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Why bother with line managers if we won’t nurture them?

1 Jun 2015 - Blog, Case Studies

Why bother with line managers if we won’t nurture them?

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘my manager just doesn’t know how to manage!’ I know I’ve heard it, and said it, in fact, on many occasions. It’s true, many line managers struggle with the core elements required for effective line management of their teams.

In January of this year, a post from HR Magazine discussed Cary Cooper’s – professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School – thoughts on how engagement programmes have no impact on wellbeing. He blamed line managers as the key culprits for the lack of engagement.

“My studies have shown that virtually all employee happiness areas have got worse since 2007 – things like staff feeling empowered, dealing with change, long hours, and managing wellbeing – and these are all things line managers are in control of,” Cary Cooper, as stated in HR Magazine.

Leadership advice is everywhere these days, but little of it concentrates on the crucial role of a line manager. Line managers have such a major impact on their teams and therefore organisations as a whole. Factors like high workplace stress and increased employee turnover, often caused due to ineffective line management cannot be ignored.

Some companies like Vinci Construction plc are really recognising the importance of and coaching line management – see the case study here and the video about their Empower programme here 

“The truth is line managers probably have more influence over organisational success (and failure) than they are given credit for…” Stephen Bevan.


So why are so many line managers so ineffective at management?

More often than not, people are elevated to line management positions because they have excelled in their technical roles and are duly promoted, only to find many of their skills are redundant in their new role. 


So what skills are missing?

These are the five most common crucial factors for engagement line managers lack:

  1. Self-awareness – too many new managers are used to working alone and do not know how to adapt their skills and style to accommodate others. Being able to see, and admit, when something you’re doing is not working is essential to achieving the team goals and keeping people motivated and engaged while you do it.
  2. Delegation, empowerment and trust – so many new managers are used to working to achieve their own goals, and doing it very well, but when they have to concentrate on achieving goals for the wider good of a team, and delegate work to others, new managers can find it difficult to relinquish some immediate responsibility and place their trust in others to deliver. Many managers are used to gaining recognition for achieving working goals of a different nature to those required as a manager. Managers have to empower others to believe they can achieve the goals they used to achieve themselves. Trust in others is a vital skill.
  3. Listening skills – listening skills are key to understanding what is going well and what could be done differently to achieve the required outcomes. As a manager you’re often not involved in the weeds of the work, so you need to be able to listen to your teams members to find out what is happening on the ground. Only then can you contribute with ideas and advice to move the situation forward.
  4. Decision making – as a manager, the buck stops with you. Making bad decisions is detrimental to the team and the business outcomes. Managers primarily make bad decisions due to lack of confidence, lack of communication and not seeing all factors that contribute to that decision. Achieving these elements of management may only come with experience, but being aware of a lack of skills in decision making could encourage new managers to initially ask others for support before making vital decisions that could influence team engagement.
  5. Ability to inspire – managers are leaders, and as we know leaders need to inspire their teams if they want to get the best from them. Managers need to have the ability to give their teams a sense of purpose and reasons for doing what they do.


Line managers have a crucial role to play in delivering business objectives. Making sure they have the right skills to do so is vital to business success.

Managers and leaders have many traits in common, and if we truly want them to inspire teams to get the best results, we need to remember this when we promote new managers. We need to ensure managers are equipped with the skills that allow them to carry out their roles for the good of the organisation, otherwise we may as well not have them at all.


Check out our post on the negative impact ineffective management skills can cause in the workplace.


Original articles by Peter Crush and Stephen Bevan at HR Magazine:


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