Ask yourself these questions: Would I have less job-related stress if I reported directly to operations? Would I prefer to report to the corporate SH&E group? Would I be more effective if I reported to human resources (HR)? The theory of organizational choice is premised on an organization electing to structure itself by product or by function (Shafritz, Ott & Jang, 2005). An organization may structure support functions, such as assigning a safety professional, a quality specialist or an HR staff member, to a particular product line, with a direct line to operations (those who man-age the outcome of a manufacturing process). This is a decentralized structure. In this scenario, the safety professional is the safety expert for that particular division. In some cases, this practitioner has a dotted-line relationship to the corporate SH&E group. Alternatively, s/he may work independently of the corporate group, or such a group may not exist.
Another common structure groups functions together; this is termed a centralized structure. It features a center of expertise to which all individuals in a particular function belong (e.g., SH&E department, HR department).
Figures 1 and 2 (p. 58) depict these reporting structures in a manufacturing setting. Figure 1 shows the safety professional who works directly for an operations manager and has a dotted-line relationship to the corporate SH&E group (decentralized). Figure 2 depicts an SH&E professional who reports directly to an SH&E group (centralized) and has a dotted-line relationship with a particular part of the manufacturing facility (e.g., assembly line A, maintenance).
Many variables (e.g., company size, span of control, safety climate) affect the reporting relation-ship for safety professionals, although ideally the structure would allow SH&E professionals to be as effective as possible. For example, Montante (2006) argues that confusion and misunderstanding surrounding how to define and manage safety can impede practitioners' ability to achieve the desired level of safety performance. Because role stressors can affect an individual's ability to be effective (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, et al., 1964; Singh, 1993), considering the role of reporting relationships in terms of the level of stress experienced is a starting point in understanding whether one reporting structure is better than the other.
Petersen (1975) provides clarity on the best type of reporting scenario. His approach includes:
reporting to a boss with influence;
reporting to a boss who wants safety;
having a channel to the top; and
placing safety under the executive in charge of the major activity.
While ideal, such a reporting relationship is easier stated than experienced.
To understand why these four elements are difficult to achieve, let's view the safety professional's role today through the lens of classical and modern structural theory.