February 3, 2015

Line-Staff Authority and Decentralization - Review Notes

Authority and Power

Without authority - the power to exercise discretion in making decisions and using resources, managers cannot achieve the goals or targets assigned to them. What kind of authority is provided in the organization structure to each manager and employee is an important issue to be determined in the organization activity.

It will be useful to distinguish between authority and power. Power is a much broader concept than authority.  Power is the ability of individuals or groups to induce or influence the beliefs or actions of other persons or groups. Authority is a concept used in organizations or theory of organizations to refer to the right in a position (and, through it, the right of the person occupying the position) to exercise discretion to making decisions relating to the group of people and activities they are asked to do.

Line authority gives a superior a line of authority over a subordinate.

Staff relationship is advisory. The function of person in a staff role is to investigate, research, and give advice to his line manager.

Line and staff are characterized by relationships and not by departmental activities (K & D)

Today staff advice is far more critical. Operating managers are now faced with making decisions that require expert knowledge in economic, technical, political, legal and social areas.

Completed Staff Work

The recommendations of staff work should be complete. Completed staff work implies the presentation of a clear recommendation based upon full consdieration of a problem, clearance or discussions with persons importantly affected, suggestions about avoiding difficulties involved, and often preparation of the paper work - job descriptions, specifications and related directives- so that the managers can consider the proposal with less effort and if accepted the proposal can be put into effect. Many time-consuming conferences could be avoided or materially shortened if staff work were truly complete.

Staff Specialists - Giving and Taking Credit

Staff specialist must remember that the operating manager who accepts the idea actually bears responsibility for making it a success and is also responsible for solving the problems or difficulties or the confusion that appears during implementation. Hence a staff specialist cannot claim all the credit for himself for any implemented idea. But the staff must sell and keep selling itself to other executives. Staff is selling its service and also the persons engaged in it apart from the idea. The selling of an idea by staff does not mean that a manager automatically buys the idea. It is important for the manager responsible for a decision understand the disadvantages as well as advantages of the course of action proposed and then only take the decision.

The staff specialist must, through precept and example, convince his line colleagues that his prime interest is their welfare, and he must deprecate his own contributions while embellishing theirs.

Functional Authority

Functional authority is the right delegated to an individual or a department to control specified processes, practices, policies, or other matters relating to activities undertaken by persons in other departments.  It is delegated by a common superior of line managers to a staff specialist or a specific line manager. This is to take care of specialized knowledge, or to avoid diverse interpretations of policies.


Decentralization implies more than delegation. Delegation is generally discussed in the context of a superior and subordinate. But decentralization is a philosophy of organization and management. The management specifically specifies which decisions are taken at what levels in the organization and creates policies accordingly.

Personal Attitudes and Delegation
Certain personal attitudes underlie real delegation

Superior must have a willingness to give other people's ideas a chance. The subordinate's decision is not likely to be exactly the same a superior would have made. So a superior must be willing to accepts different decisions and complement them on their ingenuity also.

Willingness to Let Go
A manager must be willing to release the right to make decisions. The manager must concentrate on tasks that contribute most to the organization and assign other tasks to subordinates even though he could accomplish them better himself. It is law of comparative advantage in management.

Willingness to Allow Mistakes by Subordinates
Since everyone makes mistakes,  a subordinate must be allowed to make some, and their cost must be considered an investment in personal development.

Willingness to Trust Subordinates
Superiors have to trust subordinates to delegate authority to them.

Willingness to Establish and Use Broad Controls
The manager must have the ability to develop control points and measures that are broad and provide space for the subordinate to function as for his plan of doing things.

Updated  3 Feb 2015, 6 Jan 2014, 12 Dec 2011

MBA Core Management Knowledge - One Year Revision Schedule

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