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Conflict between Staff and Line Managerial Officers

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1560
  • Category: Conflict

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The article “Conflict between staff and line managerial officers” from Melville Dalton describes the situation of staff organizations in the 1950s. In this time staff organizations are relatively new and were “a response to many complex interrelated forces” . The goal in demanding specialists in form of “staff people” was to create higher production and more efficiency. This introduction of a new organizational structure is related to some problems which occur. The following questions treat these staff-line tensions.

Analyse the organizational conditions of the two groups?

General Relation Line-Staff Officers

The new structure based on experts in form of staff specialists and traditional line officers. The line officers are busy administrators which are responsible for parts of the existing organization and production. They have authority over the production process. The staff specialists are experts in their fields and have no direct authority over the production or people working there. Some staff specialists have subordinates. The Role of staff specialists is to support and advise line managers and administrators. The support comprises the usage of specialized knowledge to increase production and efficiency.

Formal Structure of Staff and Line Organization.

The hierarchy of line and staff organizations differs in our example plants. While the staff members have only three to five levels of authority, had the line organization five to ten. This had the result that staff members have fewer possible positions for exercise of authority into which they can move. Other consequences of these hierarchies were:

*an increase of personnel in the staff to enlarge authority,

*a faster and disproportional growing of staff groups,

*a trend to higher personal movement from staff to line,

to increase authority and with this prestige and personal income.

Promotion of Staff Officers

The promotion of a staff officer depends on the approval of a top line officer. This influences the relation between staff and line in a controversial way, because on the one hand staff and line officers are not the best friends. And on the other hand can no staff officer be promoted without the approval of a line officer. The reason for that is to create the ability of understanding between staff and line officers. Important are not only the formal problems, the major priority is on informal problems. “Ideally the two organizations cooperate to improve existing methods of output” But this is not reality. More details about the relation between staff and line will be discussed later within the next questions.

Describe why the cooperation does not work?

Authority and Applicability

The article describes two significant reasons why the cooperation does not work. On the one hand is the authority problem. The staff specialist has to act reasonably but he does not get formal authority over the production. On the other hand is not sure that the improvements, which the staff specialist suggests to the line manager, are applicable. “In practise there is often much conflict between staff and line organisations…”.

Struggles in Staff-Line Cooperation

But there are also other struggles in the staff-line cooperation. The first is the individualistic behaviour of staff officers. The second is related to the first in the way that the staff officer needs acceptance for his contribution. The reason behind that is to justify their own existence. And the last is the incumbency of the higher staff offices which depends on the approval of line managers. The detailed reasons for these struggles are treated in the next question.

Social and Structural Differences

Beside this facts are also some social and structural differences between both groups. The staff officer is mostly much younger than line officer. As consequence in staff-line meetings, well established line managers often not accept or treated with amusement the instructions or advise from staff members. The effect was disillusioning to staff members. Beside the age different is the education level. The staff had a higher education with a mean of 13.1 school years, while the line only had between 10.5 to 14.6 years in the highest line group. This was also visible in different usage of English in speaking and writing or dress of staff members. The result was a feeling of superiority among staff officers, “while the sentiment of line officers towards staff personnel was reflected in name-calling.”

Summarizing, there was a raising barrier in education and behaviour between staff members and most line officers.

Different Point of View on Staff Personnel

A reason for complications in staff-line communication and work is the different view in staff personnel of both sides. The staff member sees himself as a managerial consultant and expert who is committed to the top management and who has to contribute something significant to help the management.

This behaviour or thinking of staff members leads to an attitude of condescension against lower line officers. The result is that line officers dislike the attitude and have more and more heated discussion with staff members. The staff members involve themselves in trouble by reporting their failures to the management as ignorance of the line manager.

The line managers have a different view on staff managers. They do not like the guidance of a newcomer and the control by the management which they interlink with staff officers. Staff personnel are in their eyes manipulative devices.

Implementation of improvements or new plans

A major problem between both organizations is the implementation of new techniques or plans from staff officers. These plans are received by the line but not implemented in the production. A reason for that is the acceptance of plans from latter line officers. The staff proposal is verbally accepted down the line but a latter line officer is privately opposing against the changes. He says nothing, because he fears informal hurts. During the implementation of the new plan he works badly with the hope to return to former arrangements. In consequence staff officers withhold improved production schemes or plans because they knew that the introduction might fail.

Describe the problems?

High Turnover and Young Staff Officers

Another problem within staff personnel is the relatively high turnover as a result of “dissatisfaction and frustration of members” . The reason for the dissatisfaction is the inability to achieve status and distinction. As consequence of the high turnover many new staff officers are needed. The most of them come directly from university with outstanding academic records. And they believe that they “had much to contribute and that their efforts would win early recognition and rapid advancement”. With this the circle of problems is closed. The new staff officer had to experience that:

*”his freedom to function was snared in a web of informal commitments”,

*”his academic speciality (…) was often not relevant…” and that

*”the important thing to do was to learn who the informally powerful line officers were and what ideas they would welcome which at the same time would be acceptable to his superiors.”

The reaction of the new staff officer was to protect himself by finding a niche where he can develop a “reliable social relation that will aid his personal development”. But this reaction also destroys the creativity and contribution of the staff officer.

Promotion and Recognition

The staff person is in general younger, more ambitious and restless than the line personnel. The concern to win rapid promotion and individual recognition is very important for the staff. This leads to problems in staff groups because everybody tries to leave behind the right impressions.

Line officers dislike staff personnel but their approval is needed for the promotion of staff members. To achieve this both organizational groups try to tolerate minor problems or work together on critical issues. In some cases for example line members hide mistakes of lower staff officers from upper line and staff officers.

Fear of innovation

Line officers fear staff innovations for several reasons. If a line officer is doing his job for a long time he fears that a staff officer can improve his work and his superior would see that he has not thought of the process refinement for himself. Others fear that changes may also bring personnel changes which would break-up cliques and existing informal arrangements. Finally these changes can show inefficiency or forbidden practises.

Funds, Sabotage and Cooperation

Staff could use funds granted by the top management for research and experimentation. Because of sabotage staff needs more money than normally necessary. Some staff groups are forced to “kick over” parts of funds to the line organization, to reduce sabotage and increase cooperation. This compromise which was hidden to the top management allows staff groups to cooperate better with the line organization. The advantages for staff groups were on the one side lower pressure from top management because of improvements and “impressively low operating costs” in the line. On the other side are recommendations from the line which also make a transfer to the line possible.


There are several conflicts between line and staff officers which are a consequence of social, structural and functional differences. Beside this the line officers fears changes in work environment and the control of top management. The authority and promotion issue is the last part of the conflict.

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