Career Development

Dotted Line Reporting: Definition and Tips

January 19, 2021

Having both a solid line manager and a dotted line manager can have a significant impact on your position. It’s important to understand how dotted line reporting impacts your job, your performance reviews, your career and your job satisfaction. Learning more about dotted line reporting can help you manage your career path.

In this article, we discuss what dotted line reporting is, how to report to a dotted line manager and how to advance your career in a dotted line reporting organization.

What is dotted line reporting?

Dotted line reporting is receiving work assignments from and submitting completed work to a manager other than your direct, or solid line, manager. You may report to a dotted line manager regarding ongoing projects and tasks. This relationship often focuses on reporting the progress of deliverables, project updates and localized or small-scale initiatives, rather than your job performance. Dotted line reporting is a feature of matrix management. In matrix management systems, employees have two managers who handle different responsibilities of management. 

Your dotted line reporting system may be temporary, with a project manager overseeing your work for a short period of time. Some dotted line relationships are ongoing, especially in large companies with remotely operating teams. If your direct manager is in another state or country, dotted line reporting may be a permanent fixture of your position. 

Companies that use dotted line reporting tend to be larger or have virtual teams and organizational structures. Matrix management structures provide greater organization and cohesiveness when companies have strict divisions between different teams or departments. 

Large companies may have employees with direct managers who work in different locations or have projects that require input from representatives from multiple departments or teams. Virtual organizations frequently use dotted line reporting to coordinate projects with remote employees and contractors. 

Companies develop matrix management structures to improve organization. Through dotted line reporting relationships, the company gives the manager more authority to drive efficiency and project completion. 

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Differences between solid line reporting and dotted line reporting

Your two managers—a solid line manager and a dotted line manager—have very different roles regarding your position. While the roles can seem similar, the two managers have varying responsibilities to their employees and separate degrees of authority.

A solid line manager is your primary manager. Their role and attributes include the following:

  • They review your performance, consider promotions or transfers and manage bonuses and raises. This direct manager has greater administrative responsibility for you and provides more oversight.

  • They have a primary manager relationship to your position. In any situation in which the instructions from solid and dotted line managers conflict, you would defer to your solid line manager. 

  • In terms of your company’s organizational structure or hierarchy, you and your solid line manager share a vertical relationship.

A dotted line manager will have a different relationship with you. Characteristics of this relationship include:

  • Dotted line managers may assign you projects or tasks in an interdepartmental project.

  • 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, however, is an internal client who assigns tasks, reviews your work and provides feedback.

  • The relationship is considered horizontal because you and your dotted line manager have more equal roles in the relationship.

Another way to view differences between solid line reporting and dotted line reporting is in conventional business terms. A solid line manager is a traditional manager who oversees your performance and provides communication, whereas a dotted line manager is an internal client.  

Related: 6 Qualities That Make a Great Team Player

Tips for working well in a dotted line reporting company

With knowledge and practice, you can excel in a dotted line reporting organization. Learning what role each manager has and which relationship has greater weight can help you prioritize your work and establish clear communication. Consider the following tips to make working in a dotted line reporting company simpler and more fulfilling:

Ensure your managers are aligned

If your solid line and dotted line managers are in communication, they are less likely to provide contradictory instructions. Ask clarifying questions whenever your managers appear to have different priorities. Consider communicating in a group email or group setting, so both managers interact directly. This can give your direct manager an easy opportunity to clarify instructions and your availability.

Establish clear limitations at the beginning of a temporary dotted line reporting relationship

If your company frequently assigns dotted lines or project managers, that manager may not be familiar with your workload. In a clear and courteous email or conversation, tell them how much time you can devote to the project each week and summarize your other tasks. Set their expectations each time they assign you a task or additional responsibility.

Reach out to your direct manager when you want support

Your primary relationship is with your direct manager. If you wish to clarify which of your tasks have priority or you want help communicating with the dotted line manager, speak to your solid line manager. They can help readjust the other manager’s expectations with authority and set more aligned goals.

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