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Almost everyone in the workforce has a line manager and becoming a line manager is typically the first step people take when they seek to progress in their careers. A line managing position is often a steppingstone to higher positions and is the first way employees begin to climb the career ladder. But what is a line manager exactly? And what skills do you need in the role of line manager?
In this article, we’ll introduce what it means to be a line manager and give some specific information about common line management roles.
What is the role of a line manager?
Line managers exist in all industries and at all levels. Line managers manage employees and are responsible for the team development and performance. They will also be a point of contact between those they manage and the senior leaders above them.
Typically, a line manager will be one position above the employees they manage. They will carry out additional responsibilities like overseeing their team’s day-to-day tasks but will often work on similar tasks and projects as those they line manage too.
The role of a line manager is very important for business operations to run smoothly. They give junior employees guidance and support and provide a link to those in higher roles.
Depending on the business or industry, line managers might also be called team leaders or supervisors.
What are the line manager’s responsibilities?
Since line managers exist in a huge range of sectors and industries, their duties will be varied.
However, line managers all share common responsibilities, which might include:
- Managing a team of employees.
- Making sure their team meets its targets.
- Training junior staff and working on their development.
- Mentoring or coaching team members.
- Reporting to senior leaders with regards to team and individual performance.
- Managing a budget.
- Managing holiday approvals.
- Holding back-to-work interviews after employee sickness.
- Interviewing, hiring and inducting new members of the team.
- Guiding employees through disciplinaries.
- Leading team meetings.
- Leading appraisals.
- Communicating business changes.
- Identifying gaps in knowledge and arranging training opportunities.
With all of these responsibilities, you’re likely to see line managers dissecting reports and working on spreadsheets, meeting minutes and performance reviews in front of a computer. They’ll also have frequent meetings with seniors or other line managers.
What skills do you need to become a line manager?
Most first-level line managers don’t have any specific qualifications although they might have undertaken in-service training for the role. A lot of line management skills are down to experience – and experience is often the most important aspect of applying for a line management role.
No matter the industry or sector, a line manager needs to have a comprehensive understanding of the business. This means they can help those they line manage and support them as necessary.
Included in important line manager skills are:
- Excellent communication.
- Excellent organisation.
- Ability to delegate.
- Ability to prioritise.
- Ability to be objective.
- Ability to motivate.
- Ability to analyse.
- Ability to be evaluative.
The most important of these skills is communication. Good line managers will be aware of all the different ways of communicating. Without effective communication, a business can’t be as successful. A line manager needs to be able to act as a mediator and translator – not in terms of speaking another language, but it terms of passing on information to different people in different ways.
What is a line manager in the NHS?
Since its inception in 1948, the NHS has undergone significant developments and changes. Line managers exist in all areas of the NHS from front-line workers to admin staff. The NHS is unique in that no matter what role you play, you affect the patient experience. The National Institute for Health Research defines line managers as “senior professionals who have first-line management in addition to their professional responsibilities.”
According to the NHS Leadership Academy, there are 78 different categories of line manager roles in the NHS. These include roles in financial management, IT management, Human Resources management, and clinical management. In fact, around 5% of the NHS workforce could be classified as a manager. However, there are many people who will undertake some management activities without the official title.
What is a line manager in a school?
Education is one sector where the role of line managers has grown hugely over the last decade. According to the most recent teacher workforce statistics, 39.3% of secondary school teachers are also middle leaders. As for senior leaders (headteacher, deputy headteacher and assistant headteacher roles), the number has also grown. These leaders now make up over 18% of the entire teaching population. Back in 2010, this figure was only 10.8%.
In schools, all teaching and non-teaching staff have a line manager. Those who line manage teachers are usually still classroom teachers themselves but have an additional responsibility such as being a Head of Department or a Head of Faculty.
Line managers to teachers usually have what’s called a TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility), which is an additional payment for their extra responsibilities as a line manager. Line managers with TLRs usually remain on the same teaching pay scale as those they manage.
Pay scales in teaching are decided nationally but with the increase in free schools and academies, there is a wide variation between what teachers and line managers earn in different schools. There are also differences between what is needed to climb up the pay scales.
Senior leaders in schools are on a different pay scale entirely (the Leadership Pay Scale) and have additional responsibilities. They will usually be the line manager of a few different middle leaders (Heads of Department/Heads of Year) and their line manager is usually the Headteacher.
In some schools (typically large Multi Academy Trusts) their Heads of Department and Heads of Year are on the leadership pay scale. While this doesn’t necessarily mean they earn more, it does mean more can be asked of them in terms of hours and responsibilities.
As for school support staff, there are various levels and scales too. However, there is no statutory progression framework or pay scale for support staff as these are decided locally. Usually, support staff in school will have a support staff line manager and there is often at least one or two members of the Senior Leadership Team who are non-teaching staff who manage this side of the business.
What is a line manager in business?
Depending on the nature of the business and the business structure, a line manager in business can incorporate many different roles and responsibilities.
Some examples of line managers include:
- Asset managers.
- Brand managers.
- Communications managers.
- Office managers.
- Operations managers.
- Network managers.
- Talent managers.
- Systems managers.
- Human Resources managers.
- Sales managers.
- Supply chain managers.
Whether the business line manager role involves the overseeing of day-to-day workforce operations or mentoring staff, it is an all-encompassing role in a modern business. Line managers are essential to the running of a profitable business and their role is vital in its smooth running.
No matter the nature of the business, all line managers are essential culture creators. They must, psychologically speaking, be in lots of different places at once.
Ultimately, motivation and morale are the line manager’s responsibility but many line managers fail to realise their important role in developing this culture. What’s more, there is a certain talent in being able to work closely with co-workers while inspiring respect as the senior person in the team.
According to research by Great Place to Work, 70% of employees intend to seek alternative work in the future. The main reason for these thoughts is being subjected to poor line management and poor relationships. Thus, being a good line manager is essential.
What makes a good line manager?
A good line manager makes all the difference. Great line management is easily seen in a happy, successful team, compared to the fraught, unsuccessful ones that are a result of poor line management.
There are three specific things that a line manager can learn to be effective:
1. Learn how to delegate – The front-line work isn’t your job.
2. Learn how to trust those you line manager and give them control – Avoid micromanaging.
3. Learn how to manage others – Do some training.
Line managers are accountable and responsible for both the failures and successes of their team. It’s really important that they take responsibility for any failings and don’t play a blame game.
Other things that make a good line manager:
Praising hard work and success
When a line manager recognises a person’s success and performance, it makes a difference. Whether the recognition is public or private, a good line manager makes sure dedication and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
Planning for future and progression
A great line manager will want the people they manage to improve and progress. Whether this is training or development plans, it’s imperative that employees are empowered to improve and seek progression.
Treating co-workers as individuals
When an employee feels truly valued it makes a difference. A good line manager gets to know his or her co-workers on an individual level. It’s not just a basic how are you? but individual engagement and genuine interest.
As previously discussed, it is important to have healthy relationships between line managers and those they manage. Being an approachable and easy-going line manager can mean staff do their tasks well because they want to rather than because they fear the consequences of not doing so. It also means that employees will seek advice and support to ensure they’re doing things correctly rather than just hoping for the best.
With empathy, a line manager is infinitely better. When a line manager lacks empathy, employees can become disengaged and dissatisfied. They also won’t be interested in doing their best at work.
Being a line manager involves spinning lots of plates. This means organisation is vital. Line managers have resources that need managing, people that need leading, results that need analysing, and lots of other tasks besides. A good line manager needs to have excellent organisational line management skills.
The role of line manager often means making tough decisions. Good line managers are confident in accepting responsibility and making decisions. According to research, as people climb the management ladder, they have to make more and more difficult decisions. Being indecisive as a leader isn’t good for team morale and trust in management.
Managerial skills – a theory
A famous theorist, Henri Fayol, was given the nickname Father of Modern Management. His theory identified three main skills for management. These were Conceptual Skill, Human Skill and Technical Skill.
Let’s look at these further.
- Conceptual Skill
This is the manager’s ability to envision the business as a whole entity. Being conceptual means understanding how all of the small cogs work together and depend on one another no matter their individual role. Another vital element to this is the manager’s ability to think outside the box.
- Human Skill
Having human skill is being able to understand, motivate and work with others both in a group and individually. It also involves being able to get others to co-operate in the team.
- Technical Skill
This involves having the skills and knowledge to perform certain tasks and specialised jobs in the profession. First-line managers need technical skills to train their subordinates and to supervise their tasks, for example.
Final thoughts on ‘What is a line manager?’
Line managers are in almost every organisation and industry from finance, waste disposal and food service, to media. In a typical business, the line manager will lead a revenue-generating team in a company, and it is this person who acts as the main go-between for front-line works and senior management.
When a line manager is effective, it makes a huge difference to the workforce and the success of the business or organisation. Equally, with poor line management, an organisation will suffer, and the team will too.
Ultimately, a good line manager has the skills needed to work with a team both professionally and personally. They are an effective organiser, decision maker and leader who will give praise where praise is due and who isn’t afraid to take responsibility for failings.