Present day organisations make considerable use of line, staff and functional authorities. All the three types can be found in almost every organisation.
The nature of various types of authority is discussed below:
Type # 1. Line Authority:
Every organisation exists to achieve specific goals. Line managers may be defined as the authority of those managers in the organisation who are directly responsible for achieving these objectives. They are represented by the standard chain of command.
Louis. A. Allen. Line authority “refers to those positions and elements of the organisation which have responsibility and authority and accountable for accomplishment of primary objectives.”
Dalton McFarland has defined line authority as “the basic authority in an organisation, is the ultimate authority to command act, decide, approve or disapprove—directly or indirectly all the activities of the organisation.”
It is the authority to direct the work of others and to require them to confirm to decisions, plans, policies, systems, procedures and goals. Line authority is the heart of the relationship between superiors and subordinates.
So line authority’ is the direct authority which a superior exercises over his subordinates to carry out orders and instructions. This authority creates a direct relationship between a superior and his subordinates. This relationship exists in all the departments.
As Louis A. Allen points out it have three important features:
(a) It Acts as a Chain of Command:
Line authority provides authority to decide and direct and it acts as a control means for the flow of communication through a scalar chain of authority. Line officials are in the chain of command from the highest executives to the lowest position in the organisation. Each successive manager exercises direct line authority over his subordinates.
(b) Line Authority is a Carrier of Accountability:
Line authority is not absolute. They are responsible for how they exercise authority and for its consequences. They are accountable for performance of their activities to their superiors and two subordinates are accountable to their superiors for performance.
(c) As a Channel of Communication:
The primary purpose of line authority is to make the organisation work. It facilitates leadership process by establishing authentic channels of communication. The flow of communication up and down the organisation is facilitated by line relationship. Every subordinate reports to his superior and his subordinate reports to him.
The line authority is to facilitate the functioning of the organisation.
This is done in the following ways:
(i) By providing basic decisions for the functioning of the organisation.
(ii) By making the leadership process effective through the establishment of communication channels.
(iii) It provides points of reference for the approval or rejection of proposals.
(iv) It serves as a means of control by setting limits to the scope of managerial actions.
Type # 2. Staff Authority:
Staff officers are functional experts. They provide advice to the line authorities in the performance of duties. They render advisory service to the departmental heads. They refer to those groups of individuals who provide line managers with advice and services. Advisory staffs have been used by decision maker’s right from emperors, kings, dictators and the parliamentary governments are the important aspects of recorded history.
Henri Fayol emphasised the importance and necessity of providing a suitable arrangement of staff authority in organisations.
He described the staff as an adjunct reinforcement and a sort of extension of the manager’s personality.
Louis. A.Allen has defined staff authority “refers to those elements which have responsibility and authority for providing advice and services to line” in the attainment of objectives.
Dalton McFarland has defined staff authority as the best authority “whose scope is limited, by the absence of the right to direct or command, to such auxiliary and facilitating activities as planning, recommending, advising or assisting.”
So these definitions focus on the following characteristic features:
(a) The nature of staff in advisory.
(b) They are appointed to provide special counsel and assistance to the line manager who is unable to carry out the demands of his position.
(c) The staff authority is best suited for dealing with peculiar problems by line managers in large organisations.
(d) There is indirect relationship between the staff authority and primary objectives of the organisation. The achievement of primary objectives is entrusted to the line authorities.
(e) The staff officials advise and counsel and they do not have any authority to command the Line authority. The line authority has been the power to accept, reject or modify the advice given by staff authority.
The staff authority is classified as pure staff, personal staff and specialised staff.
Pure staff authority has no right to command except within the department.
They cannot issue orders to Line authority. They possess specialised knowledge and skills. They can provide only solutions to organisational problems in their areas.
Personal Staff refer to staff officers attached to the chief Executive to assist him in carrying out his reserved responsibilities.
Special Assistants mean the staff authority who has been appointed to assist executives in some specific branch or in the performance some aspect of their responsibilities are called special assistants.
The differences between Line authority and staff authority are as follows:
Line authority has the right to decide and to command but the has the right to provide advice, assistance and information.
Line authority’s functioning contributes directly to the accomplishment of organisational objectives. The staff authority’s functioning contributes indirectly to the achievement of organisational objectives by assisting the staff.
(C) Scope of Authority:
The scope of line authority is general and unlimited whereas the scope of staff authority is restricted to a particular function.
(d) Flow of Authority:
The flow of authority is vertical in the case of line while flow of staff authority can be in any direction depending on the need of advice.
Line authority creates superior-subordinate relations. Staff authority is an extension of line and supports line.
The performance of line authority is to command, execute and exercise of control while that of staff authority is to study, investigate and submit reports.
Line authority is responsible for operating decisions but staff authority provides ideas for decision.
The Line authority is responsible for results whereas staff authority is not having responsibility for performance.
Line authority performs doing function and staff authority performs thinking function.
Line authority provides a detailed channel for communication. Staff authority is not providing for channel of communication except within the department.
Type # 3. Functional Authority:
This means the authority of staff department members to control the activities of other departments that are related to specific staff responsibilities. It occupies a midway position between line and staff authority. It is a means of putting the staff specialists in top positions for the entire enterprise and it confers upon the holders a limited power to command over the people of their departments concerning their function.
According to Koontz and O’Donnell, “Functional authority is the right which an individual or department has delegated to it over specialised processes, practices, policies or other matters relating to activities undertaken by personnel in department other than its own.”
The functional authority is granted to people for maintaining quality and uniformity of functions in an organisation. This remains confined to functional guidance of different departments. The functional manager has line authority over his department and over the activities of other departments that pertain to his functional area.
Functional authority is subordinate to line authority and it is a way of putting specialists to work in the organisation. The greatest weakness of functional authority is that it may subject subordinates to the conflict of multiple supervision. This multiplicity may not always be undesirable. As and when conflict arises there should be proper evaluation to reconcile the conflict.