Distinction between Line Authority and Staff Authority

Definitions of Authority – General,  Positional, and Personal

1 The following paragraphs define three different types of authority:

2 Authority – A Relationship between two people where one Person gets another Person to do (or try to do) something

3 Positional Authorirty  – A relationship which an Organisation tries to arrange between two people where One Person (a Subordinate) will do (or try to do) something that relates to the Organisation’s Objectives which another Person (A Manager) has   .

4 Personal Authority – A Relationship between two People where one Person will do (or try to do) what another wants them to do – for reasons other than that the Organisation wants them to have such a relationship   .

Definitions of LIne Authority and Staff Authority

5 The following paragraphs define line authority and staff authority. Readers should note that both these terms refer to position authority. Thus organisations try to create both line authority and staff author­ity.

6 LIne (Position) Authority refers to a situation where two people have a Manager-Subordinate Relationship  and both work in the same Section of the Organisation

7 Staff (Position ) Authority refers to a situation where a Manager has the right to give orders to a Person who does not work in his/her own Section

8 Examples. Sales Managers have line authority over their Sales Supervisors. A Personnel Manager has staff authority over both the Sales Manager and the Sales Supervisors in that (in some Organisations) he/she can tell them not to ap­point a particular person to a vacancy for a Sales Represen­tative.

9 The distinction between line and staff authority becomes more diffi­cult to make where one person tends to work in a different location and/or has another person determining his/her rate of pay and/or evalu­ating his/her work.

10 Example. Tom, an Engineer, works in the Technical De­partment of an Organisation but spends his time in the fac­tory giving full-time assistance to a particular factory de­partment. He has an office there and the Factory Manager has the right to call on him for advice. However the Tech­nical Manager looks at the quality of the advice that Tom gives and decides Tom’s remuneration.

11 In these situations it proves difficult to decide which person has the line authority. Probably it will not help very much to make the distinction.

The Need to make the Distinction

12 The value of the distinction between line authority and staff authority depends on the use people make of it.

13 One use distinguishes between the two types of authority on the ba­sis of the class of decision that the different types of authority make.

14 Thus one approach gives the person with Line Authority the right to determine what to do; Staff Authority may only give the person the right to determine how to do it.

15 Examples. A Sales Manager has the right to decide when to put on a new Sales Representative (Line Authority) but the Personnel Manager has the right to tell the Sales Man­ager the selection procedure to use (Staff Authority).

16 The Factory Manager has the right to decide just what to produce (Line Authority) but the Quality-Control person has the right to deter­mine whether the goods have reached a given standard (Staff Authority). From one viewpoint the Quality-Control person decides how to make the goods in that the QC person decides that someone must re-work goods that fall below a given standard.

17 The Sales Office decides when to buy a new typewriter (Line Author­ity) but the Finance Office determines the brand to buy and the Supply Department decides the procedure for getting quotes (Staff Authority).

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