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What is Span of Control? Meaning Definition Articles

square What is Span of Control? Meaning

The term "Span of Control" is made of two words, viz., "Span" and "Control".

Span's literary meaning says, it is the distance between the tip of a thumb and small finger when palm of hand is fully stretched out. However, in terms of management and administration, it means the maximum extend or the number of people that can be reached by.

Control in literary means an ability to instruct, check, adjust or manipulate something as per once's preferred requirement, choice or expectation. However, in terms of management and administration, it refers to an authoritative power to direct, order or restrain.

Span of Control in management and administration thus refers to the total number of people (here, subordinates or employees working under) whom a manager or an administrator can effectively control and supervise.

span of control meaning definition articles

Image Credits © CMD Photos.

So, span of control means the number of subordinates whom a superior (manager or administrator) can effectively supervise. Every superior can supervise a limited number of subordinates (employees). Therefore, every superior should be assigned or given an authority to handle only few subordinates.

According to most management experts, at the top level of management, the span of control should not be more than 1:6 while at the lower level of management, the span of control should not be more than 1:20. This means, the superior at the top level should not have more than 6 subordinates under his control. Similarly, the superior at the lower level should not have more than 20 subordinates under his control. However, these are only theoretical figures. In practice, the span of control depends on many factors such as nature of work, ability of superior, ability of subordinates, etc.

Span of Control is also referred by many other names. It is often known as 'Span of Supervision' or 'Span of Management' or 'Span of Attention'. However, the term 'Span of Management' suits as the most appropriate name, since control and supervision are the elements of management.

The concept of Span of Control was developed, introduced and popularized by British Army General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton (1853-1947) through his 1921 published book titled "The soul and body of an army."

Ian standish monteith hamilton

Image Credits © Elliott and Fry.

Image Source (s) The Times History of the War, Volume One. A weekly magazine published by London Times during 1914-1915.

Sir Ian Hamilton's concept of Span of control was supported and later expanded by management experts like V.A. Graicunas and Lyndall F. Urwick.

Download Book :- The full book of Sir Ian Hamilton (pub. 1921) is now available on the internet (for download and / or online reading) as a free digital copy in the form of a PDF document. It is now completely legal to download and read an electronic version of this book as it is in a public domain, or in other words, it is now a copyright free. Visit link given in this sentence to download / read Ian Hamilton's The Soul and Body of an Army.

square Definition of Span of Control

According to Louis Allen,

"Span of control refers to the number of people that a manager can supervise."

According to Prof. Dimock,

"The span of control is the number and range of direct, habitual communication contacts between the Chief Executive of an enterprise and his principal fellow officers."

square Articles on Span of Control

Articles on span of control in management :-

  1. Advantages of appropriate span of control.
  2. Factors affecting span of control.
  3. Graicunas theory of span of control.


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