The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore front-line managers' (FLMs') perceptions of their span of control (SOC) and how they manage it. As part of a larger quantitative study examining relationships between FLMs' SOC and performance outcomes, 10 manager focus groups were conducted by teleconference, involving 48 managers from 14 academic healthcare organizations. Themes and subthemes were identified according to (a) perceptions of the size and scope of SOC; (b) factors influencing the complexity of SOC; (c) supports needed to manage SOC; (d) changing leadership style; and (e) ways of coping with role overload. Participants described system demands as a significant contributor to their work responsibilities and a sense of role overload. About half of managers stated their SOC was unreasonable and that they lacked the necessary supports to manage it. Many managers who described their SOC as reasonable still expressed concerns about internal and external workload pressures that contributed to changing leadership style and role overload. Findings reinforce the importance of organizational strategies to create regular dialogue with FLMs regarding the size, complexity and appropriateness of current spans and to provide the resource supports necessary to ensure they can manage their SOC effectively.
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