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Unity Of Command in Management: Principle, Definition & Quiz

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Taught by

Shawn Grimsley

The concept of unity of command is a classic principle of management theory. In this lesson you will learn the definition of unity of command, examine the principle and review some examples. You will also be given an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge by taking a short quiz.

Why Is It Important

The principle of unity of command is applied throughout the world today in organizations ranging from the military, government bureaucracies and companies, from a small business all the way up to multinational corporations. Learning about unity of command will help you understand how a great many of private and public organizations operate and may make you a better employee or manager.

Definition & Principles

Unity of command provides that an employee is responsible to only one supervisor, who in turn is responsible to only one supervisor, and so on up the organizational hierarchy. This is true even if the top of the organization is led by a group of people. For example, imagine you are the CEO of a technology firm in Silicon Valley. While the board of directors of your company governs the policy making and strategic planning, under the concept of unity of command, you do not answer to all members of the board but only the chairman of the board.

Let's take a minute and climb a corporate ladder to demonstrate how unity of command works from the bottom up. Imagine that you are a new systems analyst for the technology company discussed above. For better or worse, you are at the bottom rung and you supervise no one. However, you do answer to your unit supervisor, who answers to her department manager. The department manager answers to the vice president of operations, who answers to the CEO. The CEO answers to the Chairman of the board of directors.

Unity of command is illustrated in this chart.

Another principle of unity of command is the idea that authority is based upon the position held. Related to this principle is the idea that as an employee advances through the hierarchy, his knowledge increases. Let's look at another example.

Imagine you are an Army general about to attend a banquet in honor of you retirement. You reflect back on your career. After graduating from West Point, you were promoted to second lieutenant and took command of you first platoon. Your soldiers were answerable only to you, but you were answerable to your company commander. You learned your job well and were promoted to captain and were placed in command of a larger unit. You applied the knowledge you learned as a platoon leader to manage your larger unit. Throughout your military career, you rose quickly through the ranks, applying management knowledge learned at lower levels to help you manage at the next level, until you were promoted to the rank of general.

Summary

Unity of command is a classic principle of management that is used in many hierarchical organizations, such as the military, government agencies, and corporations. Unity of command holds that an employee should only be answerable to one person. Management authority is vested in the position and as a manager climbs up the hierarchy, she is able to use prior knowledge and information gained in the new management position.

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