Max Weber and His Theory on Bureaucracy

Max Weber is believed to be one of the biggest influences in political science, philosophy and sociology. His biggest contribution was probably in the field of bureaucracy and how he tried to make the system more efficient and effective.

Unlike many other people, Max Weber believed that the ideal form of administration – especially in a government sector – was bureaucracy. He believed that if carefully managed, a bureaucratic administration can lead to effective decision-making, optimum use of resources and successful accomplishment of organizational goals. However, for that to be true, Max Weber proposed six important points that should be present in that bureaucratic system.
These points are often referred as the six characteristics or major principles.

1. A Hierarchical Structure:

Max Weber proposed a structured hierarchical system for his various examples of officialdom. For instance, if there are two offices present in the system, the lower office should be directly supervised and controlled by the office that is ranked higher than that.
However, unlike a rigid and traditional bureaucratic system, Max Weber believed that the authority should not be contained within an office completely. This is why he believed that the lower ranked office should have a right to appeal the decisions made by the higher ranked office. In this way, the authority and power of the offices are diffused and well-balanced.

2. Selection, Qualifications and Careers:

Another important point that Max Weber proposed was that the selection of the officials should be on merit and qualification. Moreover, unlike traditional types of bureaucratic systems, the officials are not to be elected on personal relations, preferences and connections. Instead, every official should be selected on merits and technical qualifications.

Similarly, Max proposed that an official should have a full career in the system. It must be a full-time employment and the compensation should be in salary that matches the qualification and prevailing standards. It was very common to compensate officials with lands and rights, but that practice was discouraged by Max.

3. Specification of Laws and Management by Rules:

Max Weber proposed that there should be specific rules created by the higher ranked offices and these rules should be applied consistently by all the lower offices and levels.

This point was presented to counter the fact that many laws very either not present at all or so vaguely written that they could easily be manipulated. This led to delayed decision-making, corruption and red tape. Max Weber, in order to counter that, proposed that the laws should be clear, concise and stable throughout the system.

4. Separation of Official and Personal Property:

In a bureaucratic system, it was common to mix up the personal and official property. Max Weber strongly advised against it and proposed that there should be clear separation of official and personal properties in the offices.

Similarly, the items that are used in the offices belong to the office itself and not the person working in it. This keeps a clear distinction, and furthermore, it also mitigates the chances of undue interference and skewed decisions.

5. Impersonal:

Max Weber purposely wanted the system to be impersonal. This is to counter the most important and negative aspect of a traditional bureaucratic system, i.e. undue influences.
According to the proposed idea, the system should be impersonal and must not be biased for individuals, based on their wealth, influences, connections or position. The rules and regulations formed should be applied uniformly and consistently to everyone.

6. Functional Specialty and Division of Labor:

Along with the other points, it is also important that the tasks should only be done by specialists. The division of labor and recognition of specialization are important aspects in this refined bureaucratic theory.

Workers, offices and units should be categorically divided based on the quality and specialization of employees. Similarly, every specific task should be delegated only to specialized workers, who can perform to the best of their duties.


Max Weber refined the structure to a more stable, organized and easy-to-operate framework to avoid the problems of bureaucracy that Americans now associated with the federal big government. Based on the above six important characteristics, more effective decision-making and better results were aimed at. These principles and characteristics were widely received by both the public and private sectors, and the very basics of a bureaucratic system are actually based on these six principles proposed by Max Weber in his theory of bureaucracy.