Line managers balance people management with project organisation.
- Line managers are accountable for their team's performance. Win or lose, it's the line manager's watch and they're responsible
- To manage people effectively, you must first manage the systems and processes around them
- Line managers need the confidence to communicate up the chain of command to get clarity for front line workers
A line manager is the first layer of management above the front line workers. They're accountable for their department, or part in the business.
They manage one or more members of staff and oversee and evaluate employee contribution, performance and development.
Line managers are the first point of contact for their direct reports, and they liaise and relay information between senior leaders, HR and workers.
Their people management duties are on top of project organisation.
A first-line manager, a line manager and direct manager all refer to the same position. It's a natural progression from team leader and supervisor and the first layer of middle management. They only look after employees that are one-step below them in the company structure.
A good line manager realises they aren't responsible for doing the job, but for managing the people.
There are three steps to being a good manager:
- Stop doing the front line work - it's not your job
- Let go of all the front line skills and learn how to manage instead
- Trust your people and hand over control to team leaders
You're responsible and accountable for the success and failure of the team, which makes 'letting go of the job' very difficult. It'll keep you up at night.
What is a micromanager?
Micromanagement is an overbearing and controlling management style. Micromanagers are heavily involved in day-to-day tasks and allow their team little freedom to do their jobs and problem-solve.
A dictatorship doesn't motivate or inspire, in fact, it does the opposite.
Good managers manage the systems and processes around their people, so they have the opportunity and tools to flourish.
If you give your people power, delegate to supervisors and they see that you trust them, they'll want to work hard for you.
Channel that nervous energy into your new managerial responsibilities and it will almost guarantee your team performs as it's supposed to.
Line managers are responsible for developing systems, handling information and reporting. They are expected to balance that with people management too. A first-line manager will:
- Report on performance
- Communicate objectives
- Conduct annual reviews
- Conduct interviews, hire and fire
- Guide staff through disciplinary
- Lead meetings and one-on-ones
- Identify knowledge gaps and arrange training
- Coach and mentor
- Recruit, induct and settle new staff in
- Maintain and evaluate processes
- Communicate changes from senior leaders
- Communicate mission, vision and values
These responsibilities will largely mean sitting at a laptop, dissecting spreadsheets, reports, performance reviews and minutes. It's your watch, so your critical task is oiling the mechanisms around people so they can easily meet business objectives without any obstruction or distraction.
Getting the right systems in place is always a line manager's responsibility, regardless of their specialist area, whether that's finance, sales, marketing, or business development.
Good managers hire the right people, nurture their growth and build the environment around them so they're compelled to stay in their role and continue to contribute.
Management skills live in crafting and changing tactics in order to bring strategies to life and achieve a vision.
On your CV, the soft skills and strengths you'd list would be:
Let's look at what each of those entails:
Data is a powerful tool for a line manager. Analysing performance-related data gives you visibility beyond conversations with your direct reports. You don't need to worry about bias or conflict when the numbers tell the story.
Get your hands on measurement software and programmes so you can devote yourself to analysing the findings.
Data gives you insight about what your people can accomplish within a certain timeframe, under specific conditions, for different types of project.
Once you have systems and processes based on real performance data, you can accurately translate them into real-world actions.
Evaluative line managers are researchers. They use data as evidence, to prompt problem-solving. The data opens your mind to new ideas and your eyes to easily-fixed problems.
You can compare projects that had a heavy intervention, what happened when the goalposts moved, what the impact of training had and so on.
With information at your fingertips, there's always leverage and evidence to justify a change of process, whether it's a small or large adjustment.
You'll feel excited when your detective work drives change and gives your team cause to adopt a more competitive model.
Change can hurt a workplace culture if it's not communicated well, or when the team don't have support, but the thorough analysis gives them confidence that any proposed changes are in their interest
If projects derail, an evaluative line manager can identify and investigate:
- A drop in performance
- An unusual pattern of activity
- Sluggish delivery
- Barriers, obstructions and delays
For example, you can identify whether daily meetings enhance, or disrupt efficiency.
Evaluative line manager's judgements are always based on the assessment of qualities, skills and strengths of their people, against the environment they work in.
Using all the data to hand, they can diagnose pain points and suggest a considerate way forward for the team, that will still allow them to succeed and hit goals.
Organisational skills support clear communication and efficiency.
Managers in command of to-do lists, planners, calendars and time management tools are firmly in control of the operation. If you're organised, your people are clear about what's expected of them on a daily basis and longer-term.
It often means grafting at the start of a project, so you have every team meeting, annual performance review and one-on-one booked in weeks, if not months in advance.
It structures your team's time at work, which gives them security and the flexibility to relax into their role and just worry about the task at hand. Not distracted about whether they're running on schedule or hitting business objectives, because you've got it in hand.
Being organised keeps you in control, helps you to answer questions quickly, allocate resource and hustle in a new direction if you need to.
Line managers act as translators and mediators.
There's a cascade of communication from the director of upper function, down through middle management, to first-line managers, team leaders and supervisors.
As information cascades, it loses clarity and that's not ideal for line managers who usually receive instructions, with very little meaning behind them.
Context can be very persuasive. Asking your team to turn on its heels with no explanation, is a difficult sell.
Line managers are therefore in the awkward situation of communicating back up the line of command to ask for meaning. It's scary and will put your assertiveness skills to the test, but it will help your team to perform as expected.
Line managers can ask:
- Why is the strategy changing?
- Will it affect job security?
- Is it in reaction to COVID-19, or a move by the competition?
- Does it affect deadlines?
- Which targets will be impacted?
- When do the changes need to happen?
- Who is the point of contact?
- What results do we expect to see?
- When will there be a review?
Armed with this information, you can make the case clearly to your team.
You don't have time to lead, but your staff want a leader. By anticipating their questions and sourcing answers ahead of time, it shows you're in-charge and inspires loyalty.
If you want to improve your line management skills, speak to one of the team about our Core Skills For Management course.