Authority: Why workers are more confident than their managers

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

ONE day I was at an SM department store trying to spend some money with my Citibank MasterCard. The amount was P980, and to my pleasant surprise, the card transaction was over in about 37 seconds, which can beat the 60-second global service rule of McDonald’s.

The point is that I was not asked by the SM cashier to sign the charge slip, making it the fastest over-the-counter deal on earth. Was it my face value? Of course not! It appears there’s a new policy that applies to everyone. All credit card transactions for less than P1,000 need not be signed by the cardholder. It’s a small amount that doesn’t require any signature.

That’s how we come to talk about today’s topic on authority. How many of you are burdened by multiple signatures in your office and elsewhere? Forget about government transactions because nincompoops have their own set of rules where even the Anti-Red Tape Act can be proven to look like a piece of trash.

For the amount of P1,000, how many managers are required to sign a request for petty cash in your office? And how far can you go up in the corporate hierarchy? And why do some companies require the CEO to sign a petty transaction like the above? The truth of the matter is that it’s happening right in your midst and yet you can’t complain because it’s the policy of your employer. Anything that costs money for the organization must be approved by as many signatories as possible.


It’s common practice in many control-oriented organizations. Even major companies require trivial transactions, including an emergency purchase of P200 worth of bond paper to be signed by at least two of its corporate officials. Can you believe that?

I’m raising the issue because people and organizations talk about employee empowerment in their annual reports, websites, glossy marketing materials, even their Facebook pages, and yet their current practice is very remote from being ideal examples, at least according to textbook theories. That’s how you can see managers, even those with MBAs, who are reduced to being mechanical robots because they lack the authority to sign documents on their own.

Now, once again: How many managers do you need to change a light bulb in the office? Answer: Three— one manager asking a messenger to buy it from a hardware store, another manager asking the janitor to actually change the bulb, and a third manager holding the ladder for the janitor. On paper, this results in having three signatures to facilitate the changing of the bulb.

But really, what is management authority? Like what we have in our lightbulb joke, I must tell you that the best definition is to classify it into three levels. The first is Level 1—a manager with full responsibility and accountability. There’s no need for other managers to approve the move. His word is law and no one can challenge that.

Next is Level 2—someone with a limited authority. He can sign but he needs two other managers to validate his signature. Without the two, his signature alone is basically reduced to a mere scrap of paper. Sometimes, a Level 2 manager is given full authority to sign papers worth nothing like a mere P1,000.

The lowest rung is at Level 3—a manager without any authority to sign whatsoever. Regardless of his post-graduate degree, any control-oriented employer can reduce the manager’s identity into zero. No, I’m serious. I’ve seen people just like that and I pity them very much. If you can’t be trusted with P1,000 then what’s the use of your managerial title?

What’s the cause of this disgraceful management style of many corporations? I’m blaming business owners and their accountants who have no time to read books on efficiency. Instead, they spend their time in lengthy meetings where they try to decide whether they will be enrolling in a course at the Asian Institute of Management.

If you think you’re a Level 3 manager, there’s no need to become defensive. As long as you’re happy, fat,and content with your job, then there’s no cause for alarm. Take your time to enjoy your life at the basement. No one will complain.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. Most of our managers especially govt officials become ministerial managers who spend much of their time signing & reading contracts/papers. They dont have the time to think/study or discuss new ideas on how to improve areas of their concern.
    Other matter that tie the hands & minds of our managers are govt. strict laws & rules that restrict them to go for “out of the box” ideas afraid that their action might send them to jail. So they become stale managers w/ their mind looking forward for payday & retirement.

  2. Yes it sounds pathetic and idiocy.. What kind of rules and SOP those establishment implementing in their companies?? Are these businessess do not know nothing about iinternational management system.. hindi sila nagreresearch kung paano ang ibang banking system ng ibang bansa..?? Poor filipino management system..
    i was surprise as well when i was in the pinas for vacation i used my credit card from saudi, and when i give my visa card to the cashier she swipe my card and the receipt was release for my signature. I asked here, why you dont ask me for my Pin code. She told me its ok. Here in Saudi arabia, even a single halala or riyals if you use your credit you had to use your pin code at the swipe machine..this is how safe your card in KSA.
    Also the banking system here in KSA is very safe when it comes to the cheque issue to suppliers etc.. The cheque must be signed by 2 authorized managers and the specimen signature will save into their system. and everytime you go to the bank with your company cheque, they will check in their computer system if the 2 signatures is the same with your cheque. If one signature is sign by other people, immediately they will reject your cheque, and they will ask you, who signed the other signatories, Also they will not accept your cheque if there is only 1 name in signature. But in our country, it is very easy to steal money from the banks. Because there is no system at all. Lahat ng mga corrupt politicians madali silang makapagnakaw sa banko release from the government…for your info…and knowledged…