Looking for an adjective that describes a person who lets authority, power and/or success get to their head, and as a result, start taking their power/status for granted, behaving as if they are superior, and look down on people who either were once their equals/friends or people who currently have the same status as they once did but now treat them as their inferiors.

I don't believe any of the following is sufficient: egotistical, conceited, arrogant, prideful.

An example would be a person who got promoted from being an intern to a higher rank and then starts treating their co-workers and new interns rudely.

  • Thanks everyone, these are all great suggestions to use in different situations. Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 0:22

8 Answers 8


tyrant (noun) - to refer to the person
tyrannical (adjective) - to describe a person's tendencies

No, I don't mean these words in the sense of a Mussolini or Stalin, but generally for a person who exercises power harshly over those to or for whom they are responsible, sometimes subordinates.

3.An oppressive, harsh, arbitrary person:
My boss is a tyrant.
American Heritage Dictionary

1.1 A person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way.
* ‘her father was a tyrant and a bully’
* ‘Some are very gentle, polite, and accommodating during the workday to clients and customers, but when they come home they become demanding and unyielding tyrants.’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

It's actually tricky to get good definitions of these words because it usually goes something like:

tyrant = One who is tyrannical
tyranny = Something tyrannical
tyrannical = Characteristic of a tyrant or tyranny.

So we have a bit of a loop here. However there are some definitions that are useful:

2.Characteristic of a tyrant or tyranny; despotic and oppressive:
a tyrannical supervisor.
American Heritage Dictionary

Of course these words don't describe people who are particularly susceptible to becoming tyrants once endowed with greater power or authority, but this is the closest I could get. I'd be interested in knowing if there's a term, maybe a psychological one, for a person who can easily let power go to their head, as you say.

Also, I know you're looking for a single word, but the idiom "drunk with power" contains within it the meaning that the person has become bossy after gaining authority or power.

One dictionary (Oxford Living Dictionaries) has an entry for "power-drunk", but no others do, so I wouldn't use it outside an informal context.

  • I would have answered power-hungry, except that doesn't necessarily imply treating other people poorly. As for tyrant, there's also the synonymous despot: "one exercising power tyrannically : a person exercising absolute power in a brutal or oppressive way ." Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 19:57
  • @JasonBassford Oh power-hungry. Maybe that's what was in my head when I searched power-drunk, I think I got it mixed up with "drunk with power", silly me. You should make that an answer, I actually think that's the best so far. You're right that it doesn't necessarily mean treating other people poorly, but it's darn close. If someone's hungry for power they're "probably" going to pursue it at all (or most) costs. It's certainly better than something like tyrant or similar words.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 21:27
  • Answer added. ;) Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 22:10

I think careerist may fit in you description:

(often disapproving) ​

someone who thinks that their career is more important than anything else, and who will do anything to be successful in it.

(Collins Dictionary)

  • i stand corrected!
    – lbf
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 16:02

Based on a response to a comment I made to another answer, I'm going to propose power-hungry:

[Oxford Dictionaries]

1 Having a strong desire for power.

Although it doesn't necessarily imply treating other people poorly, there seems to be an implied implication that if you are hungry for power, you will want to also want it above the needs of other people—as well as, perhaps, enjoy wielding it against other people because you can.

Oxford lists several sentences in which this joint meaning is evident:

‘the power-hungry and evil dictator’

‘The players are greedy, wanting more than they need or are probably worth, and are power hungry.’

‘A rival clan leader is looking to marry Shinobu, and, like all evil, power-hungry villains, wants to assume levels of awesome might.’

‘She was much like her husband in many ways - bossy, luxury-loving, and power-hungry.’

‘They were arrogant, power-hungry imperialists.’

‘He is a power-hungry miser, a greedy manipulator of people, who robs the inhabitants of the town of which he is mayor.’


"an imperious personality" may be what you're looking for. Once more or less concealled, this trait becomes evident when the person is given power. It's not uncommon to see in it the corporate world.

  • imperious - (adj.) - "marked by arrogant assurance : domineering. Imperious implies a commanding nature or manner and often suggests arrogant assurance. An imperious executive used to getting his own way."

  • TFD defines imperious as "arrogantly domineering or overbearing"

"autocratic" also comes to mind.

from the web:

  • "None of his friends could fail to notice how his potent and imperious personality recalled that of Samuel Johnson." ¹

  • "Even by regal standards, the Cleopatra envisioned by Shakespeare has an imperious personality and dangerously fast changes of mood."²

  • "Shikha was relieved with her new job transfer because she would no longer be under the control of an imperious boss."³

  • "An autocratic, bullying boss can make your work life miserable by being overly demanding or impossible to deal with.4


dictatorial Vocabulary.com

  • characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule;

  • expecting unquestioning obedience

As in:

Instead, they seek to destroy institutions and opposition forces that might someday pose a challenge to their dictatorial rule. WaPo Oct 18, 2018

In a business situation, a dictator can also describe someone who acts like that on a smaller scale. When your sister is getting married and your mom makes her order roses instead lilies for the table arrangements and yells at you for addressing the invitations too slowly, she’s acting like a dictator.


Despotic, perhaps?

A despot is, after ancient Greek use, an absolute ruler of a country; hence, by extension, any ruler who governs absolutely or tyrannically; any person who exercises tyrannical authority; a tyrant, an oppressor (OED).


The British have a great term for this, which works as an adjective or noun: jack-in-office.


: an insolent fellow in authority
some little jack-in-office of a clerk

Oxford Dictionaries

: a self-important minor official
these jumped-up jacks-in-office have too much their own way

Just use the noun as an adjective (in this case an attributive noun), which is perfectly all right in English:

He lorded it over us, with such a helping of jack-in-office unpleasantness as I hope I may never see again.


In my opinion, "malfeasant" seems to be a plausible answer.

It is a derivative of "malfeasance" - a technical term that is used widely in legal contexts.

As defined by Merriam-Webster

  • Malfeasance: Intentional conduct that is wrongful or unlawful, especially by officials or public employees

Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

Abuse of power, in the form of "malfeasance in office" or "official misconduct," is the commission of an unlawful act, done in an official capacity, which affects the performance of official duties. (Malfeasance in office is often grounds for a for cause removal of an elected official by statute or recall election.) Abuse of power can also mean a person using the power they have for their own personal gain.

"Megalomaniac" may also be used to describe a person with such attributes, although this word wouldn't be an 'ideal solution' to this question.

Meaning: Merriam-Webster

A delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur

  • malfeasance is a noun.
    – lbf
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 15:32
  • As rightly pointed out by @lbf, I seem to have formerly given the noun form of the word "malfeasant". I've made the necessary alterations now. Thanks a lot! Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 8:05

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