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Differences between Line and Staff in an Organisation

This article will help you to differentiate between line and staff in an organisation.

Difference # 1. Purpose:

Perhaps the most important (and obvious) difference between line and staff is purpose : line’s purpose is to work directly toward organisational goals, whereas staff advises and assists. But there are other differences also.

Difference # 2. Authority:

Another important difference is authority. Line authority is generally considered as the formal (legitimate) authority created by the organisational hierarchy.

As Griffin has put it:

“Staff authority is less concrete and may take a variety of forms. One form is the authority simply to advice, but the line manager can always choose whether to seek or to avoid input from the staff. Even if staff advice is sought, the manager can choose to use it or ignore it”.

Another form of staff authority is called compulsory advice. In this case, the line manager must at least listen to the advice but can still choose to heed it or ignore it altogether.

Perhaps the most important form of staff authority is called functional authority, which is formal (legitimate) authority over activities related to the staff members’ speciality.

In Fig. 10.10, the vice-president of human resources is a member of the professional staff. This individual is likely to have expertise in government rules and regulations relating to hiring and firing. If a legal question arises that relates to hiring, this expert is likely to be given authority to make appropriate decisions.

Griffin rightly comments that:

“Conferring functional authority is probably the most effective way to use staff positions because it allows the organisation to take advantage of specialised expertise while also maintaining a chain of command”.

Line and Staff Roles 

Difference # 3. Characteristics of Individuals:

The final point of distinction between line and staff in some organisations arises from the characteristics of the individuals who are involved. Line managers are usually senior people, and tend to be semi-educated, and have risen through the ranks of the organisational staff, specialists are likely to be younger, to be better educated, and to have been hired directly into upper-level staff positions because of their expertise. Such differences may be major source of line-staff conflict.

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