Conflicts between Staff and Line Managerial Officers

1) The Main Aims Of The Article.

Melville Dayton, the author of the critiqued article, states in the opening section that despite scholarly effort directed at the investigation of union-management relations, the processes occurring within the ranks of industrial management remain largely poorly investigated. Dayton’s study is an attempt to cover this gap by exploring the relations between two groupings of industrial management: ‘staff’ managers responsible for research and advice and ‘line’ managers that directly control production operations (p.342).

Staff personnel and departments began to grow relatively recently, as a vast pool of various experts entered the industry to assist with problem areas. The author of the paper tries to question how willing staff personnel are to function without authority over plant operations and to what degree line personnel will be willing to accept their recommendations. Thus, the paper seeks to investigate whether there are tensions between the two divisions.

2) Summary Of The Key Arguments.

Dayton attributes arising tensions between line and staff personnel to three key areas. First, the author points to the ambition inherent in many representatives of staff personnel and their drive to move up through the ranks. If the organization failed to give such opportunities to staff officers, they often tended to look elsewhere and change jobs.

Second, Dayton points to the need for recognition in staff officers willing to prove their worth. Many line officers regard their staff colleagues as “an agent on trial rather than as a managerial division that might be of equal importance with the line organization” (p.347). Staff officers can, therefore, be hurt by this perception, which contributes to tensions.

Third, in most plants top line officers have authority over appointments to top staff positions. This power makes staff personnel susceptible to the need to build a reputation among line executives. A part of the rapport with top line executives of the company has to be grounded in “the ability “to understand” their informal problems without being told” (p.348).

At the same time, staff, too, has some power that comes with control of funds allocated by the top management for staff research and implementation of suggestions. This control can also cause tensions with line officers, exacerbating the fear that staff innovations can challenge compensation or break up informal cliques that are treasured by top-level line officers.

3) The Main Theoretical And/Or Empirical Findings Of The Article.

After performing research in three industrial plants to test the validity of the original hypothesis about persisting tensions between staff and line officers, Dayton arrives at the conclusion that these tension do exist. The general conflict between line and staff employees can hinder the attainment of organizational goals, so top managers can consider implementing measures in order to reduce the opposition that consumes energy of employees.

In line managers, the scholar found desire to obtain greater control of staff groups or to achieve the elimination of these groups (p. 350). In contrast, staff officers longed for greater recognition and also greater control over plant operations. The functional difference between the two groups was found to contribute to the conflict as well as social differences related to age, status, habits, and education. Thus, staff officers in general were younger than line officers, possessed more extensive formal education, but had lower occupational ceilings and were paid less than top line executives.

The author proposes a set of measures to be considered for implementation by top managers interested in resolving the apparent conflict. Thus, they could create a special body engaged in resolution of these differences. In addition, the top management can vest staff officers with greater authority accompanied with greater responsibility, such as, for instance, the need to deliver results in undertaken projects. Most importantly, the author suggests implementing measures to “remove the fear of veiled personal reprisal” (p.351).

4) Personal Reaction.

In my opinion, the author’s arguments are convincing as they resonate with the common sense perception of human nature and motivation. Overall, placing two people to oversee and control the same process is hardly a viable idea.

Conflicts over distribution of power emerge even where responsibilities are sharply delineated; here they are inevitable since line and staff officers often have control over one and the same unit. In the case of staff-line division, the top management expects that line officers will bring their vast experience to operations management, while staff officers will provide them with expertise in the latest trends and update them on the latest trends in production. At the same time, line managers are not supposed to release their authority as expertise of staff members is simply not enough to assume full control.

I think this conflict can be indeed multi-faceted, as correctly pointed put by M. Dayton. It is not only relatable to functional differences. Given the discrepancy in age between line and staff managers, this may be yet another manifestation of the generation gap, as younger and better educated managers wish to take over the operations, showing performance that will let their recently gained knowledge shine in splendour. Yet they cannot draw on the same amount of experience. Thus the matters Dayton is talking about in the paper seem very relevant to today’s business reality.


Dalton, M. (1950, June). Conflicts between Staff and Line Managerial Officers. American Sociological Review 15 (3), 342-351.