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First line managers aren’t exactly the ‘first line of defence’ for businesses, but they are at the forefront of employee performance and development.

Often the first step up on the career ladder for entry-level employees, good first line managers combine a hunger for personal development and advancement with the capabilities to bring out similar improvements in the people around them. Achieving all of this requires a level of commitment to your work, but also a wealth of other skills, some learned and some (arguably) innate. Here’s everything you need to know about the required skills and knowledge of a first line manager: what you should look for in your line managers, what they can learn on the job, and what training is required to get the most out of the role.

What is a first line manager?

Almost every business has a first line manager, even if they aren’t named as such. Otherwise known as a team leader, supervisor, or project manager, a first line manager is generally the most junior management position in a business. First line managers are generally doing the same work as the colleagues they are managing, but also have additional responsibilities, namely ensuring that the work is done on time and to a high standard.

In practice, first line managers have as much or as little responsibility as the business and situation demand. As they often act as a point of contact between employees and more senior managers, their duties can be divided between working actively on projects, providing guidance and mentorship, and communicating (and subsequently resolving) any problems, setbacks, or changes to their work. As such, this junior role can be extremely important to smooth operations.

In some ways, this potential for high workload is intentional. First line management is often the first step up on the corporate ladder. By successfully fulfilling their roles, first line managers can unequivocally prove their credentials in management, and make a tangible impact on the success of the business. Performing well in this role benefits them, their colleagues, and the business as a whole, helping them to advance and setting a positive example for others.

What skills does a first line manager need to have?

First line managers often have to wear many hats, and this requires a broad skill base. However, there are some fundamental aspects of the role that any first line manager should have. A strong work ethic is obviously important, as are good interpersonal skills. First line managers have to communicate with people to perform their work, but they also have to pitch in themselves.

The importance of communication can’t be understated. First line managers have to be able to receive information, parse it, and communicate it to employees in a way that gives them the best chance of capitalising on it; then report back on that process to managers. It’s a loop in which the first line manager is the only common component – and the most obvious point of failure should something go wrong.

Equally important is a strong understanding of the business. While this can be inculcated in first line managers through training courses or materials, they should ideally have already absorbed what it means to work for the business, and what the standards are. First line managers are avatars of the business, its ethics and its mission statement, and should both set an example for other employees, and help them to achieve it.

Other important line manager skills are:

  • Organisational ability. 
  • 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 arguably 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 in terms of passing on information to different people in different ways.

The benefits of first line management training

Training for first line managers can’t impart every necessary skill, or the mindset that a good manager requires. Aspects such as the candidate’s work ethic, understanding of the business, and technical ability, and be part of the process for establishing their suitability. What first line management training can achieve is to hone their communication skills, and give them a set of processes and experiences they can draw from when managing and developing colleagues. 

First line management training takes promising candidates for management positions, and ingrains in them in the fundamentals of the role. Candidates often struggle initially with the new authority they have as a first line manager, and how to effectively utilise this without alienating their friends and colleagues. Training helps to give them the confidence to ride this line, communicating with others in a way that informs and motivates them, without souring those existing relationships. 

Training also addresses the issue of workload. The need to manage multiple people on top of your individual responsibilities can be overwhelming if you have any uncertainty about what you should be doing. By learning and adhering to a clear set of processes, new first line managers can learn to balance their own work with the need to oversee others. This will help to avoid burnout, and prevent a situation where one party’s work suffers or lags behind the other. 

 

First line management is necessarily a learning process, and can be a trial by fire if employees are not prepared. First line management training helps to mitigate the issues with adopting these new responsibilities, and gives capable candidates the best chance of succeeding – starting them on a path to further progression, and committing their talent to the business. 

Develop the leadership potential in your team

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions. Whether you are looking to gain a better understanding of your training and development gaps, build training plans across multiple teams, or need bespoke training solutions for a particular challenge, we can help identify your options and the solutions available.

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Mark Fryer

28th July 2022

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