Importance of Front-Line Managers and Why They Cannot be Forgotten in Leadership Development

According to, frontline management is defined as “the first or second managers (line managers, office managers, supervisors) directly responsible for production of goods and services, and supervision of clerical staff and shop floor employees.” Others may describe frontline managers as those who are responsible for the critical, day-to-day operations of a business. This group of people is often an organization’s largest population of leaders, yet many times they are neglected when executives consider who needs leadership development. Frequently these managers are the least experienced and in their first leadership role. Aren’t they exactly who you need to invest in for leadership development?

Before beginning to look at what specific skills these managers need, we will start by looking at the numbers. The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey on whether frontline managers are given the leadership tools they need to succeed. The results were astounding.

  • 77% of respondents said frontline managers are important in helping their organizations reach their business goals.
  • 12% of respondents said their organizations currently invest sufficiently in the development of frontline managers.
  • More than 90% believed frontline managers’ lack of leadership development negatively impacts employee engagement results.

These numbers further highlight how important it is for organizations to make significant investments in their frontline leaders. These are the people who directly connect with consumers and employees, and can have a major impact on your bottom line. By investing in frontline managers, an organization has the power to reduce employee turnover, since having a bad manager or a poor relationship with one’s manager is a top reason for an employee to quit. The Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Linda A. Hill, writes in Becoming a Manager, “Managers on the front line are critical to sustaining quality, service, innovation, and financial performance.”

In another area of the Harvard Business School survey, frontline managers received mixed reviews on some of the most crucial parts of their jobs. Room for improvement was shown as needed in vital leadership capacities such as strategic and innovative thinking, developing talent and inspirational leadership. When there is leadership development for these managers, it tends to be ad hoc, sporadic, or too brief to sufficiently cover all the responsibilities of modern-day frontline managers. Now that you are convinced about why leadership development is so important for frontline managers, what specific skills do they need?

Versatility: Frontline managers need to be able to keep up with the ever-developing technological and business changes that occur in every organization. The ability to learn quickly from experiences and then turn around and use that knowledge to recognize, analyze and address new problems gives frontline managers the learning agility to deal with a variety of problems.

Communication: Frontline managers need to communicate with people at all levels in the organization. These managers acquire knowledge daily that any level of the company could need, whether employees, executives, or those in the c-suite. In addition, frontline managers need to be able to communicate their goals and expectations to those who report to them.

Ability to Set Attainable Goals: Leaders need to know what is important not only to their department, but the overall organization, and why. They become better able to develop strategies that can focus their own team on what actually matters. Part of setting goals is the ability to set milestones for their teams to monitor progress.

Motivation: Frontline managers’ ability to inspire their teams is a crucial skill. Providing meaningful feedback to their teams on both areas to improve and what they are doing right will give them direction and can create clear understandings of their roles. This may include motivating employees to exceed expectations or put in extra effort.

Frontline managers are an essential part of building your customer experience. Whether it’s navigating a diverse workforce, solving a variety of problems, or addressing customer and employee needs, frontline managers must develop the above skills in order to be able to handle their responsibilities. ELB learning consultants have in-depth knowledge of their clients’ industries and can ensure that the leadership development solution created for you will address the true needs of your organization. Reach out to us for custom leadership training solutions.

Custom Services