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Line and staff are the most widely used concepts in organizing, and most of the structures have
line-staff structures. Large and complex organizations operating in increasingly dynamic
environment need a variety of special abilities, knowledge and skills for supporting the effective
and efficient performance of their major functions of production and marketing. They, therefore,
employ a variety of experts including industrial experts, quality control managers, industrial
relation directors, legal advisors, cost accountants, market researchers, research and development
scientists, and so forth. These specialists perform the staff functions of rendering expert advice
and service to line managers in the performance of their functions.

Line and staff organization is an organization in which line managers make decisions, and staff
personnel provide advice and support.

Line and staff organization structure refers to a pattern in which staff specialists advice managers
to perform their duties. When the work of an executive increases, its performance requires the
services of specialists which he himself cannot provide because of his limited capabilities on
these fronts. Such advice is provided to line managers by staff personnel who are generally
specialists in their fields. The staff positions or departments are of purely advisory nature. They
have the right to recommend but no right to enforce their preference on other departments.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine which departments are line and staff. This problem can be
solved by classifying the activities in two ways:

i. the activities that are substantive or direct in its contribution to the

organization are line ones, and

ii. The activities which are objective or indirect in its contribution are staff

General Manager
Personnel Manager
Production Manager
Marketing Manager
‘ndustrial Engineer
Sales Manager
Market Research
Training Manager
‘ndustrial Relations Manager

Following are the merits of line-staff organizations:

^ anned Speciaization: the primary advantage of line-staff organizations is that it

uses the expertise of specialists, i.e. it brings knowledge to bear upon marginal and
operational problems. Line executives can, then, plan effectively and be responsible for
proper execution while the staff specialists assist as and when needed.

2 Scientific Actions: the actions of a line manager can become more scientific by
means of concentrated and skilful examination of business problems. Expert advice
definitely helps line executives in arriving at a sound decision.

3 aity Decisions: the quality of decisions in line and staff structure is high because
the decisions come after careful consideration and thought. Each expert gives his advice
in the area of his specialization which is reflected in the decisions.

4 Definiteness: in a line-staff organization, authority and responsibility are fixed. The

unity of command principle is honored as each individual reports only to one superior,
while specialized help is available as and when needed. ‘n addition, accountability is
definite. Only line executives are accountable for the results of their divisions or
departments. Undivided responsibility compels line executives to enforce discipline
strictly. Control and coordination in these organizations are effective.

5 aining gond fo deveoping peope: as everyone is expected to concentrate on

one area, one¶s training needs can be expressed easily. Line managers can improve their
problem solving in this kind or organization structure.

The line-staff suffer from some limitation which particularly becomes acute when it is not
implemented properly. The basic problems are:

^ ack of wedefined Athoity: ‘t becomes difficult to differentiate clearly between

line and staff because in actual practice, the authority is often diffused. Thus the
managers may not be clear as to what is expected of them or what is the actual area of
operation of the authority. Thus, confusion may be created in the organization.
2 ine and Staff Conficts: the main problem of line and staff structure is the conflicts
between line and staff managers. Such conflicts may be because of various reasons and
sometimes the organizational conflicts may be taken as personal conflicts resulting in
interpersonal problems.

This structure can be followed in large organizations where specialization of activities is required
because it offers ample opportunity for specialization. When employed in the large
organizations, its success depends upon the degree of harmony that is maintained among various
departments and personnel, the clarity in line of authority, and interpersonal contact of
executives particularly in line and staff positions. ‘n the natural course of growth, an expanding
organization may adopt this structure to enhance the efficiency. This structure however, is not
suitable for small organizations as it is quite costly for them. Moreover, they cannot take the full
advantage of experts because of lack of adequate activities for them.


Line and staff managers are in an international and interdependent relationship with one another.
‘nteractions are involved in their day-to-day relationships of staff advice, guidance and services
to the line. The line managers are dependent on staff specialists for achieving their goals. A
production manager cannot function effectively, if, for example, the materials manager does not
provide him supplies, tools, spare parts, raw materials etc., the maintenance manager does not
provide him repairing and maintenance services, quality control managers does not cooperate
with him by providing guidance about quality specifications, and so forth. Similarly, staff
managers will find themselves superfluous if line people do not need or reject their advice and

Another aspect of line-staff relationship is based on their authority relations. The line managers
have command authority over their departments. Similarly, staff managers have command
authority over their own departments, but they don¶t have authority over other managers, line or
staff, outside their own departments. Their function is to give advice and render service to the
line departments as well as to other staff departments. This point in line-staff relationship is often
missed, and can be clarified with an example. A personnel manager extends expert advice not
only to line departments, i.e., production, sales and finance, but to other staff departments also
such as materials, quality control, maintenance, etc. Thus, we find that a staff manager is in a line
relationship with other employees in his own particular department, and in staff relationship with
managers and employees in all the other departments.

‘t is discretionary on the part of a line manager to accept or reject the advice of a staff expert.
Acceptance of advice is always voluntary; it can never be forced on others. For eg., a doctor can
advice a patient to take a particular medicine to cure his ailment, but he cant force it down his


The ine manages are responsible for:

i) The formulation of objectives, plans and policies.
ii) Making decisions for the implementation of plans and policies and attainment of
iii) Providing supervision and leadership, achieving coordination and exercising

The staff manages have the responsibility to:

i) Advice, help and guide the line managers in the performance of the above
ii) Provide specified administrative services.
iii) ‘nterpret objective plans and policies.
iv) Make the best tools available for the implementation of plans and policies.
v) Help in the selection and training of employees.
vi) Measure organizational effectiveness.
vii) Report result to top management and suggest measures for improvement.


Line and staff relationship is based on the assumption that both support each other and work
harmoniously to achieve organizational objectives. However, there are frequent instances of
conflict between line and staff in the organization. This generates lots of friction and loss of time
and consequently loss of organizational effectiveness. Therefore, there is a need for analyzing
the sources of line and staff conflict and then to take actions to overcome the problem of conflict.

These relations are often characterized more by conflict than cooperation. Staff specialists
complain that line managers are resistant to their ideas and the line managers complain that staff
managers are sky-gazing specialists with no comprehension of practical situations. Such attitude
prevails because due to a number of reasons which are categorized under 3 categories:

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Line managers, who are responsible for the final results leading to the achievement of
organizational objectives, feel that staff people are against them in the following ways:

^ ack of Responsibiity: ‘t is the perception of line managers that staff people do not
carry any responsibility in the organization, but enjoy authority. This lack of
responsibility makes them complacent and they do not care about the ultimate objective
of the organization.

2 ncoachment of ine Athoity: Line managers feel that staff people interfere in
their authority. They give advice and recommendations on the matters which fall within
their jurisdiction. And whenever there is any encroachment of interference on the
legitimate right of any manager, the result is resentment, hostility, and open or hidden
reluctance to accept advice and recommendation.

3 Dition of Athoity: There is a feeling that staff people dilute line authority. ‘n
fact, staff authority emerges out of dilution of line authority. Line managers may fear
that their responsibility will be reduced because of the addition of staff thereby making
their job less challenging and varied.

4 heoetica Bias: Often the advice and recommendation of staff people suffer from
theoretical bias because of two reasons. V  they tend to think within the context of
their own specialty and use criteria prescribed in their own discipline, which may make
the advice one-sided and less practical. 
 often staff people are away from the
actual operational scene for which they make recommendations, and therefore they may
not be able to fully appreciate the actual dimension of the problem and their
recommendation may not be practical.


Like line managers, staff people have their own arguments and try to find faults with line
managers which result in line-staff conflict. Their arguments and problems run on the following

^ ack of ope se of Staff: staff people feel that line managers do not make proper
use of staff people. Quite often staff people are ignored by the line managers and
decisions are made without inputs form staff. Staff people are informed after the action
has been taken. Many specialists feel that they should be consulted during the planning
stage of programme that involves their own area of specialty. This enables them to
anticipate problems and to recommend precautionary measures, but line managers
consult them only as a last resort.

2 Resistance of New Ideas: Line managers often resist new ideas because new ideas
mean there is something wrong with their present way of working. Thus, new ideas are
treated as fault-finding device in their operation and the resist new ideas.

3 ack of ope Athoity: Staff people feel that line managers do not give enough
authority to them. They contribute to the realization of organizational objectives without
really enjoying any authority.
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Following characteristics of line-staff relationship also create conflicts:

^ Diffeent Backgonds: Line and staff people often have different backgrounds and
individual characteristics. Staff people, in contrast to line, are generally younger, better
educated, more poised in social interaction, more articulate and individualistic. As a
result, they often look down on the less educated line people, who must have worked
their way up through the organization. These differences create an atmosphere of
mistrust than of congenial and coordinative.

2 ack of Demacation between ine and Staff: though in theory, the line and staff
authority is clear, often in practice, demarcation between line and staff is rarely clear.
Many jobs in line and staff defy description and relationship between them and are not
clarified. ‘n such cases, there is a possibility for overlap and gap in authority and
responsibility which can aggravate personal relationships.

3 ack of ope Undestanding of Athoity: Even if line and staff authority is made
clear in the organization, people may fail to understand the exact nature of line and staff
authority in practice which may be a source of conflict.

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Line-staff conflict resolution is needed so that it does not become so aggravated as to become
dysfunctional. The following suggestions are made for this purpose:

^ Recognition of Mta Dependency: Conflicts will be minimized and inevitable

conflicts resolved if both line and staff recognize that they are in a relationship of mutual
dependency with one another.

2 Cea Undestanding of Staff Roe: Conflicts will be minimized if both line and
staff develop a clear understanding of staff role. Even though staff is delegated certain
amount of authority in specific areas, its primary role is to provide support to the line
through advice, guidance and service.

3 Deemphasis on Staff Conto Fnction: Sometimes staff units are charged with
control function aimed at evaluating performance against standards and reporting
deviations to higher management, and also ensuring that policies and procedures are
uniformly followed by all the units of the organization.

4 ope Use of Staff Athoity: Staff should use its functional, administrative and
other kinds of authority in a proper manner that provides support to the line and
strengthens it.
5 Constctive Staff Attitde and Skis: Constructive attitudes on the part of the staff
and its human relations skills play an important role in shaping the line-staff
relationships. The staff manager should have the ability and willingness to use influence
to gain the line acceptance of his advice and guidance.

6 mphasis on Staff Roe as eam Membes: ‘t is essential that the manager should
be a team worker. This is crucial because his function is to coordinate his advice with the
needs of the line.

‘t may be concluded that staff-line relationships, like any other relationships, can be build on
the foundation of mutual understanding, trust and confidence. Further, healthy relationships
can are build over a period of time and need perseverance, patience and efforts. ‘t will also
help to recognize that relationships are destroyed or undermined far more easily and
speedily than build and strengthened.