Chapter 12 - Span of Management
* Span of Management
* Modern view of Span of Management
Q.1. What do you understand by Span of Management? Explain the
factors that determine the Span of Management. What is the impact on
The Span of Management is the corner stone concept in traditional
Management theory. Do you agree?
Meaning of Span of Management
The term Span of Management is also known as Span of Control or Span
of Authority or Span of Supervision. Simply stated Span of Management
means the number of subordinates that a manager can effectively
manage. This concept implies that the number of subordinates directly
reporting to a superior should be limited so as to make supervision and
control effective, because executives have limited time and ability. It is
an accepted proposition that the larger the number of subordinates
reporting directly to a manager, the more difficult it will be for him to
supervise and coordinate their activities effectively.
What is an Ideal Span?
It is sometimes suggested that the span of management should neither
be too wide nor too narrow. Then, the question arises as to how many
persons a supervisor can manager effectively. Some experts tell that
the ideal span is 4 at higher levels and 8 to 12 at lower levels. But the
number of subordinates cannot be easily determined because the nature
of jobs and capacity of individuals vary from organization to
Classical View of Span of Management
The first person to draw attention to the principle of span of
management was a British General, Sir Iaan Hamilton (1920) who said
that the average human brain can be effective in handling from 3 to 6
other brains. After a lengthy study of military organisations, he
concluded that the span should be smaller at the top of the
organisation, where thought processes were more complicated and that it
should set progressively larger toward the lower levels, where thought
processes were less complicated and more routine.
V.A. Graicunas (1933) suggested that as the number of subordinates
increases arithetically, the number of potential relationships, between
the superior and subordinates increases geometrically. For example,
Graicunas indicates that if a superior manages 2 subordinates, there are
actively 6 different relationships. Thus, he pointed out that an increase
in the number of subordinates causes almost an explosive growth in the
number of possible relationships. Hence, only number of bodies in a span
should not be counted, but the multifarious relationships generated by
the numbers must also be recognized while deciding for the span of
individual manager.
Classical writers advocated a span of control ranging from 3 to 7 or 8
persons at the higher levels and a span of 20 to 30 persons at the
lowest level.
Q.2. Describe the modern view of Span of Management.
Modern View of Span of Management
Contingency Or Situational Approach (Factors Determining Span of
The evidences indicate that spans of control cannot be stated in
absolute terms as done by the classical scholars. There is no correct
span for all situations. The predominant current view is to look for the
causes of limited span in individual situations, rather than to assume
that there is a given numerical limit generally applicable to all.
Pragmatically speaking, a really proper span of control is one that is not
Modern Approach has shifted away from trying to find out a universal
formula of span of management. Instead of emphasizing absolute spans
(specific numbers), the current view is that span is more flexible thing,
and there is no one correct span for all situations. The appropriate
number of span of control for a particular manager is contingent on
several factors that may be discussed as follows:
1. The Capacity and Ability of the Superior
The personal abilities and influence of the superior (manager) play an
important role in determining the number of subordinates that can be
effectively supervised by him. If the superior possesses qualities of
leadership, decision-making ability, communication skill, motivating
strength and time management expertise, in greater degree, that the
span of control may be wider. In other words, if the superior
(executive) can comprehend problems quickly, can get along well with
people and can command loyalty and respect from the subordinates, then
he can supervise a large number of subordinates effectively.
2. The Capacity and Skill of Subordinate
In case the subordinates are competent, well trained, experienced and
have good judgement, initiative and a sense of obligation, then they seek
less guidance from their superior and therefore the superior manager
will be in a position to supervise a large number of subordinates. On the
other hand, if the manager has no confidence in the capacity and caliber
of his subordinates, then the span will be restricted to be narrow.'
3. Nature and Importance of Work Supervised
If the work is simple and repetitive, the span of management may be
wider, because it does not require much attention and time on the part
of the superior. On the other hand where the subordinate's job is
complex requiring close supervision by the superior, then the number of
persons under him should be narrow or small. Such characteristics
generally indicate whether jobs are easy or complicated, dissimilarity of
jobs assigned the number of new problems that may be encountered, the
need for frequent consultations and communication, the physical
dispersal of jobs, geographically location of members, nature of decision
making by the subordinates and so on. The more a subordinate's job
involves unpredictability, variety, discretion and responsibility, the
smaller span is likely to be.
4. Clarity of Plans and Responsibility
If the plans and policies are clear and easily understandable and if the
functions and responsibilities are laid down in as definite terms as
possible, the the task of supervision is easier and the span of
management can be wider because the subordinates need not go to
superior frequently for orders, instructions and guidance.
5. Degree of Decentralization
If there is proper delegation and decentralization of authority, then the
superior can successfully supervise a large number of subordinates,
because in that case he has not to take any decisions himself and
merely provides encouragement and occasional direction. In case of
centralization of authority, the span will be narrow.
6. Staff Assistants
When staff assistants (experts) are employed to advise and serve the
superiors and the subordinates, then contract between the superior and
the subordinates may be reduced and the span be broadened.
The Impact of the Span of Organisation
The actual span of supervision affects the organisation in different
ways. The structure of organisation produced by the narrower span is
called tall organisation, and the wider span produce what is known as
flat organisation. The narrow span requires multiple levels of supervision
and hence longer time for communication. Tall organisation is more
expensive and complicates the process of communication and integration.
A narrow span results in harassed subordinates and frustrated
superiors. However, a narrow span enables managers to exercise close
supervision and control and wherever these are needed, the narrow span
is better suited.
Conversely, a wider span results in fewer levels of supervision. The flat
organisation facilitates better communication and coordination, but it
permits only general supervision due to the limited availability of time.
The wide span results in harassed superiors and frustrated subordinates.
Robert House and John Miner (1969) have summarized the entire
question of span of management as follows:
1. Under most circumstances the optional span is likely to be in the
range of 5 to 10.
2. The larger spans (say 8 to 10) are most often appropriate at the
highest policy making levels of an organisations.
3. The number of effective spans of first-line supervisors is contingent
upon the technology of organisation.
4. Appropriate span for specific situations depends on a set of local
factors (for example, task, interdependencies and leadership skills).

Chapter 12 - Span of Management * Span of Management * Modern