Functional authority

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Functional authority
See also

Functional authority is usually a restricted kind of line authority. It gives a staff person a type of limited line authority over a given function, such as safety or quality, regardless of where that function is found in the organization.

For example, a staff safety specialist may have functional authority to insist that line managers follow standard safety procedures in their departments. The staff safety specialist may have top management's blessing to dictate to lower-level line managers exactly what they must and must not do concerning any matter that falls within the realm of safety. A human resources specialist may say to a line supervisor that the latter cannot fire a certain employee. A cost accountant may notify line departments that certain cost information must be furnished weekly[1].

Features of functional authority

Functional authority are characterised by the following[2]:

  • Staff departments have functional authority, which is authority that is delegated to an individual or department to control specified processes or matters related directly to their respective functions
  • For example, in the structure for a bank, the line departments receive their authority through the chain of command connected to the president. The bank's staff departments have functional authority in relation to other departments i.e. authority only in their area of staff expertise.
  • Staff departments facilitate vertical coordination by making their considerable expertise available where it is needed, rather than following the strict chain of command
  • Functional authority is not restricted to any particular type of department or manager. It may be exercised by line, service or staff head.

Levels of authority of staff man

There are four levels of authority of a staff man [3]:

  • Voluntary consultation

A lowest level, consultation of a staff man for his ideas by the line head is purely voluntary. The line head may or may not consult him. In fact, at his level his persuasive ability, status, backing or technical expertise determine the extent of his influence over others.

  • Compulsory consultation

At the next higher level, consultation is made compulsory for each department. Under this arrangement, the staff man must be consulted before action is taken.

  • Concurring consultation

Concurring authority so that no action can be taken by the line people until he agrees to it. Thus, no finished parts may move to the next stage of production until okayed by the quality control inspector, no contract may be signed with a third party until approved by the legal expert.

  • Functional authority

The highest level of the staff man's authority is one where he is granted functional authority. This means that he can give direct orders to people in other departments outside his formal chain of command instead of making recommendations to them.

Effective functional authority

Functional authority to be effective without being restricted to the line manager, should fulfil the following three conditions[4]:

  1. It should cover only a minor aspect of total job of the line manager. This can be achieved if such authority is limited to systems and procedures and does not interfere with the line supervisor's decision making and command authority
  2. It should relate to areas in which line supervisors do no have expertise. This means that functional authority should be restricted to a staff manager's area of speciality
  3. It should be granted only when company- wide uniformity is desirable. For example, grievance procedure followed in various parts of the company has to be uniform to avoid union problems.


  1. D.C. Mosley, P.H. Pietri 2010, p.114-115
  2. V.S.Bagad 2008, p.94-95
  3. P.C. Tripathi, P.N. Reddy 2010, p.138-140
  4. R.D. Agarwal 2007, p.150


Author: Karina Stefańska