Line management is a term that is thrown around a lot when talking about internal business processes and systems, but a large percentage of people don’t actually know what it means.
The role of line manager has been around in some shape or form since the industrial revolution when the owners of factories and workshops realised that their workforce was so large that it needed someone to manage the workers, organise production and report to them for updates on progress and productivity. Now, it’s a concept that refers to anyone who handles people and processes that are directly involved in delivering a service or creating a product.
Whilst line management is usually seen as the lowest level of the management hierarchy, it’s an incredibly important role that acts as the foundation for all successful businesses and companies. Line managers need to be incredibly organised and detail-orientated whilst also understanding the wider objectives of a business, and are also required to interact with a range of employees to keep the workforce happy.
To help give a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of a line manager, this article includes a full breakdown of the role, what skills are required to succeed in line management, and how you can become one.
A line manager is in charge of overseeing and managing other employees whilst reporting to a more senior member of management. They act as the touchpoint between workers and business executives by coordinating with both parties to ensure that employee needs are met and company goals are achieved.
Line managers are employed in a wide range of organisations, from retail and hospitality to finance and marketing. They’re usually found in larger companies where there are too many employees for a head manager or director to coordinate with themselves, and make up the lowest layer of the hierarchy of management in most businesses.
The term ‘line management’ comes from the fact that this role coordinates with ‘front line’ workers; employees who are directly responsible for creating a product or delivering a service. Line managers are responsible for delivering feedback and praise so that employees are happy in their roles, and ensuring that productivity remains high and company policies and goals are communicated to workers.
Without line management, it is unlikely that the majority of businesses would continue to operate efficiently and cohesively. A line manager has an overall idea of business aims and processes, but is also down on the ground with the workers in a company and can spot where something might not be working, which employees have the potential to do more for a company, and where more support or guidance from upper management might be needed.
Effective line management looks different for every company, as different products and services require different kinds of processes, interventions and management. The role may have a different name, such as ‘team leader’ or ‘supervisor’, but if it involves coordinating with both frontline workers and senior managers, it’s line management.
Every line manager will have a different set of specific responsibilities depending on the company they work for and the employees that they manage. However, typical responsibilities that are seen in the role include:
Some people dismiss line management as being merely an administrative role that acts as a go-between in a company. But it’s actually a position that requires an array of different skills, the most important of which are outlined below.
As a line manager, communication is the most important skill that you can bring to the role. You will have to communicate with the employees that you're in charge of and the senior management who dictate your role and responsibilities, so being able to clearly and effectively express yourself is essential.
Written communication skills are also just as important as verbal communication skills in this role, as you will have to provide plenty of reports on employee progress, overall performance and process development.
Whilst line management is not the most senior managerial role in a company, you are still in charge of other employees. The size of this group will vary depending on your organisation, but you will need strong and confident leadership skills if you are going to be understood and respected by the people that you manage.
Having the confidence and the ability to take charge of situations, make decisions for an entire team and communicate what needs to be done, both to employees and upper management, is an essential part of being a line manager.
One of the most important skills that are required of a line manager is organisation. The role requires taking charge of other employees and deciding what needs to be done to meet business goals and objectives, and you will not be able to do this effectively if you aren’t incredibly organised.
As well as having the ability to organise other people, you will also need to be able to effectively organise yourself. A line manager has a wide range of different responsibilities, and you will need to ensure that everything gets done on time and to the best of your abilities, which will require excellent organisational skills.
As the designated member of staff in charge of a team of other employees, you will need to ensure that the people you are responsible for remain motivated and engaged whilst they are at work. This doesn't just mean ensuring that they stay focused and positive whilst at work, but also that they feel fulfilled in their role and like they are making good progress in their career.
Whilst many of the skills required to be a good line manager are interpersonal, analytical thinking is also a key part of the role. You will need to frequently assess how employees are performing, whether the processes they are following are effective and whether there are any aspects of their work that can be improved to increase productivity.
The most successful line managers are not only brilliant communicators with excellent people skills, but they are also very analytical. Being able to focus on details and identify solutions is just as important as having an overall idea of progress and performance, which is why it is a role that requires a multitude of different talents.
Finally, to be a good line manager you need to be able to multitask. With so many different responsibilities as part of your day-to-day job, being able to keep multiple tasks in mind and complete all of them in the most efficient way possible is essential.
A key part of being a good line manager is being able to relate to the workers you are in charge of, ensure that they view you as approachable, and make all your decisions while thinking about how other employees will be affected. Not only will this mean that the people you work with like you more, but overall the company will have happier and more satisfied employees, which is better for business and brand image.
Delegation is also an important part of doing the job well. Whilst you are responsible for certain tasks or projects being completed, this does not mean that you should micromanage every detail. Trust the other staff that you work with and delegate fairly so that everyone is involved.
Whilst an aspect of line management is giving constructive feedback, highlighting poor behaviour and delivering requests for improvement, it’s also important to be positive about things as well. Again, this will improve your relationship with the workers you are in charge of, and make their roles feel more enjoyable and rewarding.
Finally, a good line manager holds themselves accountable. You are responsible for meeting targets, deadlines and performance expectations even if you are not the one doing the work, and accountability will ensure you are respected and prevent future mistakes.
Becoming a line manager allows you to work in a wide range of different sectors, so no matter what industry you have an interest in, you can get involved in the critical running of a company.
There are no specific qualifications that you need to do the role, although line management training courses are available for those who want to develop their skills and get a good idea of what the job involves. If you’re looking to become a line manager in a certain sector, studying a subject in this area might be useful.
As well as possessing the key skills that we have outlined above, having experience in other managerial roles will improve your chances of success in a career as a line manager. Being able to show a potential employer that you already know how to manage and organise others, deliver feedback and training, and communicate with a range of other staff is the most important thing you can do when working to become a line manager.
A common way that many people make it into the role is by being promoted from one of the workers managed by a line manager into the position itself. Having existing knowledge of the roles you will be responsible for and knowing how the company operates are valuable assets, so this is another way into line management.
The key difference between a manager and a line manager is that a line manager is directly responsible for organising, managing and liaising with employees, but they also report to a more senior manager who is in charge of them. ‘Manager’ is also a more general term that can refer to a lot of different roles, whereas a line manager is a specific position.
First line management is just another word for line management. The ‘first’ in the name comes from the fact that they are the first point of contact between employees and middle management.
Front line managers are all the people in a managerial position who have the most contact with employees in an organisation. This includes line managers but also applies to general office managers and supervisors as well.
Line management is an essential part of keeping a business running smoothly and efficiently. Being able to coordinate with both front-line workers and top-level management requires decisive, confident, and organised individuals, and it’s a role that many people find incredibly rewarding because of the difference they make and the involvement they have in how a company operates.
We offer both ‘Employment Law for Line Managers - Managing Change and Performance’ and ‘Employment Law for Line Managers - Recruitment, Pay and Retention’ online course for line managers who want to learn more about the legislation that affects their role and how they can develop their skills.