Unity of Command

Unity of Command:

Unity of Command is the principle of organization that holds that an employee should receive orders from one superior only or that each employee should be under a single command. Henry Fayol has been the prime advocator of this principle. According to him, Unity of Command means that in an organization, one person should be subordinate to only one superior and that he should receive orders only from the superior. Only in such a case, there can be no confusion in orders. The duality of command or multiple commands is bound to result in confusion and inefficiency. It can make the determination of responsibility of the superiors and the subordinates very difficult, almost impossible.

Explaining the main thrust of the principle of Unity of Command, Dr. Pfiffner observes that “the concept of the unity of command requires that every member of an organization should report to one and only one leader. In case of non-adherence to this important principle of organization, there emerges the possibility that authority may be undermined and discipline may be in jeopardy. Administration can suffer from inefficiency or even a virtual breakdown. Even the law, peace, and order may get disturbed, and the stability of the state may be endangered.”

In an organization, the line of authority should be clearly known. Everyone in an organization should know his superior from whom he has to receive commands and each superior should know to whom he can issue orders. It means each man should be subordinate to one and should receive commands from only one man. In other words, unity of command stands for a system in which one person is subordinate to one superior and receives direction from one superior only.

Analyzing the concept of Unity of Command, John D. MIllet mentions two other meanings of this principle:

First, it is an arrangement whereby all administrative authority flows from one responsible head i.e., the President or the Governor.

Secondly, Unity of Command may refer to the question of the relative merit of a single-headed agency as compared to an organization headed by a board or a commission.

The principle of Unity of Command is opposed to the plural command system which is a source of confusion, inefficiency, and irresponsibility of the organization, particularly of its personnel. Unity of Command on the other hand is a clear and simple principle of placing a definite number of sub-ordinates under a single supervisor or superior.

Merits of Unity of Command:

There are several advantages of the principle of Unity of Command:

(1) Absence of Conflict in Orders- Unity of Command ensures that there is one superior who commands. If the superiors are more than one, there is bound to be confusion in the organization. It leads to failure in fixing the responsibility of two or more superiors and their common subordinates. When there is only one superior, there can be little confusion in orders, and fixing responsibility in case of any lapse is easier, rather self-evident.

(2) It enables the superior to exercise effective supervision over the Employees- Under the principle of Unity of Command, all administrative authority flows from one responsible head. One superior is able to supervise his staff more effectively. He can understand, supervise and control his staff better. Two or more supervisors can cut out each other and make the subordinates responsible towards the none in the name of responsibility towards all supervisors.

(3) Clear Fixation of Responsibility- In an organization based on the principle of Unity of Command, every personnel of the organization knows his responsibilities. He is also aware of to whom he is answerable and from whom he is to get work and orders as well as to whom he is to report back.

Thus there are several apparent merits of the principle of Unity of Command.

Critical Evaluation:

However, despite the above-mentioned merits, the critics of the principle of Unity of Command raise several objections against this concept. As Seckler Hudson says, “…the old concept of one single boss for each person is seldom found in fact in a complex governmental situation. Many inter-relationships exist outside the straight line of command which require working with and reporting to many persons for the purpose of orderly and effective performance…… the administrator in government has many bosses and he can neglect none of them. From one, he may receive policy orders, from another personnel, from a third, a budget, and from a fourth supplies and equipment.”

The principle of Unity of Command faces problems when the command is to be exercised upon technical personnel working in an organization. That is why F. W. Taylor advocates the rejection of the principle of Unity of Command and its replacement by the principle of functional direction and supervision. He advocates the view that each individual worker will benefit and efficiency will increase if he gets specialized and expert supervision in respect of each function that he performs. He even recommends eight supervision for each individual worker.

  • The gang boss.
  • The speed boss.
  • The inspector.
  • The repair boss.
  • The order of the work and route clerk.
  • The construction card clerk.
  • The time and cost clerk.
  • The shop disciplinarian.

However, the supporters of the principle of Unity of Comamnd do not agree with Taylor’s viewpoint. They call it an erroneous view. They advocate that a violation of this principle does not occur when an employee receives orders from more than one superior regarding different matters. Violation of this principle occurs only when personnel receives orders from more than one superior in respect of one and the same matter. But this view in itself has its limitations and harmful possibilities. There is a possibility of overlapping among various kinds of supervisors, because ‘various matters’ cannot be separated from one another. The supporters of the principle of Unity of Command, however, react against such logic. They hold that such a situation can be eliminated by proper demarcation of various matters and in respect of each matter, one supervisor should be entrusted with the responsibility of commanding a set of subordinates.

Factors Limiting Unity of Command:

Day by day organizations are increasing both in terms of size and complexity with the result that the staff and auxiliary agencies manned by specialists are increasing in number, and their power and influence if growing substantially. These agencies have started giving instructions of different types- administrative, technical, and legal- directly to the officials of the executive agencies. This is seriously undermining the principle of Unity of Command. An employee is placed in a dilemma as to whom he should follow, what to follow, and when to follow.


Unity of Command is important in an organization. If an employee receives orders from more than one superior officer there is scope for confusion and conflict rather than clarity of purpose and direction. In such a situation, an employee can find it difficult to perform his work with clarity of purpose and efficiency. The absence of Unity of Command in an organization either always leads to confusion or gives room for manipulation. Receiving two contradictory commands can result in inefficiency and may even lead to organizational paralysis. The concept of Unity of Command is thus needed to avoid these pitfalls and problems in an organization.

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