

Management may not realize all the tasks that a particular staff person or employee has. A good example of this happened a few years ago at one of my client’s. It turns out that one and only one employee had made a particular part for a particular aircraft. He was the only person in the entire world who had ever done this. He had made this part for every aircraft of this type since it was first manufactured 30 years ago. And he was retiring. Thank goodness they made an effort to learn how he did his job!

Assignments of responsibilities can also disappear as the traditional hierarchical structure breaks down. The epitomy of a clear role is a clear, specific, micro-detailed, permanent job description. Unfortunately, many people have additional tasks not listed in the job description. When an employee is laid off or a function is eliminated, these extra, invisible duties fall through the cracks.

To avoid this problem, the outgoing employee and representatives from the remaining departments should discuss the roles, authority and responsibilities of the departing person. Employees in this exercise can choose to 1) eliminate the task; 2) have one person or department take over the responsibility of the person leaving; or 3) segment the task so that one department accomplishes some function, while other departments accomplish the rest.

Here’s how an authority matrix can help in this process:

After individually filling out the authority matrix and wrangling over the details, the widget department finally came up with the authority matrix they would put in place after Frank was laid off:


K = Know I = Inform S = Support D = Do A = Approve

element In this example, Frank’s duties of checking the time cards for accuracy go to Joseph, who in the past just told the rest of the group (I) about any time card problems. Frank’s duties of collecting data for quality charts are moved to Frank, while John will begin talking at the weekly operations meeting. Notice also that Frank had not been informed about what John told to upper management. Notice also that John had to get approval from Joseph and Martin, and often had to go back and forth between them several times before Joseph and Martin agreed on what upper management should be told. This group should resolve this “dual approval” problem.

Delegation of authority/empowerment

Another use of the authority matrix is for delegation and empowerment.

In this example, the widget department decided that they wish to implement a team-based organization. Currently, the manager and supervisor have all the decision-making in regards to staff meetings, collecting data, performance appraisal and hiring.

The format of the matrix is a little different from the last example. The previous format using circles and arrows is good for making a few changes in roles, but would be rather messy when you make wholesale changes. The format below allows you to make many changes in a cleaner fashion.


K = Know I = Inform S = Support D = Do A = Approve

As a way to empower the department and increase productivity, the manager will no longer be part of running the staff meetings. Instead he will just be a participant (K). The supervisor will now run them, with the whole department knowing what went on. Second, individual employees will collect quality data, with the approval and review of the whole department. The manager and supervisor will receive the data(K) once collected. Thirdly, the department as a whole will conduct performance appraisals(D,A) of individual members, with the supervisor in a support (S) role. The manager’s role in hiring decisions will be moved to the whole department (D,A,I). They will use consensus in deciding who will be hired into new position. The supervisor will act in a supporting (S) role.

Guidelines on using an authority matrix

1. Don’t use it as a panacea. Using an authority matrix will help will role clarification and empowerment, but will have no direct effect on such issues as organizational structure, customer-supplier relationships, compensation issues. Just because you have a great hammer doesn’t mean everything is a nail.

2. Carefully analyze the group’s situation before using the matrix. Before suggesting a group use an authority matrix, interview and survey group members to determine significant issues in the group. Groups with high levels of distrust, fragmentation or unclear or misunderstood goals should work in these issues before using an authority matrix..

3. Support any empowerment efforts with systemic changes. A group does not stand alone in the organization. Your previous analysis may determine widespread systemic issues block group progress and their moves towards teamwork. A group may exhibit wonderful teamwork, constructively work with conflict, and feel empowered. Unfortunately, this is not enough. If groups such as these are blocked by poor organizational structure, individual performance appraisals and lack of team compensation, they have a hard road ahead of them.

4. Develop transition plans to move from the current to future state. An authority matrix can define some of the goals of empowerment. However, transition plans to attain that goal much also be accomplished. Extensive training might be necessary for employees to take on new tasks. One-on-one coaching might also be necessary. How much authority management is willing to give might change over time. In addition, you should define the measures of success for the empowerment effort. Such measures might include increases in customer satisfaction, increased quality, or better job satisfaction/work climate. This data can be gathered via survey and harder, more objective methods such as Pareto charts, trend charts or quality control charts.

5. Build support for the role clarification/empowerment effort. Support inside and outside the group is critical to effective empowerment. In addition to developing a consensus inside the group on their future state of empowerment and the re-alignment of organizational systems, day-to-day management support is critical. Many a teambuilding project has been derailed by some powerful manager who feels threatened by the effort. These stakeholders/potential barriers should be identified early in the empowerment/role clarification process. Their concerns and goals should be incorporated as much as possible into the empowerment process. If possible, these stakeholders should receive feedback on their own day-to-day management style so they can act as role models and cheerleaders in bringing authority who need it the most- your employees.