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May Question of the Month - Which 3 skills do you consider to be important from good line management?

by LAURA AITKEN-BURT July 21, 2017

​In April we looked at what drives success in business [read the full article here], so to drill further into this we decided this month to focus on what is important for good line management. Everyone knows that a bad line manager can ruin a project and stunt growth within a company. So what did our network think was most important?

The top three came out as good communication, commitment to development, and gives constructive feedback.

Good communication 26%

Commitment to development 13%

Gives constructive feedback 12%

Values opinions 11%

Able to delegate 10%

Sets achievable goals 9%

Effective follow through 9%

Values your time 7%

Open to pay progression 3%


Skills for good line management results


'Good communication' was considered by far the most important. This is not surprising – the effect of poor communication can be devastating on a project. The Harvard Business Review even claims it is the biggest 'silent killer within big companies'.

There are a multitude of examples where poor communication leads to major failure within a business. For example:

  • Nokia was the leading mobile manufacturer in the early 2000s but

    with the market

    due to habits of communication that favoured unfocused discussions rather than clear plans for new phone models.

  • The American energy company Enron

    due to senior managers failing to meet responsibilities including communicating values and maintaining openness to early signs of problems

  • Even things as disastrous as the BP oil disaster in 2010

    to poor communication in line management to share important information. 

Over ten percentage points lower than 'good communication' was 'commitment to development' and 'giving constructive feedback'. So we can see that employers are keen to upskill existing employees, and these employees, in turn, want to improve and develop themselves. Perhaps this could be in response to their awareness of the changing globalised markets where innovation continues to drive rapid growth in potentially unexpected paths [see our article 'how disruptive technologies are affecting business']. If employees are encouraged to improve their skills by being offered extra training by their line managers and being given useful feedback that helps them improve their practice, business can only improve as well as the well-being of staff.

It also shows us that employees want to feel secure in the knowledge and experience of their line manager and their performance in the day to day running of the job. Respondents were far less concerned with 'pay progression' in this respect compared to the competence of the line manager. A 2011 study by the CMI showed that more than half (55%) of the 2,000 UK employees surveyed didn't think their line manager had the right level of confidence or sufficient ability to do the job. Employees not knowing what to do due to unclear instructions is estimated to waste up to 40 minutes per day. Unsurprisingly, this research by the CMI also showed that overworked and overstressed staff are leading to poor productivity in their companies. Managers who said they experience the most stress had the lowest levels of productivity of those surveyed (less than 70%), while managers who were free from stress reported productivity levels of more than 90%. 

Perhaps when choosing line managers then, it is important to think about the candidate's social skills. Are they able to recognise when people have unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines or showing signs of stress? If line managers can communicate well with their staff and give them the right training and feedback they need to stop these issues before they escalate, then productivity of the business will increase exponentially. Being proactive is crucial, rather than reactive when a situation is already out of control. Perhaps if Nokia, Enron and BP had acted on this, their failures may not have been so catastrophic.

Do you have a good line manager?

We also asked respondents if they think that had a good line manager where 68.3% agreed. These respondents, therefore, felt that they were able to perform highly in their job due to the skills of good communication they indicated as a major factor of good line management. 



However, if we break down the results out of those who said they did not have a good line manager, the skills they believe are most important are 'gives constructive feedback' and 'commitment to development' more than anything. Many also chose 'good communication' and added 'sets achievable goals' and being 'able to delegate'. This shows that these respondents are perhaps feeling the stress and unsatisfaction that we identified as a factor of poor line management above.

'Values opinions' also rated more highly amongst those who did not think they had a good manager. This is in line with our previous research that employees crave recognition for their ideas [see our March article on factors leading to good job satisfaction here] in order to continue being innovative, which businesses desperately need to invest in right now.

It also shows us that this group are most probably unmotivated at work due to their line manager and the extra stress that is imposed upon them. A recent study by Eden Springs showed that over half of men and women are unmotivated to come to work in the UK. They admitted that they did not go above and beyond to work because they think that they won't be acknowledged (46%) or rewarded (47%).

Just as alarmingly for businesses, less than one in ten (7%) employees say they are working to their full potential, and more than a quarter of workers (27%) rate their current level of productivity as five or below (on a scale of 1-10) One in four staff even admit they don't want to win new business as it will only mean more work for them.

“You do not quit a company, you quit a bad line manager"

Of course, the long term impact to the company of this low motivation is a severe downturn as well as the potential for employees to quit. Indeed, many say that you do not quit a company, you quit a bad line manager. The importance of line managers in the overall productivity of a company and its staff can therefore not be ignored.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that line managers have to have good communication with their colleagues. Holding back information for themselves or not being proactive in giving feedback can lead to major business disasters. However, factors such as valuing opinions should not be taken for granted – those who said they had a bad line manager ranked this higher than others. Make sure that line managers not only have the professional abilities to lead, but also the social 'soft skills' to ensure their team's wellbeing is high so that productivity in the workplace does not diminish.

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