What is a Line Manager? Roles, Responsibilities and Skills

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In the intricate dance toward organisational success, who ensures a company’s people are working harmoniously towards the collective goal? Who leads each team, ensuring they collaborate effectively and are performing to their potential? Cue the line manager.

The line manager stands as a foundational pillar, connecting the strategic vision of leadership with the practical contributions of their team. This key business role serves to guide and unify, bridging the intricate layers of a business.

Within the organisational hierarchy, the line manager plays an essential role. Tasked with the dual responsibility of managing employees and balancing project needs, they’re crucial for achieving departmental and company-wide objectives at an operational level.

But what precisely is a line manager, and why do they hold such significance in the corporate world?

Discover the intricacies of this role in our TSW Training article. For those on the move, catch our narration on TSW’s skills development podcast, Learn Practice Perform

Key points

  • Line managers are accountable for their team’s performance. Win or lose, it’s the line manager’s watch, and they’re responsible
  • To truly lead a team, a line manager must master the art of managing people and the intricate systems and processes surrounding them.
  • Good line managers are the voice of their team, brave enough to communicate upwards, seeking clarity and direction for those on the front lines.

What is a Line Manager?

In the vast maze of organisational structures, the line manager emerges as a central figure. Directly responsible for a team of employees, they form the vital link in hierarchical systems, ensuring clear lines of authority and effective communication.

Line Manager Meaning and Definition

Take to the search engines, and you’ll find it hard to come by a comprehensive line manager definition. The Cambridge Dictionary offers a simple explanation that says all you need to know. A line manager is…

“…the person who is directly responsible for managing the work of someone else in a company or business, and who is one level above that person”

A line manager, often referred to simply as a “manager,” is an individual who has direct responsibility over employees and their work in an organisation.

The term “line manager” often underscores the direct line of authority and communication between managers and the people working in their teams.

It’s not a job title

A line manager is not a job title, it is a line of responsibility for another person or team

Think of it this way, my ‘boss’ is called Stuart and he is my line manager. On an organisational chart, you would see a solid line between his name and mine – hence the label.

So, in simpler terms, the term Line Manager implies a manager has a person or team of people who report to him or her.  

By extension, a manager that doesn’t manage people directly is not a line manager.

Project managers, for example, may co-rodinate a team of people who not report to them. However, they may be a line manager to a project co-ordinator.

To boot, some managers only manager a function and have no line managemenet responsibility. For example, an IT Manager may be responsible for the systems, networks and hardware in a business, but be a one man team.

What does a line manager do?

Line Manager Responsibilities

Line managers are the heartbeat of any organisation, pulsing life, direction, and purpose through its corridors.

They serve as the bridge between senior and frontline employees, ensuring their teams work for the organisation’s good and in pursuit of its objectives.

But what exactly do they oversee? Here’s a detailed insight:

  • Guardians of Performance: They monitor staff closely, aligning everyone with the organisation’s goals and standards.
  • Navigators of Growth: Through detailed assessment and feedback, they pinpoint roadblocks and help teams steer their growth trajectory.
  • Mentors and Trainers: Recognising knowledge gaps, they arrange internal and external training, ensuring the team’s perpetual readiness for success.
  • Resourceful Strategists: They deftly handle day-to-day decisions, from task allocations to operational adjustments, ensuring resources, be they manpower, materials, or machinery, are utilised optimally in pursuit of team and organisational goals.
  • Talent Spotters: Engaged deeply in recruitment, they hire, induct, and ensure new members assimilate well into the company’s culture.
  • Communication Conduits: They serve as a two-way channel, relaying crucial information between senior leadership and frontline staff. This includes conveying changes, missions, visions, and values from the top.
  • Safety Advocates: For line managers, health and safety are more than just tick boxes—they are imperatives.
  • System Architects: Developing efficient systems, handling information, and reporting are within the line manager’s realm, ensuring smooth operations irrespective of their specialist domain, be it finance, sales, or marketing.
  • People’s Champions: From leading meetings, conducting interviews, and guiding through disciplinary actions to nurturing growth and cultivating a conducive environment, they ensure everyone thrives.

It’s worth noting that GOOD line managers do these things, and they do them well!

In a nutshell, a line manager is about managing people and shaping the environment around them to drive a business forward.

What makes a good line manager?

A good line manager realises the role does not require them to do the hands-on work; their line management role makes them responsible for managing the people that do the work.

Here are five steps to becoming a good manager; it’s not an exhaustive list, but it is a great foundation for success:

  • Build and Develop Teams: surround yourself with great people and create an environment for them to thrive
  • Delegate and Empower: Stop doing the frontline work – it’s not your job, so learn to build a strong team, delegate effectively and empower your capable team
  • Developing Management Skills: management capability is a moving feast; understand the management skills you need and never stop working on them.
  • Organise Yourself and Your Team: work on your organisation and time management and help your team do the same
  • They Have Emotional Intelligence: get attuned to the emotional and motivational pulses of your team, fostering empathy, understanding, and effective communication.

Becoming a great line manager is a journey. It involves learning new skills and learning from mistakes.

But what happens when a line manager fails to learn from mistakes and refuses to develop new skills – enter the bad line manager!

What Makes a Bad Line Manager: 5 Common Traits

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, when discussing new research on the importance of people management, said their ‘…research starkly shows that poor managers that lack key people management skills can have a very negative effect on the mental health, job satisfaction and performance of the people they manage.  

So, what do poor managers look like? Here are some key features of a bad line manager:

  1. Lack of Clear Communication
    • In Practice: Managers often provide vague instructions, fail to set clear expectations, or withhold important information from team members.
    • Impact: Confusion, mistakes, and inefficiency. Team members waste time seeking clarity or making uninformed decisions.
  2. Failure to Provide Feedback
    • In Practice: Managers avoid giving positive and negative feedback, leaving employees uncertain about their performance.
    • Impact: Employees miss growth opportunities and may continue making mistakes unknowingly. Morale can decrease when good work goes unnoticed.
  3. Micromanagement
    • In Practice: Managers scrutinise every detail of their employees’ work, often intervening unnecessarily or demanding frequent updates.
    • Impact: Stifled employee creativity and initiative. It also creates an environment of distrust, leading to decreased employee engagement and job satisfaction.
  4. Lack of Empathy and Understanding
    • In Practice: Managers show little concern for their employees’ well-being or professional aspirations. They may dismiss or belittle employee concerns.
    • Impact: This damages the manager-employee relationship, decreasing loyalty and commitment. Over time, retention rates may decrease as employees seek better work environments.
  5. Avoidance of Responsibility
    • In Practice: When things go wrong, bad managers blame others and avoid taking responsibility for their decisions or the team’s performance.
    • Impact: This erodes trust and respect from team members. It can also lead to a culture where blame is passed around, and accountability is avoided.

Developing Bad Line Managers

Recognising these traits and understanding their consequences is vital for organisations seeking to improve management quality and overall workplace culture. Similarly, if you are a line manager and see any of these traits in yourself, you should consider working on these areas by:

There are many skills you will need for success, but identifying your strengths and weaknesses to prioritise action is a great place to start.

8 Essential Line Manager Skills and How to Develop Them

  1. Clear Communication

    What It Is: The ability to convey information succinctly and clearly.

    Develop It: Practice active listening. Enroll in public speaking and presentation courses. After meetings, ask team members if your points were clear. Role-play difficult conversations.

  2. Effective Delegation

    What It Is: Entrusting tasks appropriately without micromanaging.

    Develop It: Recognise team strengths. Set clear task expectations. Trust your team to take ownership. Review outcomes, not processes.

  3. Feedback Delivery

    What It Is: Providing both constructive critique and praise.

    Develop It: Be timely in giving feedback. Attend workshops on effective feedback. Encourage a feedback-rich culture.

  4. Decision Making

    What It Is: Being decisive in making informed choices confidently.

    Develop It: Gather data consistently. Weigh the pros and cons. Commit and learn from each decision. Seek mentorship on complex decisions.

  5. Emotional Intelligence and Empathy,

    What It Is: The ability to understand, value, and respond to your own and team members’ emotions effectively.

    Develop It: Cultivate active listening habits without interrupting. Sought feedback and engage in exercises and assessments to enhance self-awareness. Attend workshops on emotional intelligence. Foster an environment that promotes understanding and inclusivity.

  6. Conflict Resolution

    What It Is: Addressing and resolving disagreements efficiently.

    Develop It: Stay neutral in disputes. Understand all sides. Mediation training can be invaluable. Promote a no-blame culture.

  7. Time Management

    What It Is: Efficiently juggling multiple tasks.

    Develop It: Prioritise tasks using tools like the Eisenhower matrix. Set specific time blocks for tasks. Review and adjust weekly schedules. Avoid multitasking.

  8. Team Building

    What It Is: Cultivating a cohesive, balanced, collaborative team with talent in the right places.

    Develop It: Schedule regular team-building activities. Celebrate team achievements, big or small. Encourage open dialogue. Recognise individual contributions.

Incorporate these skills into your line management approach, and you’ll foster a team environment where growth, trust, and success are paramount.

Be Adaptable

Above all, great managers are adaptable, resilient and open to change. To excel as a line manager, you must continuously learn, upskill, and be receptive to feedback and change, all while supporting your team to do the same!

To improve your line management skills, speak to one of the team about our range of management and skills development courses.

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