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With more than 6.8 million people in managerial roles across the UK, it is fair to say that front-line managers are fundamental to any workplace structure and vital to the day-to-day running of departments and teams.

While there is an abundance of skills required of any front-line manager, some are more critical than others, and this blog will explore 5 essential skills for first-line managers.

What is a First-Line Manager?

A first-line manager is considered an entry-level managerial role, and as such, is a person responsible for the day-to-date supervision of non-management employees. They also act as the individual whom non-managerial individuals report to.

Among other things, first-line managers can otherwise be known as supervisors, office managers, shift managers or team leaders depending on where they work. That said, these types of managers focus on keeping their teams on task and contribute to the successful frontline running of an organisation.

1) Lead the way you would like to be led

Firstly, smart first-line managers know that to correctly leverage their teams, they must lead in a way that they would like to be led. Although this could be seen as a broad skill, it is one that needs a lot of practice and balance to ensure that employees and employers are happy.

By leading with your desired workplace in mind in conjunction with organisational goals and objectives, you will find success when it comes to effectively managing and leading employees as a first-line manager. This means:  

  • Using your authority positively: creating a work environment that fosters trust and security can be done by positive authority, this in turn encourages employees to work to the best of their ability and remain motivated.

  • Speaking in a way you would like to be spoken to: managers also have managers and noting the way that you like to be spoken to by your manager and repeating the same positive communication downwards will encourage healthy relationships.

  • Fostering an inclusive and diverse culture: inclusive teams are said to perform at least 30% higher than non-inclusive teams.

  • Having strong self-awareness: being aware of your actions, delegations and how you’re performing will encourage you to stay on track.

It is understood that all individuals work and respond to management differently, however, leading in a positive, professional, and inclusive way will always be key to company success. 

2) Clear Communication

Effective communication skills are the most in-demand skills that a manager can have. So much so that research continuously shows that poor communication between managers and employees results in low productivity, disagreement and a stressful work environment.  

Communicating effectively leaves employees feeling up to date with the workload, aware of current and arising business situations, and motivated to fulfil their duties.  

To effectively communicate and eliminate any confusion, managers should: 

  • Communicate often and be specific: meeting regularly will allow for more in-depth sessions including comprehensive feedback as both manager and employee will be aware of the top-level ongoing working tasks.

  • Be honest and transparent: achieve a basic level of trust between a manager and employee, honesty is fundamental. Being open and transparent encourages good working relationships

  • Be approachable and personal: a good manager is easy to engage, approach and speak to as often as needed. Employees should not fear their manager or feel like they are not worthy of their personal time.

  • Communicate with everyone: it is said that 74% of employees have the feeling they are missing valuable information at work. It is a manager's responsibility to ensure their employees are aware of all business-critical information that is relevant or helpful to them in any way. This also encourages inclusion, making employees feel valued and involved. 

  • Encourage two-way conversation: speaking down or from the top to team members is an outdated way of communicating in the workplace. Two way communication is proven to facilitate constant growth between managers and employees, which is crucial to both employee and managerial development.

  • Decide and confirm which communication tool will be commonly used: with multiple tools available to promote effective communication in the workplace, it is crucial your team knows what tool will be used for what conversations.

In addition, measuring your communication efforts will also help define how effective they really are. This can be done by monitoring your team’s engagement and response when you are directly communicating with them.  

3) Setting clear expectations

CMO at Betterworks, Luanne Tierney states ‘without set expectations, employees may be left to wonder where their impact lies and therefore fall behind.’  

An important responsibility of any manager is to set clear expectations of those working below them. Individuals who know what is expected of them are more driven, motivated and often high performers.

Helpful ways to set expectations include: 

  • Concentre on objectives: these will help frame what is expected of individuals. It is important to regularly discuss and review progress of your employees’ objectives to ensure both manager and employee are on the same page.

  • Set expectations in a timely manner: individuals are more likely to feel overwhelmed in their role when they feel they have too many tasks to complete in an unrealistic time limit. Communicating clear deadlines within appropriate time periods will help mitigate this. 

  • Provide positive constrictive feedback: employees look to their managers for help, supportand guidance. If managers do not provide positive constructive feedback during or after completed projects, employees can often be left feeling unmotivated and disheartened.

  • Hold employees accountable: employees will know what is expected of them if they are held accountable for their work and actions. CPO at PMI (Project Management Institute) Worldwide, Tammy Perkins, says this can be done by ‘following up, establishing shared goals, and setting milestones to allow the team to gauge progress’.

4) Adaptability

In the modern era, people, situations, and environments change often and quickly and a manager who can adapt is often better equipped to navigate these obstacles with ease.  

CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, once said that he requires his managers to be “stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details.” 

Adaptability as a manger, however, is not just being flexible, it is holding a certain set of adaptability skills that support you with a variety of situations as they arise. These include:   

Cognitive adaptability: the ability to hold multiple scenarios in mind, simultaneously as well switching between variety of different tasks over a selected time period. 

Emotional adaptability: emotional intelligence is known as the anchor of adaptability. Those who are emotionally aware are often able to manage their emotional responses well when changes or difficulties arise. An emotionally adaptable manager learns to be comfortable with transition, complaints, imposter syndrome and conflict. 

Personality adaptability: a manager with an adaptable personality can see a situation for what it is as well as being able to see a situation for what it could become. Being able to grasp the whole picture, think and act holistically and see opportunity are all traits of someone who has an adaptable personality. This doesn’t mean changing who they are but acting according to various sets of circumstances.

5) Prioritising and effective time-management

Prioritising and effective time management are two different skills with separate factors, however, a manager who can prioritise is one who is able to effectively time manage, so they do go hand in hand.  

Prioritising is a pivotal skill of any manager as simply put, you are not able to do everything at once. By writing a list and ensuring your tasks are written from most important to least, is a positive way to start your day.  

In addition, some effective time-management techniques include:  

  • Breaking tasks into smaller chunks: large tasks can trigger feelings of dread or overwhelm leading you to procrastinate. By splitting your workload into smaller, more manageable chunks, you will find it easier to start said project.
  • Effective delegation: as a manager, it is important to remember that you simply cannot do everything yourself and that utilising your team and their skills is a more effective use of your time. Delegating also builds trust and empowers your team members.
  • Eliminate distractions where possible: distractions are everywhere, and some individuals may be more sensitive to them than others. If you are easily distracted in the workplace, try and find somewhere quiet to work away from the noise, make sure electronic devises are switched off and out of sight or wear earphones while working. 
  • Write out a plan or ‘to do’ list: having all tasks written down in front of you will help clear your mind and create a flow for the day. Ticking off each task after competition will also ensure you remain motivated and on track. 

  • Utilise your calendar and time block: whether you use outlook, google or a manual calendar, blocking out time periods is said to increase productivity by as much as 80%. 

While first-line managers will always have preferred managerial methods, these five essential skills will help utilise your time, build solid relationships with your team and ensure you are thinking proactively in the workplace.  

Being a manager is not an easy job, however, it is an extremely rewarding one and plays a crucial role in every workplace.   


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