In academia, it's usually pretty clear: there are technicians, grad students, post-docs and professors of different ranks (or similar jobs with slightly different names, depending on where you are in the world). And especially with grad students, post-docs and professors, they usually have increasing numbers of papers and an increasing age with rank. It is usually very clear who is more senior than who, and the person in charge usually has the highest number of important publications. In addition, as a grad student or post-doc, you usually only have meetings with people that are either higher in hierarchy (your PI) or lower (a summer student for example). It is usually very easy to figure out what the hierarchy is.
How different is this in industry! (and I know different companies may be structured very differently, so this may or may not be true for all types of industry). Here, my team leader may have less publications than me. Or more. Some of the other scientists don't have PhDs but they do have a lot more knowledge about industry-related things than me. And most of the meetings I have are with people that are similar in hierarchy. The first couple of times I found this very puzzling. It was almost like some mismatch signal going off in my brain when I couldn't figure out if the person was more senior or junior than me. Of course it doesn't matter, but it did make me realize how much the whole hierarchy in academia becomes ingrained in our system.