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.

A person in a business suit is using a tablet computer.

What Does a Line Manager Do?

The following are some of the responsibilities of a line manager.

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.

A person in a suit and tie standing in front of a group of people.

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.

A person in a suit and tie standing in front of a group of people.

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!

An individual in jeans and a blazer holding a laptop.

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.

Three people sitting at a table talking to each other.

Line Manager Training

According to a recent study by West Monroe, 59% of managers supervising up to two people don’t receive formal managerial training. This shocking statistic shows how important it is to know what a line manager is and the tasks they cover.

The same study also found that 41% of managers with up to five colleagues under their supervision suffer the same training deficiency.

However, improving your business’s personnel development program shouldn’t be laborious.

With nearly 60 years of professional development expertise under our belt, TSW’s core management training courses understand and focus on the importance of effective managerial education.

However, we also appreciate that effective coaching moves away from didactic environments and scenarios to encourage real-world practice, fostering opportunities for knowledge implementation.

But why is specific line manager training so necessary now? And how do you know when your team is receiving high-quality guidance?

How important is line manager training?

Any number of situations can be thrown at your management team, from conducting or arranging comprehensive health & safety training courses to reassuring staff about business strength.

For example, new research by McKinsey in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic found that one in 16 workers will need to change occupation by 2030. So, there’s never been a better time to improve your managerial training solutions.

Moreover, line managers are directly responsible for team performance. The best leaders possess the skills to galvanise results without adversely affecting morale.

To this end, a recent report by CIPD highlighted a direct correlation between poor managers and employee engagement. The report found that, according to workers, two of the core reasons for stress-related absence were “workload” and “management style.”

This proves the importance of line managers in productivity and adds further credence to the suggestion that managers can directly impact staff behaviour.

But, with such diverse challenges ahead, what does effective training for line managers look like?

10 topics that should be included in effective line manager training

Successful training should prepare your team for the effective execution of general line manager duties and responsibilities while simultaneously covering as many challenges as possible.

In addition, it covers a breadth of topic genres, from acing the art of effective communication to displaying strong emotional intelligence.

A comprehensive training schedule touches on these 10 topics:

  • Performance management
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Health and Safety
  • Effective delegation
  • Recruitment, selection, and induction
  • Time management
  • Decision making

That might seem like a broad scale of subject matter for a role that sits just above the team in a standard business hierarchy. So, let’s break down the nuances of line manager roles versus those of other management personnel.

Three people talking and smiling while holding a tablet.

Challenges of Being a Line Manager for the First Time

Becoming a Line Manager for the first time can be a proud but daunting moment. As we’ve already discussed, it now means you’re directly responsible for your team’s performance.

Making the step up to management can come with several common challenges.

Some of the most abundant include:

  • Communicating effectively 

  • Multi-tasking 

  • Performance management 

  • Developing leadership while maintaining performance

  • Conflict management and resolution

  • Task delegation

  • Providing feedback and recognition 

  • Safeguarding employee well-being 

  • Emphasising brand culture

Communicating effectively

Open lines of communication are crucial for ensuring your team works effectively. Moreover, consistent dialogue can encourage a collaborative environment where employee engagement helps drive productivity.

Employee engagement is a huge factor in productivity. In fact, Gallop’s State of the Global Workplace report found that worker disengagement has cost the global economy $8.8 trillion in lost productivity.

Additionally, ensuring open dialogue exists throughout the team is imperative for building relationships based on mutual trust.

Activities like regular check-ins and one-to-ones help foster positive working relationships and trust-building. They can also ensure team conflicts are managed quickly and effectively.

Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is one of the bedrocks of what line managers do. While most employees with a view on career progression will have leveraged multi-tasking skills in their career previously, spinning plates as a manager can be tougher.

But, rather than standard task work, managerial functions are more bred into time, stress and relationship management.

However, somewhat paradoxically, one line management skill that can aid in multi-tasking efforts is delegation. We’ll discuss this trait more shortly.

A group of people sitting around a table with a laptop.

Performance management 

A leading line management proficiency is the ability to drive performance through shared accountability for results..

Again, open communication lines are crucial to maintaining strong performance. For example, notifying employees of target achievement.

Conversely, it’s just as important to notify employees when performance dips against targets. Although, this should be eventuated in a constructive and developmental way.

Breaking this particular aptitude down further, strong performance management consists of five core steps: 

Effective five-step performance management process

  1. Planning and goal setting – SMART goals are perfect for setting attainable targets within realistic timeframes. 

  2. Collaborative involvement – engage in developmental conversations with employees during one-to-ones. This revolves around setting goals that both management and workers can agree on.

  3. Feedback – line managers and employees should welcome feedback to drive performance. Set up regular sessions to track changes.

  4. Progress tracking – monitoring development helps put employees in charge of their progress. Managers should encourage workers to exceed attainable targets.

  5. Reward and compensation – celebrating team wins is a key element of performance management. This helps to build team morale as well as enforce trust relationships.

Developing leadership skills while maintaining performance

Most line management skills we’ve discussed thus far are centred around enhancing and maintaining team performance. However, this ability is more grounded in personal development.

Balancing new responsibilities with your own workload can be tough for first-time managers. It helps to maintain clear goals both for yourself and the team. Track progress and celebrate success along the way.

However, if your personal development trajectory stalls as a result of team engagement efforts, our management training courses are perfect for sharpening your tools.

Three people sitting at a conference table.

Conflict management and resolution

Conflict management is an aptitude that leaders hope they never need to use.

But whether through personality clashes, differing opinions or simple misunderstandings, conflicts can arise. It’s your job to know how to resolve them effectively from the moment you begin your new role.

There are five essential skills to develop when resolving workplace discord:

  1. Proactivity – don’t let conflict linger. 

  2. Observation – evaluate your team regularly and note any unusual interactions or body language.

  3. Impartiality – always remain fair and reserve judgemental feelings or behaviour.

  4. Avoid assumptions – listen and learn, never assume.

  5. Situational awareness – know when to step in when resolution talks are being dominated by one party.

In addition to these broader steps, new managers can seek advice internally from senior or more experienced colleagues to workshop sensible resolutions.

Don’t be afraid to ask for solutions in a bid to try to bring the two parties together and establish an amicable progression point.

Conflict resolution technique

Alternatively, the Gibbs Reflective Cycle is another incredibly effective conflict resolution and efficacy review style.

The self-reflection process transitions through six key phases:

  • Description
  • Feelings
  • Evaluation
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • Action plan.

Whether you use this process to arrive at a sensible solution or to review your own management approach, it can provide much-needed perspective.

A person in a shirt and tie holding a notepad and pen.

Task delegation 

A recent study by the US Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 84% of employees left jobs due to bad managers.

Of that number, 37% outlined issues around managerial delegation as a reason for leaving.

Delegation issues in newly-appointed managers generally stem from concerns over time-sapping mentoring processes, unwillingness to relinquish control, or feelings of retained accountability.

However, there’s more to delegation than simple task reassignment. To be a successful manager, it pays to recognise when functions can be handed over.

Lower-level duties, non-growth-focused tasks or roles better suited to another colleague’s unique skillset are all examples of shareable workload opportunities.

Providing feedback and recognition

Feedback is a cornerstone of development – both professionally and personally. But managers must know how to leverage feedback to attain the desired galvanistion effect.

Improperly relayed feedback (good or bad) can have a negative impact on employees if incorrectly delivered.

Safeguarding employee wellbeing

A recent study by Champion Health recorded that 76% of professionals are currently experiencing moderate to high levels of stress.

Some factors in building work-related stress are:

  • Boring or unstimulating roles
  • Monotonous task lists 
  • Unmanageable task lists
  • Changes within the business
  • Role changes
  • Professional or financial insecurity.

Line managers can face daily warning signs of these stress-builders in their team. So it’s incredibly important to ensure work remains engaging, collaborative and balanced for all.

Team building exercises are an excellent way to break up the monotony of the 9-5 while simultaneously enhancing your team culture. Speaking of culture, let’s address the final core skill of first-time line managers.

Emphasising brand culture

One of a line manager’s lesser-referenced duties or responsibilities is to be a flag carrier for brand culture within your team.

Strong company values should be passed down through employees. The best instances of exemplary culture embolden employees to use brand values as a conduit for decision-making.

One such example of an incredible brand culture is Airbnb. The company’s “Champion the mission” value inspires employees to encourage diversity and inclusion wherever possible.

Two individuals in business attire looking at a tablet.

Strategies for Success as a Line Manager

As we’ve demonstrated throughout this article, knowing how to be a good line manager is constructed of various decisions, processes and approaches.

However, courses like our ILM level 3 award in leadership and management demonstrate that, with strong strategies and the correct mindset, you can continuously hone your management skills.

The pathway to line managerial success can be split into five core strategies. Let’s dive deeper into those now to give you a more rounded understanding.

Building solid relationships with team members

Building solid relationships as a line manager doesn’t mean taking the team out for drinks or attempting to become a best friend to all.

As mentioned earlier, solid professional relationships establish trust through open communication and accountability, using brand culture to help navigate challenges.

On the route to achieving mutual trust, it’s essential to understand each employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and career aspirations while providing regular feedback and support to foster professional development.

Showing team members (through actions, not just words) that you genuinely care for their development is vital to cultivating strong bonds.

Empowering and motivating employees

Empowering employees to make decisions and take ownership of their workload can be a powerful motivator. Encourage autonomy, delegate tasks, and provide growth and skill development opportunities.

Giving employees a chance to take action and make organisational decisions inspires, engages and helps instil those important brand cultures we discussed earlier.

However, once you have offered autonomy or delegated key assignments, it’s important to implement regular review sessions to track goal achievement and plot progression.

Additionally, it’s just as crucial to deliver feedback – whether positive or developmental.

Continuous learning and professional development

As our leadership courses demonstrate, the path to professional development is constantly evolving. Line managers should remain adaptable and open to personal improvement opportunities.

Not only does this highlight your growth focus to the team, but it also signposts your willingness to improve for their benefit. Additionally, this approach simultaneously sends signals to higher management that you are continually developing.

Adapting your skills and acting on performance-related feedback positively and constructively delivers vital opportunities to train for the challenges we outlined earlier, such as conflict management and colleague engagement.

Creating a positive work environment

Everything we have covered thus far has aimed at assisting you in cultivating a working culture that allows staff to flourish, encourages collaboration, minimises conflict and, ultimately, enables a positive working environment.

But, creating this engaging atmosphere depends on your attitude, patience, and colleague resonance abilities.

As we’ve mentioned, trust is a key factor in shaping a collaborative space. Each individual needs to feel safe to project ideas and discomforts as they arise.

Effective time management techniques

There is more to time management than simple task prioritisation. Line managers need to learn to eliminate or delegate non-crucial tasks, execute effective diary management, and be sensible when setting work deadlines (both for yourself and your colleagues).

Deadline setting is a proven driver of workload efficiency and task management. When done correctly by setting attainable goals, this process boosts colleague engagement by leveraging accountability.

Conversely, knowing when employees are being pushed too hard is essential. Remember to acknowledge signs of workload-related stress in your team.

Four people talking in an office.

Line Manager vs. Manager vs. Supervisor

As we’ve previously mentioned, ‘line manager’ is not a job title. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of responsibility for a team or direct reports.

However, one initial distinction we can make when establishing ‘line managers’ against ‘managers’ is that a ‘manager’ position is generalist and covers a host of different roles. In comparison, line managers are more centred around team/personnel scenarios.

But let’s take this analysis one step further. To add more clarity to the changes in positional responsibilities, we should analyse the difference between a Line Manager and a Departmental Manager.

Department Manager

Also known as a ‘Functional Manager’, it helps to think of departmental bosses more as business strategists than personnel managers.

They oversee departmental performance by strategising pathways to effective goal achievement via frameworks to manage budgets, resources and ROI.

Line Manager

Generally more hands-on than a departmental colleague, Line managers look after the team’s day-to-day operations.

Line managers implement company policies and offer personal and professional support to ensure goals are achieved. As such, they are more accountable for individual team performance. 

Supervisor

Typically sitting slightly lower in the business hierarchy than a Line Manager, supervisors oversee a specific area of a department.

As such, supervisors are more occupied with task completion and short-term goal achievement than strategy or employee management. It helps to think of them as the head of a production line or in a quality control scenario.

To further clarify those distinctions, here’s a helpful reference table.

 

Line Manager Vs. Department Manager Vs. Supervisor Comparison Table:

Management Role

Line Manager

Functional Manager

Supervisor

Primary Focus

Directly oversees a specific person or team, managing daily performance vs. business goals.

Sets overall departmental direction and goals, ensuring effective resource utilisation.

Oversees a specific area or function within a department, focusing on immediate task execution and team coordination.

Responsibilities

Planning team workload, providing support and  implementing company policies at a team level. Directly responsible for team performance.

Developing strategies to achieve company goals in alignment with budget and resources. Usually sits above line managers and interacts with departmental heads.

In charge of the smoothness of daily operations, coordinates team tasks, and has a more hands-on approach to workforce management.

Interaction Level

First-hand team interaction acts as a bridge between the workforce and higher management.

Works more closely with department heads. Can also engage with line managers or supervisors.

Works closely with the immediate team to oversee specific functions.

Scope of Authority

Managing a team or department. Influencing and implementing operational decisions at the ground level.

Responsible for departmental direction. Inputting on strategic decisions at a higher level.

Authority is limited to a specific area or function. They make decisions related to immediate task execution.

Involvement in Planning

Often involved at the team level with the operational execution of tasks.

Involved in a strategic development stage of plans to achieve company goals.

Immediate task planning and execution within a specific area or function.

Performance Duties

Directly responsible for team performance, conducts performance one-to-ones, and appraisals.

Ensures effective resource utilisation and departmental performance.

More focused on immediate operations rather than one-to-ones or appraisals. 

 

What About Line Manager vs. Production Manager?

When it comes to determining what a line manager is in comparison to a production manager, the differences can be somewhat harder to spot. That’s chiefly because their roles can overlap.

However, one main distinction is production managers are ordinarily found in the manufacturing industry. Overseeing the whole product creation process from strategy to quality control.

Meanwhile, line managers (when in a manufacturing setting) maintain efficiency on an operational level.

A more helpful way to distil this comparison is this – line managers ensure that the staff is happy and has the tools and training required to complete role-specific tasks. Meanwhile, production managers take care of everything else regarding product manufacturing.

Now we know more about the nuances between differing management positions, let’s look into the obstacles you could face from the moment you step into management.

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.

Picture of Matthew Channell
Matthew Channell
Matthew is TSW Training’s Commercial Director. He writes about performance focussed learning, leadership, and management approaches that have real-world, sustainable impact.
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