After reading this article you will learn about the importance and types of staff that provide assistance to line managers.

Importance of Staff:

Staff specialists are not required in small organisations as line managers can carry out the necessary functions (general and specialised) on their own. At the most, they can seek guidance of outside experts. As organisations grow in size, line managers feel physically and mentally burdened to manage all the organisational affairs on their own. They need constant guidance and advice of experts in areas like personnel, accounting, R&D etc. Staff specialists are, thus, appointed to assist line managers in effectively discharging their functions.

Staff specialists provide the following services to line managers:

1. They make recommendations to line managers on important organisational matters and, thus, improve the quality of decisions taken by line managers. They fill the gaps where line managers feel incompetent to take decisions. Staff managers, thus, complement the skills of line managers.


2. By sharing the work load of line managers, they enable them to concentrate on important and strategic organisational issues.

3. Being experts in their specialised areas, staff managers provide creative and innovative ideas to line managers.

4. By providing advisory services to line managers, they ensure uniformity of activities carried out by line departments.

Types of Staff:

The following types of staff can provide assistance to line managers:


1. Personal staff:

Staff associated with a department or an individual is called personal staff. It helps the manager in performing the routine activities like managing the large amount of mails or documents, helping in technical issues, setting schedules for meetings, fixing appointments with people etc. Thus, particularly where the superior is burdened with internal affairs, personal staff is of much help to him.

2. General staff:

The concept of general staff has emerged from military organisations. General staff is a group of people who undertake various organisational activities, like planning, organising, preparing documents, forming committees etc. on behalf of the chief executive.


General staff is normally rotated to different areas and levels in the organisation to make them understand the organisation structure. They can be of help to line managers of different departments in carrying out activities which are common to all the line departments like making reports, fixing schedules, managing budgets etc.

3. Specialised staff:

While personal staff assists line managers in discharging duties within the area of their competence and skill, specialised staff provides services to line managers in areas where line managers do not have specialised skill and competence. Authority is, therefore, delegated to the staff to carry out such services. The staff is accountable for the services delegated to them.

Differences between personal and specialised staff are as follows:


Personal Staff:

1. It assists an individual or a department carrying out a variety of activities.

2. The line manager continues to be responsible for such activities.

3. Line managers have the required knowledge to carry out such activities.


4. The staff does not have authority to carry out such activities.

Specialised Staff:

1. It provides services in its area of expertise and specialisation to the entire organisation.

2. The responsibility for such activities vests with the staff.


3. Line managers do not have the specialised skill.

4. The authority for discharging such activities is delegated to the staff.

Specialised staff can be of the following types:

(1) Advisory staff:


In the advisory role, staff personnel use their professional expertise to solve organisational problems. The staff personnel are, in effect, internal consultants whose relationship with line personnel is similar to that of the professional and a client. The advisory staff plans, advises and gives suggestions which may or may not be accepted by the line managers. The suggestions can also be modified by the line managers. Thus, advisory staff does not restrict the line authority.

The staff prepares plans after consulting the line managers on matters entrusted to them. Plans, advise or suggestions made after taking line managers into confidence have fair chances of approval. Making bonus plans for the organisation facilitating line managers to announce bonus is an advisory function. Preparing projects and formats for interviews are other functions of advisory staff.

When the staff makes bonus plans for the entire organisation, though the line managers are not bound to accept this plan, staff managers should build confidence of the line managers to gain their acceptance to the proposal.

Though line managers are not bound to accept the staff suggestions, they normally would agree to it as:

1. Staff has expert and specialised knowledge on the subject which line has not.

2. Staff may be holding position higher to line managers and, therefore, are viewed as worthy of giving right suggestions.


3. The advise seems to be beneficial for the organisation.

(2) Service staff:

The service staff provides services to line managers to facilitate administration of the organisation. It provides services (and not advice) which are necessarily carried out by line managers. The authority of line managers, thus, gets restricted to the extent these services are carried by the service staff. For example, initiating the process of purchasing stationery, maintenance of assets, property etc. is the function of service staff.

Service staff performs auxiliary services that facilitate the working of other departments and improve their efficiency. The service staff ensures that line managers confirm their decision. Staff personnel in service role provide services that can be effectively provided by a single centralised staff group than by many individuals scattered throughout the organisation.

(3) Control staff:

Staff personnel help establish a mechanism for evaluating the effectiveness of organisational plans. The control staff sees whether or not actual performance is in conformity with the planned performance. Control staff also restrains line authority to the extent that controlling function is exercised by the control staff. The control staff ensures faster, smoother and better conformance of organisational performance vis-a-vis the standard performance.


In the production department, for example, quality control can be assigned to a separate staff unit which is responsible for inspection of the goods. This increases the quality of goods and also reduces the cost of inspection. Similarly, audit staff ensures that accounts conform to legal rules and regulations. Control staff is specialised in its tasks and, therefore, has authority to control the operations of line departments.

(4) Functional staff:

Line manager or the staff assisting line manager delegates authority to line or staff manager of another department to enable the original line/staff managers carry out activities of their functional area. This is similar to functional type of organisation. To the extent the authority is delegated to other departments, the authority of line managers is restricted.

For example, sales department of a company delegates the authority to finance department (line department) and accounting department (staff department) to look into financial and accounting matters with respect to sales. To the extent these activities are carried out by finance and accounting departments, the authority of sales department is restricted.

Though activities carried by line and staff managers are different from each other, the line of demarcation is so fine that they tend to overlap each other’s area of operation. Line managers have formal authority over subordinates and can persuade or coerce them to work.

Though this power is not available to staff managers, it is often exercised by them. The advisory function provided by staff is not within the ambit of line managers, yet they do provide advice to organisational members, when required. Some authors, like Gerald G. Fisch and Vivan Nossiter do not even make distinction between the line and staff positions.