Concept of Line and Staff

Even in conceptual framework, line and staff are defined from two viewpoints. One of the viewpoints is that they denote different functions within the organization. The other viewpoint ·is that they refer to authority relationships in the organization. According to functional approach, line functions are those that are related directly with the attainment of the organizational objectives and staff functions are those that help line functions in attaining the objectives. In this form, Allen has defined line and staff as follows:

“Line functions are those which have direct responsibility for accomplishing the objectives of the enterprise and staff refers to those elements of the organization that help the line to work most effectively in accomplishing the primary objectives of the enterprise.”

Thus the organizational objectives are the basic determinant of line and staff functions and with the change in the objectives, line and staff functions may change. Thus what may be line function in one organization may be staff function in another. For example, personnel function in an employment agency is line but it is staff in manufacturing organization. In a manufacturing – organization whose basic objective is to produce and sell goods, production and marketing are line functions and others such as finance, personnel, legal etc. are staff functions. Further, within a department, there may be line and staff functions, for example, in marketing selling may be line function but market research is staff function. A person performing staff function is called staff manager or simply staff.

Koontz and others have defined line and staff authority as follows:

“Line authority becomes apparent from the scalar principle as being that relationship in which a superior exercise directs supervision over a subordinate – an authority relationship in direct line or steps. The nature of staff relationship is advisory. The function of people in a pure staff capacity is to investigate, research, and give advice to line managers to whom they report.”