Line Management Explained

Line Management Explained

Your Guide to Line Management

Line management. Just an overused word in a job description or an active approach to managing that builds productivity?

Maybe a thought for today then is: what is line management? This guide to line management will give you the lowdown.

When you think of breakthroughs in management processes, you may think of Henry T Ford and his Ford production line.

Management theory and discovery exploded in the early 20th century as mass production grew in popularity but, whether by accident or by design, line management began way beyond the techniques of Henry T Ford.

We need to go back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution to really understand when line management began.

As production of goods moved out of the cottages and into the factories, owners found that they needed to employ people to organise production and workers. Almost by accident line management was born. Move forward a century or so and the function of management became a source of study for business owners and academics as way of improving methods of production.

Line Management Definition

So far, so good. But what if you are looking for a concise understanding of what line management is… it is the act of handling the processes and the people to deliver production of goods or services to an agreed standard. This may be time, quality, or quantity..or all three. Line managers may need to motivate their people, or design their processes to meet these goals.

Or in a nutshell…

Line management is the management of employees and processes to deliver goods and services.

That’s why its been around as long as we’ve been producing goods for profit. As factory owners realised, the success of their business was dependent upon both the output of the workers and how goods were made.

Ever since, line management has been a critical business process that has expanded in knowledge and understanding.

Does Line Management Matter?

Think your business is productive?

I don’t.

The UK has a terrible record on productivity. It takes Europe only 3 days to produce what takes us five.

Working in numerous organisations I would witness the same cultures. A lack of direction, lack of support, lack of clarity, short-term thinking and ineffective feedback and delegation.

Then these became conflict and fed-up staff.

Working in the UK is hard. Often, we’re waiting for the weekend and filling five days with stress.

It shouldn’t be like that.

That said, there are some organisations which get it.

They understand that when they have a clear purpose, supportive management, good leadership with effective feedback and delegation, then good things happen. Staff enjoy their time there, they deliver more and the organisation succeeds.

Effective line management has an important role in improving productivity.

Line Management: Step-by-Step Guide

Line management. Another square on management buzzword bingo or important techniques to be practised?

Maybe better to ask is: what is line management?

This guide will show you what line management is and how to do it well.

Management, as a theory, first gained focus during the industrial revolution. Managers began thinking about what was the best possible way to achieve factory output using the people and machinery they had. This was a new question as it was the first time that large groups of people and machines had worked together.

From this grew classical management theory – the idea that standards and monetary reward drive productivity. This was explored by three men – Max Weber; Frederick Taylor; and Henri Fayol.

Each of these had their own outlook on how organisations should be managed. The most relevant for us is Henri Fayol.

This guy rose up from being an engineer to a director with 1,000 staff.

Shortly before he retired from running the company, he published 14 principles of management.

Many of these we recognise today including increasing skills, managing authority, people working in teams with one manager, fair remuneration, personnel planning, encouraging team spirit and innovation.

As you can appreciate, these principles were quite revolutionary at the time. Organisations began to change and from here…line management was born.

Management Overview

The main pillars of line management cut across seven big categories. Others may argue there are more. That is true.

For our purposes, we’ll look at these 7 categories of line management:

  1. Delegation
  2. Feedback
  3. Management Styles
  4. Managing Difficult Conversations
  5. Communication Skills
  6. Employee Management
  7. Performance Management

BearingPoint produced a great infographic that summarises all kinds of line management skills in one nice visual.

The ACAS guide to managing people, is a great place to read about the line management role.

Okay, having completed the overview, let’s remind ourselves of the 7 core categories of line management.

Firstly, there is delegating effectively. This is an aspect of line management that is simple to learn but which is often executed poorly.

For example, if you’ve ever been told to do something without a clear outcome or timeline, then that’s not delegation. That’s top-down instruction.

Secondly, there’s effective feedback. The next time you are delegated a task, consider whether you’ve received constructive feedback and praise that was motivating and helped you grow.

Next, there’s your management style. Are you aware of your default style? Do you know how to adapt it?

Then there is the dreaded conversation. Often related to performance management, having difficult conversations with poor performing staff is part of the territory. Do you plan for them?

Of course, improving your communication skills is a lifelong process. As a line manager you’ll need to learn quickly to communicate with clarity. So often conflict and tension in teams can be traced back to poor communication.

Next, if you’ve been one of the team before being promoted to manager you’ll have to adjust – as will your team. You’ll be faced with plenty of occasions when what was once excused will need to be managed. Employee management is part of the day-to-day responsibilities of being an effective line manager – often requiring good soft skills.

Finally, the most formal area of line management, with numerous theories and approaches: performance management.

Time for a closer look at the 7 areas.


What’s the difference between a motivated and productive team and an unhappy and inefficient group The salary? The holiday allowance?

Two words: delegation and feedback.

To improve productivity you must be willing to delegate.

Why? Because if you try to control everything yourself, two things will happen..

First you’ll fail. Unless your a one person business with a handful of customers, you’ve no chance. There’s a reason those employees were hired – to complete tasks and help grow the business.

So use them effectively. If you try to do everything yourself you’ll run yourself into the ground.

Secondly, your team will be unhappy and frustrated. They are there to carry the load. Heck, they may even be better at the task than you! All those ideas and all that enthusiasm go to waste if you refuse to delegate.

Sounds familiar? It’s a common complaint during exit interviews that their line manage simply didn’t let them get on with the job.

If you have any desire to run an effective team, you must be able to delegate effectively.

Okay, so it doesn’t end there. Any delegated task needs follow-up.  How did I do? What did I do well? What should I do differently?

These are all questions your employee will be asking themselves. So..


Giving effective feedback is one of the most important skills to raise productivity.

Effective managers inherently know the importance of praise. They’ve learnt it in other aspects of life. Such as in sports teams or effective parenting.

Giving criticism though is harder. If you wish to offer it constructively and with support.

Here’s some signs that your feedback may not be as effective as you’d hoped:

  • Employees feel embarrassed or humiliated
  • Behaviour doesn’t change
  • Feedback is given too long after the event
  • Employees are left feeling confused
  • Your employee feels that the feedback provided relates to events outside their control

Now, while your feedback system may not be performing well. This can be changed.

The feedback sandwich is a simple approach often used by line managers. It’s a three-step process for offering feedback in a supportive way.

You can see some examples here.

Management Styles

How we approach line management is determined by our management style. Typically, we have a default style which sets the tone for our approach.

Ever since Google Video turned into Youtube, the efficiency of TV ads has gone down rapidly.

Who wants to watch a crappy MTV show host review a game that they have no clue about, when they can join 40 million subscribers (!) watching PewDiePie not only rock video games, but also deliver hilarious comments.

Don’t take a one size fits all approach to management.

The best managers positively influence their team members to get the best results.

So, adapt your style to the situation and individual you’re managing.

Flexibility is key.

There will be some things you do with everyone.

For instance, giving feedback, setting goals, having one to ones, and managing performance.

However, your individuals in your team will need different approaches to management.

For example, those who perform the best with the lightest support, we can cal Role Models.

For these employees we’d invite them into the decision-making, give them autonomy and delegate more often. Coach them and support their ideas.

Such autonomy doesn’t suit all employees. 

From time to time, every manager will have poor performers. It’s important to manage these team members more closely.

Why? Because all team members need to know that under-performance isn’t tolerated.

Research has shown that one of the greatest threats to a positive team culture is allowing poor performers to get away with it.

It simply p****s everyone off. Not good.

So, involve HR if you need to, listen to their feedback and be direct with requests and instruction.

Sadly, its not uncommon for poor performers to be left to their ways without appropriate support or engagement.

However, the success of your team depends on how you manage these individuals.

So, if you do plan on being a line manager, you’ll need to be prepared to follow through with difficult conversations and managing poor performers.

Which brings us on to the next requirement..

Difficult Conversations

We all dread them.

Difficult conversations with team members.

Now, having difficult conversations at work is claimed to be the number one phobia, even beating public speaking.

There is even a technical name for it: conversation anxiety.

What’s more, the growth of digital conversations is said to compound the fear of face-to-face conversations further as we struggle to get out of our recently acquired comfort zone.

Overcoming fear of conversation

Conversation is said to be the most effective method of communicating.

Experts speak of how conversations follow unwritten rules of etiquette. Contributions need to be heard from both employee and manager, or else there can be a risk of relations breaking down.

One way of reducing the anxiety and improving the effectiveness is to plan beforehand.

We do this by structuring what we intend to say, particularly our opening statement.

Questions to ask yourself when planning a conversation include:

  1. What is the real issue here?
  2. Am I making this personal?
  3. What are the consequences of ‘letting it go’?
  4. What are the consequences of having the conversation?
  5. What am I hoping to achieve?
  6. What is my key point?
  7. What is my opening statement?

The planning method works, but things can still go wrong and the unexpected occur.

After all, we still need to deliver what we intend to say.

Which leads us onto..

Communication Skills

On the face of it, communicating effectively with your team sounds simple. But it is laden with traps and the potential for misunderstanding.

What is in our head may not come out clearly within our words. Ineffective communication can occur when there is a mismatch between the person sending the message and how it is understood by the receiver.

This can lead to frustration, breakdown, confusion and tension.

It may help to understand the communication process.

Taking seriously the ability to communicate well is a key success factor in line management.

Not surprisingly, the ability to communicate well is the top soft skill that employers seek when hiring managers.

It’s hardly surprising when the number of small but important interactions far outweigh the time spent in reviews and one-to-ones.

The really good stuff happens frequently and daily. That’s what we’ll call employee management.

Employee Management

When you become a line manager, one of the most challenging responsibilities are the unforeseen, daily scenarios which find you.

Whilst your conundrums will be unique to your organisation, here’s a taster of the typical scenarios you could need to manage.

  • A team member has a problem with body odour. Colleagues are talking about it and laughing behind their back.
  • Following a team get-together after work, one of the team has phoned in sick. From their Facebook you know they were out partying until the early hours.
  • A team member has won tickets to see rehearsals for Strictly next week. However, you’re short staffed that day. They have asked to have annual leave at short notice.
  • You’ve heard that a team member is talking about you behind your back. Its been clear to you that they’ve been more distant since you became their manager. This is creating an atmosphere when you work together.
  • A colleague from another department has complained that the time taken for your team to process requests is taking too long. This is costing the company lost orders. You have explored where the delay is and it is your close friend in your team.

So, what do you do? How will you manage these scenarios?

Being able to manage such scenarios with a level of balance, pragmatism and fairness will be one of the most challenging aspects of managing others.

Those are the informal management tasks. The formal process is called performance management.

Performance Management

Your organisation will likely have a performance management process.

One aspect to all is the performance appraisal. The more effectively you plan for this, the more confident you’ll be.

Questions to consider include:

What are the successes?

What problems have you seen?

What evidence do you have?

How are you assessing performance?

Line Management Summary

That’s the lowdown on line management. As you can see, managing a team involves lots of challenges requiring a good mix of skills.

Clearly, if you follow a career path its only a matter of time before the responsibilities of line management come to you. It won’t be easy but it can be highly rewarding.

So, mastering a few of these line management skills can help you build an effective team and grow your career.

Here’s that list of line management skills again:

Line management

  1. Delegation
  2. Feedback
  3. Management Styles
  4. Managing Difficult Conversations
  5. Communication Skills
  6. Employee Management
  7. Performance Management

Hopefully, this guide has introduced you to the realities of line management and demonstrated that its far more than discipline and telling people what to do. That no longer works.

How many of these competences will you use in your management role?

Which of these do you do already? Which work best for you?Will you improve these skills with line management training?

General FAQ

What is line management?

Line management is the management of employees and processes to deliver goods and services.

Why line management matters?

The culture of your workplace is a mirror of your line management. With 40 hours per week at work, your management approach determines how that time is experienced by your team. Do it well and employees enjoy their work and productivity increase. Do it badly and your team will be stressed, demotivated and less productive.

What skills make up line management?

Delegating, giving feedback, managing your style, holding challenging conversations, communication skills, managing employees, and managing performance.

How can I learn to be a manager?

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