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charismatic authority

Definition of Charismatic Authority

(noun) A type of power legitimated by perceived extraordinary characteristics that inspires devotion and obedience from followers.

Examples of Charismatic Authority

Charismatic Authority Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: char·is·mat·ic au·thor·i·ty

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /kair-uhz-mAt-ik uh-thOR-uh-tee/
  • British English – /kar-iz-mAt-ik aw-thOr-i-tee/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /kɛrɪzˈmætɪk əˈθɔrəti/
  • British English – /ˌkærɪzˈmætɪk ɔːˈθɒrɪti/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: charismatic authorities
  • Charisma is from the Greek word for divine grace.
  • People can attribute superhuman or supernatural characteristics granted by supernatural forces through “revelation” or some higher principle that provides sanctity and divinity to leaders. People do not obey charismatic authorities because of tradition or law, but because of belief that cements their loyalty by inspiring devotion.
  • An individual with charismatic authority have a “force of personality” or “magnetism” that irresistibly compels others to believe in them and passionately support their vision.
  • Charismatic authority only resides in an individual, not a group or organization, which only “reflects” the leader’s authority.
  • Weber contended that charismatic authority was a creative force in history and a counterweight against bureaucratic rigidness.
  • Charismatic leaders often persuade devoted followers to make personal sacrifices, separate themselves from social ties, and devote their lives to the vision of leader.
  • Charisma in this sense is not simply someone who is attractive, engaging, or a good speaker. Actors have charisma, people can “light up a room” or someone is just popular. However, Weber uses charisma as personal power writ large: a hero, a prophet, and even a god. Thus religious leaders are often charismatic authorities, particularly in cults. Charismatic authority figures sometime arise during political revolutions.
  • Charismatic authority is typically temporary or unstable and fades, becoming traditional authority or rational-legal authority, Weber termed this “the routinization of charisma”. For example, the Catholic Church relies on the routinization of Jesus’s charismatic authority leading to a bureaucracy maintained by hierarchies, procedures, and rules. Steve Jobs at Apple is an example of a charismatic leader who’s organizational structure was routinized (bureaucratized) and his death did not change the organizational structure.
  • Charismatic authority is unstable and temporary, for example Cromwell’s reign. Organizations that rely solely on characteristic authority (instead of routinizing) may collapse if their leader dies, or leaves in disgrace, or fails to achieve their goals. This is particularly true with religious organizations. Organizations that do survive may suffer from mission drift.
  • A charismatic authority figure, along with a worship of the State, is characteristic of fascist movements.
  • A type of authority.
  • Also called non-coercive compliance.

Related Quotation

  • “‘[C]harisma’ shall be understood to refer to an extraordinary quality of a person, regardless of whether this quality is actual, alleged, or presumed. ‘Charismatic authority‘, hence, shall refer to a rule over men, whether predominantly external or predominantly internal, to which the governed submit because of their belief in the extraordinary quality of the specific person” (Weber 1946:295).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Weber, Max. 1946. “The Social Psychology of the World Religions.” Pp. 267–301 in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited and translated by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Cite the Definition of Charismatic Authority

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “charismatic authority.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved April 22, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/charismatic-authority/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

charismatic authority. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/charismatic-authority/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “charismatic authority.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed April 22, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/charismatic-authority/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“charismatic authority.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/charismatic-authority/>.