Your First-Line Managers Need These Critical Frontline Leadership Skills

Ineffective front-line managers will cost your organization a lot — help them build these 6 leadership competencies to succeed in their roles.

Your First-Line Managers Need These Critical Frontline Leadership Skills

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 role. Or, they’re functional leaders who don’t have any formal direct reports but are responsible for the work of others through influence. Such leaders may also be hoping or preparing to move into a first-line manager role in the future.

They’re 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.

Organizations face big challenges when trying to help frontline leadership be more effective in their vital roles. And the price of an ineffective manager can be very high and pervasive. A survey on what contributes to “bad days at work” showed these 5 factors as the top reasons for employees having 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%)

All 5 factors are almost entirely a function of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the immediate manager.

And with the ever-flattening digital world, frontline managers now have greater responsibility than ever before. During the pandemic, as teams navigated complex challenges and new ways of working, it became even more clear just how critical front-line managers are to an organization’s success.

Their effectiveness is directly tied to the success of their teams and to employee engagement levels. 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

Our research has found that in order to succeed, frontline leaders and first-line managers must possess 6 key 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 Frontline Leadership 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 to build frontline leadership skills 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, and this works especially well for first-line managers who are also often new leaders.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

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


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March 1, 2022
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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