The Role, Challenges, and Definition of a Line Manager

Business meeting with a line manager gesturing at a posted diagram

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A line manager oversees other employees and operations of a business while reporting to a higher-ranking manager. The "line manager" term is often used interchangeably with "direct manager." 

The line or direct manager plays an important role in the operation of many businesses, supervising and managing workers on a daily basis and acting as a liaison between employees and upper management.

Responsibilities of Line Managers

A line manager is responsible for managing employees and resources to achieve specific functional or organizational goals. Some of these include:

  • Recruiting and hiring talent to fill team positions
  • Providing training and support to new hires
  • Cross-training employees to ensure job rotation and minimize assignment coverage gaps
  • Providing coaching and performance feedback to all team members
  • Communicating and ensuring understanding of functional or departmental goals
  • Monitoring individual and team metrics and performance versus targets
  • Identifying the need for corrective actions
  • Ensuring quality standards for all processes
  • Evaluating overall team and individual performance and delivering performance reviews
  • Engaging and coordinating with other line managers across the organization
  • Providing reports on productivity and other performance indicators to management

Importance of Line Management

Good line managers are actively involved with their team members, providing support, offering encouragement, and delivering positive and constructive feedback on a daily basis. Line managers directly influence employee satisfaction and engagement and, as a result, organizational productivity and even customer satisfaction.

Although senior management is involved in developing and approving a firm's strategy, the hard work of implementing that strategy takes place at lower levels of the organization.

Line managers are critical cogs in ensuring that new programs are implemented in a timely and effective manner. They're well-positioned to identify problems with the strategy execution programs. The input of a line manager is essential for organizational learning. 

Talent development is a key priority for any organization, and line managers have a good bit of control over the identification, development, and promotion of talented professionals on their teams. The next generation of line managers often emerges from these teams. 

Challenges of the Position

A variety of stress points can challenge a typical line manager, including:

  • Significant responsibility for overall operations, often with limited resources
  • Long hours
  • Expansion of the line manager's span of control from six to eight direct reports to much larger teams. The larger the team, the more difficult it is to provide timely and effective coaching and development support
  • Navigating frequent employee turnover. Many line managers are in perpetual hiring and training mode, making it difficult for them to implement operational improvements or increase performance versus productivity targets
  • Constant pressure to minimize expenses and maximize output

Career Path

It's common for top-performing line managers to either rise through the ranks of management or broaden their responsibilities to encompass other areas of a firm's operations.

Line managers' detailed knowledge of business processes and how the organization works can make them ideal candidates for broader general management roles. 

Project Manager vs. Line Manager

Some managers, like project managers, are responsible for directing the work of other employees, but they're not responsible for the administrative management of those individuals. They don't discipline employees, promote or demote them, or make salary adjustments.

In a typical matrix management structure, the project manager gives work direction to the project team members regardless of what department or functional group they came from. The people who run those departments and groups and manage all the individuals in them are the line managers.

Some individuals also have "manager" in their titles, but they don't actually manage anyone else. These individuals aren't line managers, either.

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