This article provides a short note on line and staff authority.
Line authority is exercised by the superior over his immediate subordinates. This forms a chain of authority from top to bottom. People who exercise line authority are known as line managers. Staff managers assist line managers (in advisory capacity) in discharging their duties efficiently. While production, marketing, finance and personnel are commonly considered as line departments, the accounting, R&D and public relations are considered as staff departments.
While working in the organisation, the line and staff managers form a definite relationship with each other which is called line and staff relationship. In a simple and small organisation, line managers do not need assistance to perform the organisational functions and the need for staff, therefore, is not felt but as the organisations grow in size and complexity, line managers need staff assistance for making organisational decisions.
Staff officials provide advisory and auxiliary services to line managers. Staff managers are experts in areas such as accounting, R&D and costing related to production, marketing, finance and personnel departments. Staff managers do not have authority over line managers though they have authority over people of their staff departments.
Relationship between line and staff largely affects the operational efficiency of the organisation, measured in terms of profit maximisation or wealth maximisation. For example, a plant manager has line authority over each immediate subordinate, human resource manager, production manager and sales manager.
However, the human resource manager has staff authority in relation to the plant manager, meaning the human resource manager possesses the right to advise the plant manager on human resource matters. Still final decisions concerning human resource matters are in the hands of the plant manager, the person holding the line authority.
The staff provides varied services to line managers; they help line managers in carrying out the managerial functions of planning through controlling, framing and implementing policies and procedures, advising them on legal, financial and other administrative matters etc. The need for staff managers to assist line managers cannot be overlooked.
Line and staff supplement and complement each other and are considered as the way of organisational life. They guide the way an organisation works. Size is an important factor in determining whether or not an organisation should have staff personnel. The larger the organisation, the greater the need and ability to employ staff personnel.
As the organisation grows, it usually needs employees with expertise in diversified areas. Although small organisations may also require this kind of diverse expertise, they often find it more practical to hire part time consultants to provide the expert services rather than to hire full time staff personnel. Small organisations may not have too much work for the staff personnel.
In large organisations operating in the dynamic environment, managers’ knowledge has to be varied and up to date. Since it is not possible for managers to have knowledge about every organisational aspect, staff services are provided throughout the organisation. They provide specialised services which assist line managers to perform their line functions.