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Drawing the Line

Optimize Blog - November 30, 2015 - 0 comments

One well-established principle of organization should always be followed and that is that accountability, responsibility and authority must go hand in hand.
No position can expect to succeed unless its holder has the authority necessary to carry out his or her duties or responsibilities so that when responsibilities are assigned to a position, everyone understands that the holder of the position has the authority necessary to carry them out.
Most commonly, the authority is incorporated into written job descriptions with various specific grants of authority or the organization has a formal delegation of authority (DOA) matrix clearly identifying what position holds what authority.
But there are actually two types of authority – line and functional. In building an effective system of management, both should be fully understood and utilized effectively.
Line authority, the most common and best understood type of authority, gives a leader the right to give direction to the team he or she leads. The ‘control’ is normally achieved through approval mechanisms, discipline programs and through decisions or recommendations on compensation or promotion.
Functional authority on the other hand is less direct than that of line authority. In this case it is simply the right of a unit with functional or technical knowledge in a certain business area to ensure that all other units carry on any activities in that area in accordance with the functional unit’s requirements.
If line authority is a grant of power, functional authority is the authority of knowledge. Just as the holder of line authority says, “do it,” and “do it by this date,” the holder of functional authority says, “when you do it, do it this way.”
Functional departments should approach the job of enforcing their policies, standards, and procedures in a spirit of exercising authority and influence not just offering advice. Their work will then be more useful and more responsible, and the resulting guidelines are more likely to be followed. That does not mean, of course, that functional departments should be arrogant in exercising authority. Indeed, the most effective functional departments seldom need to resort to a show of authority. Their policies, standards, and procedures should be so constructed, so sensible, and so persuasively presented that the line departments will be glad to follow and adhere to them.
Balancing line and functional authority is extremely important in developing and adhering to an effective management system. It is in effect all about getting things done quickly and getting them done right in accordance with company policies, standards, and philosophy.
An overzealous function team cannot subvert important operations that may conflict with a functional policy, standard, or procedure. The reason for this is that line executives always have the opportunity to convince functional leaders or line managers that a functional guideline is wrong and should be changed or that an exception should be made in a particular instance. By creating this positive tension, the balance between line and functional authority can be used as an important means for developing and requiring adherence to a system of management that makes the will to manage effective.
Ensuring Line and functional authorities work in concert is a key element for each leader. Conflicting authorities on the other hand create drag, confusion and a culture of distrust.

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