Line managers play a vital role in the operation of a business, supervising and managing employees on a daily basis and acting as a liaison between the workforce and management functions.
The following guide for employers and HR personnel sets out the role of the line manager within an organisation, and how their responsibilities differ from those of other types of manager. We also look at what makes an effective line manager and what you should expect from them, with practical tips for prospective or existing line managers and the types of training they should undertake.
The role of the line manager
Line managers — also known as first-line managers, direct managers, supervisors or team leaders — can be found across many types of organisations and industry sectors in the UK, from production and construction through to retail, hospitality, media and finance. They often head a revenue-generating team or department, where they are tasked with meeting strategic and operational objectives in a specific functional area or line of business.They are also typically the main interface between an organisation’s front-line workers and other higher-ranking managers.
First and foremost, therefore, a line manager is directly responsible for overseeing and evaluating employee contribution, performance and development within the context of certain functions and operations for which they are accountable. As a line manager, they are the first layer of management above the front-line workers within an organisational hierarchy, where they only look after employees that are one-step below them in the organisation’s structure. Secondly, the line manager will report into a higher level of management, whilst overseeing the day-to-day duties of their designated team or department.
The role performed by a line manager is incredibly important in running a business, where their people management duties are on top of any project organisation. They will be responsible for giving more junior members of staff the guidance they need, and providing them with a link to those in higher ranking roles and across the organisation.
Although the line managers’ duties may change depending on the nature of the industry and the organisation in which they work, their common responsibilities could include:
- Recruiting and selection
- Onboarding and training new employees
- Managing existing employees, including disciplinary and grievance procedures
- Providing ongoing training, coaching and mentoring
- Planning out the career development of individual members of staff
- Performance management and appraisals, and giving performance feedback to all team members
- Ensuring policies and practices are effectively implemented to help the organisation meet its operational and strategic goals
- Measuring both individual and team metrics and performance against set targets
- Evaluating both individual and team performance, and delivering performance reviews
- Ensuring acceptable quality standards for all processes on their team
- Engaging and coordinating with other managers across the organisation
- Reporting back to senior management on productivity and other performance indicators.
The overall function of line management will also often cross into other functions vital to the success of a business, such as risk management, human resources and finance.
What is the difference between a line manager and other managers?
Although a line managers’ responsibilities can vary from organisation to organisation, depending on the nature and size of the business in which they are working, they essentially fulfil two extremely important management functions: overseeing employees and liaising with senior managers.
As such, a line manager is not the same as, for example, a project manager. A line manager is usually responsible for running an entire team or department, directing the work of other employees therein, as well as overseeing the administrative management of these employees. In contrast, a project manager is responsible only for the particular project they are tasked with managing, directing the work undertaken on that project by other employees assigned to work on it, but without being responsible for their administrative management. The project manager will be responsible for ensuring that work is done well and on time but, for example, they will not usually be required to discipline employees, promote or demote them, or otherwise have a say in their progression.
In a typical matrix management structure, the project manager will give work direction to the project team members, no matter what department or functional team they come from. The people who run those departments and teams, and manage all the individuals within them, are the line managers.
What should organisations expect from line managers?
Although it is senior management who will usually be responsible for developing and approving the strategy and goals of a business, the hard work of putting these into practice often takes place at lower levels of the organisation. Line managers are therefore critical in ensuring that employees are working toward achieving specific functional or organisational goals in a particular way, and will therefore play a huge part in the organisational productivity and performance of the business.
They will also be well-positioned to identify any problems with how any strategy is working out. In this way, the role and input of a line manager is not only essential for highlighting or pre-empting issues on the ‘shop floor’, but for organisational learning moving forward.
A line managers’ detailed knowledge of business processes and how the organisation works can make them ideal candidates for general management roles, where it is not uncommon for high-performing line managers to either broaden their responsibilities to encompass other areas of operations or rise through the ranks of management. For anyone wanting to take on a managerial position, becoming a line manager is often an ideal first step. In this way, employers can expect and should encourage ambitious line managers to use this role as a potential stepping stone into a more senior position, thereby creating home-grown talent and leadership within the organisation itself.
The line manager is also extremely well-placed to identify, develop and promote talent from the pool of employees that they oversee, creating the next generation of line managers and leaders.
What makes a good line manager?
A big part of a line manager’s role is ensuring that the employees reporting to them are doing their jobs effectively and efficiently. This means that a good line manager will have the ability to actively listen and communicate clearly with these individuals. They will also possess good leadership and organisational skills, easily able to prioritise and delegate tasks.
Being a good line manager means really understanding the needs and motivations of the members of staff that they oversee, in order to get the best possible performance out of these individuals on a daily basis. A good line manager will be actively involved with their team or department members, providing support and encouragement, and delivering constructive performance feedback on a daily basis. In this way, they will directly influence employee engagement and individual job satisfaction where, as a result, they will also impact organisational productivity and even customer or client satisfaction.
A good line manager will need to know the objectives, goals and workings of the business inside out, enabling them to provide vital information and support to their team or department, and ensure their activity and contribution is adding value to the organisation. Equally, they will need the confidence to communicate up the chain of command to get clarity on issues and objectives to enable their team to do their jobs effectively.
The key skills to be an effective line manager therefore include:
- The ability to actively listen
- The ability to communicate or interact well with others at all levels
- The ability to prioritise and delegate
- Good leadership and organisational skills
- Good motivational skills
- The ability to persuade and influence others
- The ability to maintain a calm and objective stance
- Results-driven thinking
- Good industry, operational and business knowledge
- A solid understanding of employment rights.
Practical tips for line managers
All line managers will work differently. However, the following practical tips can provide prospective or existing managers ways in which they can be the best for the business and its people.
The line manager must actively listen to their team: part of being a good line manager is learning how to listen. This means that every effort must be made to really get to know the different members of staff, establish their professional goals and understand what makes them tick. By understanding how people work best, the line manager can then get the most out of their team or department.
The line manager must learn how to prioritise and delegate: just because they are responsible for a team or department, it doesn’t mean they have to do all the work. By delegating rather than micro-managing, this will often lead to a more motivated team with more autonomy. Further, being able to prioritise what tasks need to be done, this will ensure targets are met in a timely and effective way.
The line manager must be accountable: even though the line manager is not responsible for doing all the work, it is their responsibility to ensure that the employees they oversee are able to undertake the work needed, and to do so well. The line manager is therefore ultimately responsible for the team or departments’ performance and output, both good or bad.
The line manager must praise and encourage hard work: the use of praise and encouragement can be a powerful tool for a line manager, where employees who are positively rewarded and recognised for their contribution are much more likely to be engaged in their work and, as such, work even harder. This can be achieved in a number of ways, from kudos over an email to team accolades.
The line manager must plan ahead: to get the most out of a team or department, a good line manager will recognise the importance of career progression. For those individuals looking to move up through the ranks, by working on their professional development this can help to keep them engaged, empowering them to improve, and to retain them within the business moving forward.
Line manager training
If you have a member of staff who is looking to move into line management, there are various training courses available to help them build and develop their managerial skillset. By investing in their professional learning and development you will, in turn, be investing in the future of your business.
Line management training could cover, for example, courses on specific aspects of employment law, in this way ensuring that your managers have an essential understanding of employee rights. Training should also include courses on effectively managing people in an organisational context.
The following topics will give employers and line managers a clear idea of what skills will be required, not just to be a good line manager, but to be a great line manager:
- People management
- Communication skills
- Leadership skills
- Effective team-building and motivation skills
- Understanding team culture
- Conflict management and employee relations
- Managing a disciplinary or grievance
- Conducting a performance appraisal and delivering feedback
- Performance improvement skills
- Coaching and mentoring
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Managing deliverables and outcomes
- Objective and goal setting
- HR processes and HR goals
- Health and safety at work
- Bullying in the workplace
- Sexual harassment in the workplace
- Working with people with disabilities
- Workplace wellness and mental health at work.
DavidsonMorris are experienced legal advisers to employers on all aspects of employment and immigration compliance. Working closely with our HR adviser colleagues, we provide a holistic service to employers on personnel data and document retention practices and deliver training to HR teams to support effective implementation. For help and advice with a specific issue, speak to our experts.
The role of the line manager FAQs
What is the role of a line manager?
The role of a line manager can vary from organisation to organisation, depending on the nature and size of the business, but they essentially fulfil two extremely important management functions: overseeing employees and liaising with higher-ranking managers.
What is the difference between a manager and a line manager?
There are various different types of manager, with varying degrees of responsibility depending on their seniority. A line manager is responsible for running a team or department, directing the work of more junior employees and overseeing their administrative management.
Is a supervisor a line manager?
The job titles of ‘line manager’ and ‘supervisor' are often used interchangeably, where the responsibilities associated with these roles are usually very similar. A line manager may also be called a first-line manager, direct manager or team leader.
What should you expect from a line manager?
A line manager should be able to oversee and evaluate employee contribution, performance and development within the context of certain business functions and operations for which they are accountable. They should also be able to liaise with higher-ranking managers.
Last updated: 22 April 2021