For commercial organizations to be effective and successful in their businesses, they need to be formally organized into various lines of control. Over time, organizations have evolved various forms of management structures, of which the line function and staff function are perhaps the most common. Line functions are those management systems that have direct accountability for sales or production target achievement, whereas staff functions are management structures that assist the line managers to achieve their targets by extending support.
The primary difference between the line and staff functions is accountability. Line managers are directly responsible for achievement of target oriented jobs that form the core of the business’s existence, such as sales or production. The staff function governs advisory services that impact the efficacy of the line function but do not directly take part in the production planning and marketing. The size of the organization often dictates how well the demarcation between these two functions is established.
Both the line function and the staff function have their own hierarchies. Line managers and staff managers, while required to interact and coordinate with each other, do not have the authority of countermanding each other. The directions given by staff managers are expected to be followed by line managers. However, if there are reasons why such advice cannot be implemented then line managers have the authority to overrule the suggestion. This is open to arbitration by senior management in cases of dispute.
Power of Veto
Within the domain of his specialization, the staff manager has absolute command and control of resources and management authority and cannot be overruled by any line manager. For example, a requisition for staff training may be sent by the factory line manager to the staff function of the human resource department, which then has the right of exercising its authority for permitting the activity or denying the request, however strongly the line manager may feel about its necessity.
Heard and Informed
Line managers, while retaining their absolute control over their domains, need to inform staff managers of the decisions that impact upon the macro-management of the organization. Staff managers have the right to demand management information. For example, a finance director may require information regarding revenues from the sales director to enable him to plan cash flow.