Dotted line management
This guidance details when a ‘dotted’ reporting line for a role might be appropriate, how the relationship differs from a line manager (or ‘solid line’) management relationship, and how this arrangement should be managed and communicated to staff.
How does a dotted line management relationship differ from a traditional line management one?
The solid line reporting relationship is a traditional line management role. The manager will be solely responsible for all management tasks including, duty of care, performance management, staff development and PRDPs, as well as administrative aspects such as pay relativity and approval of annual leave.
Dotted line reporting is a secondary relationship. While a dotted line manager can provide feedback and assign work-related tasks, their managerial role has a limited scope. A dotted line manager would typically provide input relating to the areas of work they assign for PRDPs, but would not administer or be responsible for the PRDP process.
A dotted line manager should provide feedback to the line manager, both appreciative and constructive including any areas of concern, to ensure the line manager has a full view of the employee’s performance. This should be undertaken throughout employment, but at a higher frequency during the initial months of employment in order to manage probation. This should be discussed and agreed with all parties to ensure transparency of management.
Ultimately, the solid line management relationship supersedes the dotted line reporting relationship when there is a potential source of conflict or competing work priorities between the two management roles.
What is a dotted reporting line?
Dotted line management is when a postholder receives work assignments from and submits completed work to a manager other than their direct line manager. This will likely either be for certain areas of their work where the dotted line manager has oversight, or for a specific project.
For example, an ICT Systems Engineer who spends some of their time developing a new financial reporting system would sit within the ICT division and report to their direct line manager in ICT. However, because of the work they carry out for the Finance division, they might also have a dotted reporting line to a Finance Manager who assigns them work relating to the development of a new financial reporting system.
When is a dotted reporting line appropriate for a role?
The dotted line role could be given to a manager responsible for a work area or project on which the postholder works but does not constitute the sole or primary area of their work. The dotted line manager could be responsible for delivering the area or project, but does not need to get involved with wider, including administrative and developmental, aspects of the post-holder’s general management.
The area or project of which the dotted line manager has oversight should be significant, rather than work that is intermittent and could be allocated via a line manager. It is not generally feasible for one post-holder to have multiple formal dotted line relationships.
A dotted line manager role might be a permanent part of a role or it might be temporary – for example, for the duration of specific project.
How should the dotted line management relationship be communicated to the postholder?
The dotted line management relationship should be indicated in the role’s job description (‘responsible to’ section). The main text of the job description should indicate which areas of work the dotted line manager will assign, and confirm that line management responsibilities relating to development, performance and PRDPs will lie with the line manager rather than the dotted line management.
Ahead of the start of a new dotted line management relationship, the post holder, their line manager and the dotted line manager should meet to discuss and agree on work distribution and workload expectations and address any immediate concerns or issues. Good communication (through, for example, regular meetings or check-ins) between all parties should be maintained throughout the working relationship to ensure resolution of any conflict and that expectations of all parties are met.