Authority is linked with the idea of apprenticeship: both are methods getting people further than they could get from their own personal experience.
One human alone can have a certain amount of experience and, according to their ability and the amount of time they spend, can get to such-and-such a level of knowledge during their life.
(This 'knowledge' might be a skill like woodworking or playing a musical instrument, a profession like medicine or scientific research, philosophy, or a religious/ spiritual discipline.)
But unless there is a method of passing on at-least some of this knowledge, each individual person would have-to start from scratch and build their knowledge from the ground up.
Authority and apprenticeship are the tried-and-tested - probably the only - ways of passing on knowledge.
So to learn knowledge, a skill, the method is to become apprentice to a local master, and that master should have sufficient knowledge to recognise greater masters, and these greater masters recognize the 'authorities' of timeless, foundational knowledge.
This is 'tradition'.
Within a discipline the priority is to ensure that this traditional knowledge is not lost, that it is kept alive in active discourse; so that its real meaning, its proper interpretation can remain accessible.
Once the thread of tradition has been broken, it cannot be repaired; because the remaining written discourse is open to a variety of interpretations; so there are (essentially) an infinite number of wrong ways to interpret it, among which the one correct way cannot be recovered.
Each recognized authority should:
1. Be compatible with all other authorities, is assumed to be compatible at some deep level (although perhaps this is not yet clear). Even when apparently there is conflict in the tradition this is assumed to be temporary, and awaits an authority who can resolve this conflict.
2. Bring to the tradition something distinctive, the authority's own particular contribution to tradition.
Authorities are ranked according to their profundity (the scope of their implications) - this will broadly be correlated with the ancient-ness of authorities, since the founders usually have the greatest influence and prestige.
Exceptions arise in so far as the very first pioneer generations can typically only rely on their direct and personal experience, whereas the next generation can build on their work. So Plato and Aristotle have higher prestige than the 'pre-Socratics' upon whose insights they built.
Another exception occurs when a later authority is able (for the first time) to harmonize apparently contradictory elements in the existing tradition, to attain a new synthesis which is more fertile.
So Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was able to harmonize the earlier Aristotle and Augustine (philosophy and theology), while Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) harmonized Orthodox theology with the mystical tradition of solitary asceticism.
And later authorities may become a window through which earlier authorities are viewed; perhaps by something as straightforward as a clear and sufficiently simple summary - suitable for a later era, which provides a focus and allocates relative importance to previous authorities.
Different traditions develop differently according to the behaviour and selection of authorities.
Later authorities may be primarily conservative, aiming to maintain the tradition alive without change, with its essentials unaltered.
Or, later authorities may be progressive: seeking to correct and extend previous authorities, while maintain the scope and bounds of the tradition.
Or, later authorities may be fissile: breaking previous fusions and harmonizations into smaller islands of more specific authority - thereby spawning new traditions each with only a sub-set of the original authorities.
Or, traditions may move between these categories from conservative to progressive to fissile. But once a step has been completed, it cannot be reversed - at least not by human efforts (only temporary blips of one or two generations into progressivism or fission can be reversed due to the overlapping of generations, and by drawing upon the older generations).
Because there are an infinite number of ways to misunderstand tradition, but only few and finite ways correctly to understand it; so once the thread is broken and a tradition is lost, it is gone forever.
And then we are thrown-back onto mere individual personal experience built from the ground-up; until a new authority arises to begin a new tradition.