Direct reports—or subordinates—are the people working directly below a more senior employee, such as an executive, manager, team leader, or supervisor. These senior employees are responsible for delegating tasks to their direct reports, as well as overseeing their performance and mentoring them. They can also be involved in the recruitment of their direct reports. 

Identifying direct reporting relationships between your employees is one way of structuring your organizational chart. It helps provide a clear line of authority and direct the flow of information and communication, which can lead to improved efficiencies within a business. 

The number of subordinates under a manager—referred to as the span of control—depends on a range of factors specific to an organization and its employees. 

Difference Between Direct and Indirect Reports

A direct report is once removed from a senior employee, and an indirect report is twice removed. An indirect report is someone who reports to a senior employee’s direct report.

In this scenario, a senior employee typically oversees the general performance of indirect reports but isn’t involved in their day-to-day management. 

The HR Manager’s direct reports are the Training Officer, Employee Relations Manager, and Workplace Health and Safety Officer. 

The HR Assistant is the direct report of the Employee Relations Manager and Workplace Health and Safety Officer.

The HR Assistant is the HR Manager’s indirect report. 

Direct Reports—The Manager’s Role

A manager or supervisor has a range of responsibilities concerning their direct reports.

  • Delegating work. Managers know who they can give tasks to and who has the capacity to take on a task. This is an especially important function for large organizations with many employees. 
  • Overseeing work. This includes ensuring the quality of work, answering any questions their team may have, and providing help when needed. 
  • Mentoring team members—especially junior ones—and assisting with career development. 
  • Performance management—for example, providing feedback and regular performance evaluations. 

How Many Direct Reports Should a Manager Have?

There’s no magic number when it comes to direct reports. The range varies between organizations and depends on various factors.

Size of the organization

The number of employees in an organization often guides the allocation of direct reports. Managers in larger organizations with a hierarchical or vertical structure typically have a narrow span of control—i.e. fewer people working under them. Smaller organizations may have a flatter, more horizontal structure where managers have a larger number of direct reports.

The complexity of the work

If your employees’ work involves repetitive, standardized tasks within a formalized structure, employees may not need as much supervision and managers can be assigned more employees working under them. 

As the complexity of work increases, the more time and energy a manager will need to spend with their direct reports, and their span of control should be smaller. 

Experience level of direct reports

The newer or less experienced the employee, the more supervision and mentorship they will likely need. In this case, it’s better to assign fewer subordinates to each manager. More experienced employees will likely be more independent and so require less supervision—allowing managers to take on more people under them. 

Experience level of manager or supervisor

Someone with experience balancing managerial responsibilities may be comfortable having a larger span of control. It’s also worth taking into account a manager’s other responsibilities before assigning them more direct reports. 

Organizational and departmental goals

A Manager’s span of control should take into account and support broader organizational and departmental goals.

Organizational culture

Organizational culture may also influence the number of employees assigned to a manager. For example, if your organization prioritizes flexibility, managers may have more direct reports to encourage independent work. 

Allocating the right number of direct reports involves balancing all these factors. If a manager has too many people working directly under them, deadlines may be missed, communication can be negatively affected, and employees may feel unsupported or undervalued. 

How To Build Relationships With Your Direct Reports

The key to successfully managing subordinates is to build strong professional relationships with them based on trust and mutual respect. Here are some tips for how you can do this. 

  1. Get to know your direct reports at an individual level. 

This helps you understand their management and communication style, and ensures they feel valued. It also helps with mentoring and career development, which are key management responsibilities. 

  1. Have regular one-to-ones with them. 

Catching up with employees allows them to raise any concerns or questions and provide an update on their work. This has a direct impact on employee engagement. A recent report found that one-to-ones can increase the odds that an employee will be highly engaged by 430%. 

  • Practice open and honest communication. 

A good way to do this is to encourage participation by everyone during team meetings. Also ensure your direct reports have access to a range of ways to communicate with you and their colleagues—including email, phone, and chat apps

  1. Provide effective feedback

Be direct, specific, and empathetic in how you give feedback to your reports. Identify how you can help them address any areas of concern. Don’t forget that feedback is a two-way street—you also need to take on board constructive feedback from your direct reports. 

  1. Involve direct reports in decision-making.

Aside from the opportunities for innovation this offers, it also demonstrates that you value your direct report’s opinion and helps them create a sense of ownership over their work. 


Direct reports are the employees who are directly managed by a more senior staff member—typically a manager, supervisor, or team leader. Managers are responsible for delegating tasks to their direct reports, mentoring them, and managing their performance.

Deciding on the number of direct reports to assign to a manager varies between organizations. It also depends on factors including the size of the organization, organizational culture, and the complexity of the work.