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In "Disaster", Worf is put in charge of ten-forward by Commander Riker. However, there are higher ranking officers on board (for instance a department head like Dr. Crusher). If one of those officers were to come in, could Worf give them orders? Could that officer supercede Riker and take charge from Worf?

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    If it's enough like the US navy then yes; officers in the chain of command can (and are expected to) command department officers, even if the latter have higher rank.
    – DavidW
    Jan 31, 2023 at 13:47
  • @DavidW interesting, I hadn't thought about that. Would it change if the person in charge at the time of the disaster were not in the chain of command? For instance, if the department head of stellar cartography just happened to be there and Riker ordered her to take charge? Jan 31, 2023 at 14:27
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    @MichaelStachowsky - If Riker gives an order, it sticks unless it's countermanded by Riker or Picard (or Data or Worf, since they're basically trusted to give orders on behalf of Picard and Riker). The key here is to not get hung up on rank, and think more about the chain of command.
    – Valorum
    Jan 31, 2023 at 15:06
  • Do you mean "take charge of Worf"?
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 31, 2023 at 21:34
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    It's called "positional authority"
    – Steve
    Feb 1, 2023 at 20:20

3 Answers 3

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There are effectively two distinct questions here.

Can Worf order higher-ranked officers around?

Worf has been given a direct order by the ship's First Officer; to remain in place and support injured crew coming into the ship's refuge area.

RIKER: Okay, you and I will try to get there. Mister Worf, this room is going to fill with wounded in a few minutes and they're going to need help. I want you to stay in charge here.

WORF: Yes, sir.

He isn't 'in command' of Ten Forward, but as fourth-in-command of the ship, he already effectively outranks anyone who isn't Data, Riker or Picard and can give them orders that don't conflict with orders they already have from Data, Riker and Picard.

Can a higher-ranked officer order Worf around?

An officer holding a higher rank than Worf can order him to do things that don't conflict with his existing orders from Riker, but only a very specific set of circumstances would allow them to supersede an order from the First Officer entirely;

  • Receiving a further order from the Captain or First Officer (or Data, since he's higher in command).

  • Someone relaying orders from the Captain or First Officer.

  • Various standing orders and directives from Starfleet.

  • Orders from the CMO relating to health matters.

Of course, if Worf's existing orders no longer make sense (for example, if there's a second emergency that requires his assistance or he learns that the current emergency is over) he can be expected to use his own best judgement to act independently, and to then to report to Riker, Data or Picard as soon as convenient.

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    Worth noting also that the chain of command pretty much stops at Picard. If some Starfleet Admiral contacted Worf on a subspace channel or whatnot (or even if said Admiral was on the ship visiting in person but not in command) and gave him contrary orders, he would not be expected to follow them without first confirming with the Captain, since he is ultimately in charge of the vessel. (Pretty sure almost this exact situation came up in another episode of one of the shows.) Feb 1, 2023 at 14:40
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    @DarrelHoffman - The Enterprise does periodically carry admirals. Given that all Starfleet admirals are moustache-twirling villains, Worf would be well advised to ignore any of their orders
    – Valorum
    Feb 1, 2023 at 21:29
  • @Valorum: It seems to me that either of your Answers would be boosted by direct quotes pointing out exactly what Riker says to Worf. Does he say Worf is in charge? If not, then your answer would seem to be correct. But, if he does, then there's at least an argument for the other Answer.
    – trlkly
    Feb 1, 2023 at 23:21
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    Worf isn't fourth in command of the Enterprise - he's only a lieutenant (until Generations) and there were several lieutenant commanders above him - including Data, Geordi, Crusher and Troi.
    – HorusKol
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:02
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    @HorusKol - At this point in the show (fifth season) Worf is 4th in command of the ship under Picard, Riker and Data. He has a lower rank than others on the ship, but he's the Chief of Security and a bridge officer.
    – Valorum
    Feb 3, 2023 at 16:44
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There was a similar situation in the episode The Arsenal Of Freedom.

This was a first season episode. In the first season Geordi was usually on the Bridge, and there was a series of temporary Chief Engineers.

Picard beams down to a planet leaving Geordi in command.

The ship comes under attack. The current Chief Engineer comes to the bridge to take command. Geordi refuses.

Note that the Chief Engineer not only outranks Geordi, he is Geordi's department head, and directly above him in the chain of command.

So there is direct evidence in Star Trek continuity that Worf could have given orders to someone with a higher rank.

Ship's log, supplemental. Lieutenant La Forge in command. I am unable to beam up the away team due to an unseen assailant attacking the ship. To make matters worse, Chief Engineer Logan is on his way to the Bridge, and he's not paying a courtesy call.

[Bridge]

LOGAN: Why are we still in orbit? We're taking a beating.

LAFORGE: We've got to hold out as long as we can. Now, if we can disable our attacker, if only for a few seconds, we can drop our shields and beam the away team back aboard.

LOGAN: If we follow that plan, we'll lose the Enterprise. In view of the present crisis, I believe you should relinquish command to me.

LAFORGE: No.

LOGAN: I outrank you.

LAFORGE: Mister Logan, I'm in command.

LOGAN: The Captain did not anticipate the Enterprise would come under attack. If he had, would he have left the Bridge to you?

[snip]

LOGAN: You can't fight this thing and win. We've got to break orbit now.

[snip]

LOGAN: Lieutenant La Forge. Geordi. I know you want to do what's best for the Enterprise. So do I. Now the best thing

LAFORGE: The best thing, Mister Logan, is for this discussion to end and for you to return to your duties. Now, I'm in charge until relieved by Commander Riker or Captain Picard.

LOGAN: You're ignoring my greater rank and experience.

LAFORGE: Not at all. In fact, just to opposite. I'm counting on it. Now I need you to get back down to Engineering and get me every available scrap of emergency power you can. The more power we can channel to the shields, the longer we'll be able to hold out. Now, Mister Logan.
(Logan leaves)

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    This is actually quite nice that Logan agrees he can't unilaterally take command, and needs La Forge's consent to do so. Above-average writing. Feb 1, 2023 at 2:02
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    This situation is different. Picard has left LaForge in command. Technically he now outranks everyone that isn't above him in the chain of command.
    – Valorum
    Feb 1, 2023 at 9:34
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    @Valorum It's not clear to me what distinction you're trying to draw by characterizing the situation as different from Worf being left "in charge" of Ten Forward. How is it different? Are you claiming that Riker's order does not put Worf in command of the room?
    – Corrodias
    Feb 1, 2023 at 10:34
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    @Corrodias - There's a huge difference between being told to stay in a particular vicinity to support an emergency and being given command of a vessel. Worf hasn't been put in command of the room.
    – Valorum
    Feb 1, 2023 at 12:45
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    Minor point - Geordi is a navigation officer in Arsenal of Freedom and wears command red - he is not anywhere within the department of engineering so Logan is not Geordi's department head.
    – HorusKol
    Feb 3, 2023 at 14:54
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In the real world, you have what Star Trek often alludes to: the conn

Within the U.S. Coast Guard, Shipyard and U.S. Navy, the captain of a vessel typically selects a junior officer to perform the role of conning for him or her. Such an individual has the title of "officer of the deck" (abbreviated OOD) or "the conning officer" while on duty, and he or she will stand watches at four-hour intervals carrying out the captain's commands.[1] However, the captain can immediately take the conn by simply issuing an order to the helm.

Turning over the conn is a line used throughout Star Trek.

The idea is that the ship's senior officer can leave a junior officer in command. At that point, the junior officer is acting with the authority of the senior officer. In other words, at some point, it's assumed a senior officer will return and assume command. You wouldn't want the captain coming up to you and asking why you didn't listen to the person who was left in command in their stead.

Rank only matters when there is no clear person in charge. In the same episode Disaster, the officer on duty is killed (transcript). The person left in charge of the conn was a Lieutenant. What's interesting is that there was someone more senior than her on the bridge

RO: We need to start emergency procedures. Who's the duty officer?
O'BRIEN: Lieutenant Monroe was in command, but she's dead. I believe Counsellor Troi is the senior officer on the deck.
RO: Counsellor Troi?
O'BRIEN: She carries the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Could Troi have given Monroe orders if Monroe were in any other capacity? Certainly. A Lieutenant Commander outranks a mere Lieutenant. But Monroe was in command of the bridge at the time. In fact, we never see Troi's rank factor into TNG prior to this.

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    True. Ensign Ro and many TV viewers had a collective "Wait, what?" moment there. Feb 2, 2023 at 0:06
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    Just re-watched that scene. Based on her reaction, I think Troi had the same moment. :D Feb 2, 2023 at 10:04
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    This is absolutely correct. There's even a saying in the Army "Don't confuse your rank with my authority." I had many instances where I was in a position to give orders to those who outranked me, and just as many where I was in the position to take them from people I outranked. It's not uncommon in the slightest.
    – Kevin
    Feb 2, 2023 at 15:50
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    The US Navy (which Star Trek mostly draws from) avoids this by classifying officers as Unristricted Line, Restricted Line, and Limited Duty. Command devolves only to Line officers, which lets you have uniformed doctors without them also needing to be trained to command a ship. Star Trek seems to have done away with this distinction.
    – fectin
    Feb 3, 2023 at 15:47
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    @fectin It may be worth noting that Dr. Crusher made a specific point of being trained to command the ship. Spock put McCoy in command just long enough to be arrested and McCoy was very baffled. I suspect the various series focus so exclusively on the bridge crew/cast that the Navy model you described could exist unseen. For example officers exist in the science departments but they seem to be more like civilian lab managers. Mar 14, 2023 at 17:48

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