Your First-Line Managers Need These Critical Frontline Leadership Skills

Ineffective first-level leaders will cost your organization a lot. Help them build these 6 first-line manager skills. These frontline leadership competencies are critical for success in their roles.

Person walking forwards symbolizing first line manager skills that are essential for frontline leaders to succeed

Leadership Basics for Frontline Managers

First-line managers play a vital role — they are the managerial glue of a business, responsible for many critical day-to-day operations as well as making sure organizational objectives, goals, and plans are met and implemented. They’re often an organization’s largest population of leaders, and in many cases, they’re entry-level managers who are “on the line” and in closest contact with individual workers as well as customers and the public.

They’re the supervisors of individual contributors and may be first-level or first-time managers, often newly promoted into their first leadership roles. Or, they’re functional leaders who don’t have any formal direct reports, but who are responsible for the work of others through influencing without authority. Such leaders may also be hoping or preparing to move into a first-line manager role in the future.

These first-level leaders are also usually the least experienced tier of managers in a company, and may be referred to as office managers, shift managers, team leaders, or assistant managers, depending on the organization, industry, or geographic location.

Why Your First-Line Managers Really Need Strong Leadership Skills

Regardless of what you call them, organizations face big challenges when trying to help first-line managers be more effective in their vital roles. Too many of them don’t understand the leadership basics for frontline managers.

Yet the price of an ineffective manager can be high and pervasive. A recent survey showed these 5 factors as the top reasons for employees reporting they had a bad day:

  • A lack of help and support from my boss (40%)
  • Negative co-workers (39%)
  • Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do (37%)
  • Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision or strategy (37%)
  • Busyness or high workload (36%)

It’s clear that all 5 factors are almost entirely a function of the immediate frontline manager and the strength (or weakness) of their first-line manager skills. Their effectiveness as leaders is directly tied to the success of their teams and to overall employee engagement levels.

And today, frontline managers face even bigger challenges and have greater responsibility than ever before. During the pandemic, as teams navigated new ways of working together in a hybrid workplace context, it became even more clear just how critical first-level leaders are to an organization’s success. And if your organization is focused on improving employee engagement and retention, you should pay particular attention to people’s engagement with their supervisor, immediate manager, or frontline leader.

Since these frontline managers may also go on to middle- and even upper-management jobs, it’s little wonder that 50% of all managers in organizations are rated as ineffective.

The Top Frontline Leadership Skills

The 6 Competencies Most Needed for First-Line Manager Success

In order to succeed, our research has found that frontline leaders should possess these 6 key first-line manager skills:

Infographic: Frontline Leader Impact: All Frontline Managers Should Master 6 Key Competencies. 1. Self-awareness. 2. Learning agility. 3. Communication. 4. Political Savvy. 5. Motivating others. 6. Influencing outcomes.

1. Self-Awareness

Managers who remain aware of their strengths and preferences and who understand their own weaknesses, quirks, and development needs are better equipped to make day-to-day decisions and interact effectively with others who have different personalities.

2. Learning Agility

Seeking out diverse experiences, quickly applying lessons learned to new challenges, and being able to integrate experiences and adapt to the environment allows frontline managers to swiftly recognize, analyze, and address new problems.

3. Communication Skills

Skilled first-line managers can listen, speak, and write clearly and consistently, communicating for maximum impact with people at all levels in the organization, including team members, superiors, peers, and others. It’s especially important to effectively communicate goals and expectations.

4. Political Savvy

Relating well to people, developing strong working relationships with direct reports and superiors, managing internal stakeholders, and navigating organizational politics to achieve goals is a key competency for managers filling this vital role.

5. Motivating Others

The most successful first-line managers are able to inspire commitment, recognize and reward the contributions of others, and guide direct reports to complete work, especially when goals are unclear. This may include motivating others to exceed expectations or put in extra effort — without monetary incentives.

6. Influencing Outcomes

Effective frontline leaders are able to accomplish goals by affecting the actions, decisions, and thinking of others, persuading them effectively to gain cooperation and get things done to achieve desired outcomes.

Some Closing Words on Developing First-Line Manager Skills

Frontline leadership is often scattered across multiple locations, so organizations have traditionally been forced to compromise between quality, cost, and flexibility when considering leadership development solutions for this large audience.

Online solutions that cover leadership basics for frontline managers are the obvious choice for developing this population of managers because such options are cost-effective and scalable, and they can be engaging and impactful, too.

It’s totally possible to learn leadership skills online, especially first-line manager skills for first-level supervisors who are looking for development opportunities.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We’ve created a deep, social, and gamified digital learning experience, a frontline leadership training program called Frontline Leader Impact, that’s specifically designed to develop this population of managers and help them understand the leadership basics for frontline managers.

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January 5, 2023
Samir Mehta
About the Author(s)
Samir Mehta
Samir is CCL's Director of Digital Learning Products, ensuring that digital learning products and blended learning solutions are designed and delivered seamlessly for CCL’s clients worldwide. He also facilitates virtual learning experiences and serves as a leadership coach He has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Pune in India and an MBA from the Indian School of Business.

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