a senior leader has how many reports
The corner of a table with some chairs in a meeting room. Photo by Gary Tamin from FreeImages

Here is something I’m thinking about but haven’t researched yet or formed any strong opinions on.  I’m keen to know what you might suggest.

There are a few key options for how a senior staff person structures his or her linkage to staff (and there could well be many more):

  • A CEO-COO model where the senior staff person has one direct report to whom all other staff report directly or indirectly. This maximizes the ability of the CEO to focus externally and to do strategic thinking, but it can also isolate the CEO from operational activity and it certainly distances the CEO from staff.
  • A CEO-Senior Team model where the senior staff person has two or three direct reports who then supervise the staff and operations. This keeps the CEO “in the loop” and better in touch with the organization, but it also divides the leader’s attention between future-present, external-internal, and strategic-operational matters, with the urgent often trumping the important.
  • A CEO-Functional Leadership model where the heads of all the functional areas report to the CEO. This includes fundraising, operations, accounting, human resources and so on. I suspect that this is the default model that just evolves as an organization grows. The leader has the greatest hands-on ability to manage the ministry, but on the downside the senior staff person is more like a team leader than an organizational leader. Is there still time to think about the organization as a whole as opposed to the work of the functional areas?

My question is, if you were giving advice to a new senior staff leader about the kind of reporting structure that would serve them best, what advice would you give? What factors do you think the leader should consider? How do you think the senior staff person should allocate his or her time, assuming the ministry has a reasonably well-developed staff?

Please jump in!

Thoughts on A Senior Leader Has How Many Reports?

  1. Kirk Giles

    Great question, John. I’m wrestling with this very issue right now. Different skillsets amongst other staff certainly play a part in this decision; also, the number of direct reports they have is an important part of any decision on how many I will have. Still, I haven’t come to any firm conclusions on what is the right number for me/our organization.


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