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Who are Line Managers? Role of Human Resource Managers and Line Managers

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The entry of people into the organization, their stay, and exit is not the preserve of human resource managers per se. Many actors such as line managers in various sections of the organization and trade unions, executive management, and board of directors are also involved. In this article, our focus is on the role of human resource managers and line managers. Human resource and line managers perform multiple positions in organizations. These roles are essential to the growth, profitability, and survival of the organization. Before discussing their roles, the chapter examines who human resource managers and line managers are. The challenges when the two sets of managers perform their functions in organizations are also explained.

Workers and managers

Although managers are employees or workers, employees in any organization are human resources and are managed effectively through the human resources department. This view is for convenience only since managers have to be governed by the same policies and services developed by the managers themselves. The people who work in the organization are expected to have knowledge, skills, attitudes, abilities, and beliefs that can contribute to the development and success of an organization for which the workforce is working.

As Robbins (2009 points out, a manager is an individual who achieves goals through other people, they are responsible for getting things done in the organization to achieve the purpose and goals, their core functions are to make decisions, allocate resources, plan, lead, organize, control, and direct activities others either in production, marketing, finance, procurement, maintenance, or administration. Managers are also expected to possess specific skills in managing people under different conditions, and they must assume specific roles to accomplish the various objectives for which they are responsible. In addition, all managers need to acquire skills or competencies in the particular area they are managing- production, marketing, human resource management, and engineering.

Human resource managers

According to Dessler (2000), human resource managers are responsible for planning, directing, and coordinating the administrative functions of an organization, and that they oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff, consult with top executives on strategic planning and serve the link between an organizations management and its employees. Boone and Kurtz (1992) suggested that human resource managers carry out three distinctive functions: Firstly, the human resource manager carries out a line function by directing the activities of people in their department and service sector. Secondly, the human resource manager performs a coordinative function where the objectives, policies, and procedures are coordinated to the rest of the departments. Finally, they perform staff functions which is the power to conduct investigations and advise line managers to implement proposed recommendations concerning performance appraisal, training needs assessment, promotion, and other human resource policies and procedures.

Who are line managers?

The human resources department works directly with the workforce of the entire organization and indirectly through different departments such as production, marketing, procurement, engineering, and all mentioned before. These departments are managed by line managers who interact with the workforce within the department and with the human resources department. According to Dessler (2000), line managers are a cadre of officers who direct the work of subordinates and are responsible for accomplishing the organization’s goals in line areas such as sales, production, marketing, procurement, etc. Additionally, line managers are in charge of achieving the organization’s fundamental goals. Therefore, it is vital to view line managers as a subset of the human resource managers who work with employees in their departments to meet targets in production, marketing, and others. Some organizations are charged with human resource-related tasks such as filling out performance appraisal forms, interviewing candidates for employment, making salary increase recommendations, and breaking employment-related news. In the human resource management function, line managers are responsible for placing the right person on the right job, orienting new employees to the organization, training employees for new jobs, and improving each person’s job performance. Gaining creative cooperation and developing smooth working relationships, interpreting the company’s policies and procedures, controlling labour costs, developing each person’s abilities, creating and maintaining department morale, and protecting employees’ health and physical conditions (Dessler, 2000).

Roles of human resource managers

The overall role of HR managers is to contribute to the formulation of corporate strategy, develop human resource strategies, and offer guidance to matters related to ethical principles and core values. Thus, they can act like business partners, strategists, change agents, innovators, internal consultants, facilitators, and coaches.

As business partners, human resource managers share the responsibility with their line management for the organization’s success. As innovators, they are responsible for introducing new processes and procedures that may increase organizational effectiveness. At the same time, the change agent role is made possible by providing advice and support on introducing new policies that may otherwise be resisted by management or employees. This ultimately means human resource managers as business partners develop integrated human resource strategies, intervene, innovate, operate as internal consultants, and volunteer guidance on upholding core values, ethical principles, and achievement of consistency. The roles come on top of the traditional part of offering services such as recruitment and selection, reward management, discipline, training, promotion, career planning, and the health and safety of employees.

Human resource managers are vital to the successful operation of organizations. These managers perform such roles as hiring, orientation, training, interactions, employee benefits, performance reviews, discipline, allocating resources, and maintaining the workplace environment.

According to Tegel (2002), a human resource manager’s objective is to maintain adequate staffing levels for the organization and fill each position with the most qualified applicant to perform the job. Orientation entails introducing the newly hired person into the organization and its goals, policies, workers, culture, and any other information essential to enable the new employee to function effectively. Human resource managers take employee complaints, mediate on conflicts, promote communication, and in some cases assist in negotiating union contracts. They are also charged with providing employee benefits, such as health insurance, life insurance, and vacation time. In most organizations, the human resource manager conducts or facilitates performance reviews, help with layoff decisions, and allocate remaining resources after layoffs.

As internal consultants, human resources managers are responsible for assisting executive management and line managers with strategically integrating effective human resource processes, programs, and practices into their daily operations. Their role as internal consultancy involves service providers, change agents, strategists, guidance and advisers, and business partners.

Human resources managers as internal consultants provide services to internal customers. The services may be general, covering all aspects of human resource planning, recruitment and selection, employee reward, employee relations, and health and safety. Human resources managers can work with line managers in recruitment and selection. Human resources usually advise line managers on how best to recruit a candidate and the proper procedures needed to hire the best candidate. Once appropriate procedures are followed in recruitment and selection, it then follows that a competent worker is likely to be hired. Qualified employees are efficient and effective, which means quality services and products are likely to be produced for the company’s benefit.

Human resources managers, as internal consultants, provide guidance and advice to management. This includes recommendations on human resources strategies that address strategic issues arising from business needs and human, organizational or environmental factors. Human resource managers as internal consultants also provide advice on issues concerning culture change and approaches to improving process capability. Guidance is given to managers to ensure that consistent decisions are made on such matters as performance ratings, pay increases, and disciplinary actions. At all levels, guidance may be provided on human resources policies and procedures and the implications of employment legislation. This ensures compliance and ensures that legal requirements are met, which facilitates an excellent industrial relations environment to prevail.

Human resources practitioners as internal consultants act as business partners where they share responsibility with their line management colleagues for the enterprise’s success and get involved with them in running the business. They can identify business opportunities, see the broad picture, and understand how the role of their human resources can help achieve the company’s business objectives. Human resources managers as internal consultants integrate their activities closely with management and ensure that they serve a long-term strategic purpose. They join forces with operating managers in systematically assessing the importance of any new initiatives they propose.

As strategists, human resources professionals address major long-term organizational issues concerning the management and development of people. The organization’s business plans guide them, but they also contribute to formulating those business plans. Human Resource Managers advise top managers to develop business strategies that best use the core competencies of the organization’s human resources.

Innovation and change agent role is also key to human resource managers. Bloomberg (2005) argues that human resources practitioners are well placed to observe and analyze what is happening in their proactive role. Internal consultants produce diagnoses that identify opportunities and threats and the causes of problems. They propose innovations in the light of these diagnoses that may be concerned with organizational processes such as the interaction between departments and people, teamwork, structural change, and the impact of new technology and working methods on human resources processes, such as resourcing employees development or reward. As innovators, they have expertise in change management.

Performance management is another critical role human resource managers play. They assess employee competencies and outcomes through performance analysis (Silberman 2005). Human resources managers teach performance management strategies and processes, focusing on handling performance challenges, setting clear expectations, and creating development plans. As internal consultants, they also provide performance-based training and coaching to maximize contributions to the department. They also perform gap analyses and develop strategies to close performance gaps.

Roles of line managers in HRM

As indicated above, the human resource management function is not to preserve human resource managers only. Line managers play an essential role in all activities. Line managers play several positions, including shaping organizational structure, contributing to human resource policy, recruitment and selection, orienting staff, performance management, handling grievances, and managing discipline, training, and development.

Line managers provide input in the drafting of structures for their respective divisions in light of the company strategy and their understanding of the nature and role of their departments or divisions. They initiate certain areas of policy changes and participate in formulating those policies and practices. Line management also takes a central role in the implementation of those policies. They are involved in the recruitment and selection of employees in their department. As experts in the field, they provide valuable information required in the recruitment of staff and a selection of the best candidates. They provide information regarding responsibilities, duties, and tasks to be performed. They also provide information on required academic, professional, and technical qualifications, personality attributes, experience required, and other details. Due to their expertise, line managers make a shortlist of suitable candidates and make critical selection decisions during the interviews or selection process.

Besides, line managers manage the performance of their staff. They are also responsible for discussing and signing performance contracts with their team, monitoring the implementation, reviewing progress, and finally appraising performance at the end of the performance year. Line managers give feedback on a-one- to-one basis. They also recommend rewards for good performance in both monetary and non-monetary means to motivate and retain their staff. Line managers are also involved in disciplinary and grievance handling. In the first place, they are the ones who set out organizational expectations to their subordinates in terms of discipline and performance. They take formal disciplinary action against their associates by raising charges and taking action for severe and significant offences. They also implement the decisions of the Disciplinary Committee. They receive and resolve grievances of their subordinates within time frames set in the grievance handling procedure and the law.

Line managers contribute towards enhancing the learning capacity of their subordinates. Training and development are the key activities line managers are involved in to build their subsidiaries’ knowledge and skills base. Apart from induction and orientation to help employees understand their jobs induction and their respective divisions to enable them to settle quickly, line managers coach and mentor their subordinates, identify training needs, and recommend training programs for staff in their divisions. They are also instrumental in staff deployment to other sections or regions of the organization.

Relationship between Human Resource and Line managers in Human Resource Management

Since line managers are in contact with people carrying out the actual job, it gives them an essential platform for effectively carrying out human resource work, unlike human resource managers themselves, who are not in direct contact with the workers. The relationship between line management and the human resource department is vital because these two are not mutually exclusive. The human resource manager formulates human resource policies implemented by line managers. Thus, human resource management is an integral part of every manager’s job. Whether one is a first-line supervisor, middle manager, or president, or production manager, a sales manager getting results through committed people is the name of the game. The roles of the line manager and the human resource manager are intertwined.

From the analysis of the roles of human resource and line managers in the organization, one can appreciate that all managers may vaguely be referred to as human resource managers. This is because, despite line managers being trained in different fields, they are involved in people management within their departments, bringing human resource policies to life. Despite human resource managers being specialists in HR work, line managers also play critical roles in people management for improved organizational effectiveness. One of the significant strengths in human resources and line management roles is a synergistic advantage in people management. Line managers may benefit from expert advice from human resource managers on how best to handle employees for productive and enhanced performance.

Secondly, the roles of human resource and line managers tend to complement each other in how they are carried out. For example, a marketing manager may be very competent in his job and yet does not know how to deal with absenteeism or grievances. This is where human resources managers come in to provide advice or deal with the situation themselves. Thirdly, the interpersonal relationship between line and human resource managers is enhanced because their roles in people management demand that they work together to improve the welfare of the people. Fourthly, the role of line managers in people management is seen as an effective tool to motivate workers. This is because employees prefer to talk to their immediate bosses (line managers), who may help them personally, unlike going to the HR managers who may not be well conversant with the problem the employees are facing. Finally, HR managers can concentrate on strategic issues rather than operative concerns (Torrington, 2008).

The above cement the fact that the role of human resource and line managers in people management is dependent on each other and complements each other.


Though the role of line and human resource managers in people management is touted to be critical to the organization’s success, there are reservations many people have expressed. Firstly, the role of line managers in people management is relatively a new concept, therefore, leading to incompetent handling of the issues that arise by line managers. Secondly, there is a tendency for the ‘act of policing’ by human resource managers on line management which causes ambiguity and tension between the HR department and line management (Armstrong, 2006). This is the case because line managers implement policies that human resource managers dictate. Thirdly, the ability to effectively carry out human resource tasks assigned to line managers limits their role in people management (Armstrong, 2010).

People-centred activities such as defining roles, coaching, interviewing, performance review, and identifying training and learning needs require special skills that many managers do not have. Finally, some line managers tend to be lazy when it comes to issues to do with human resource work. They refer to human resource managers any trivial cases that can otherwise be dealt with at the departmental level. These challenges are experienced when there is poor coordination or lack of commitment on the part of managers.

The role of line managers in human resource management work can be improved if the parts are clearly defined and separated from those of HR managers. As noted earlier, most of the challenges concerning the roles of line managers stem from unclear jurisdictions that lead to confusion as to who is the right person to carry out a particular people cantered activity. Based on the study conducted by Hutchinson and Purcell, five recommendations were made to improve the quality of contribution managers make to people management:

  1. Human resource managers should give enough time to line managers to carry out people management duties considering that they have other responsibilities often superseded by other management duties.
  2. Equip line managers with the necessary skills in people management and create an environment where they can consult freely.
  3. Encourage line managers to build good working relationships with employees, fellow line managers, and top managers.

Further to that, human resource managers should be flexible enough to come in when line managers are struggling with people management issues. Finally, organizations that emphasize performance-based pay systems should adequately train line managers and provide key performance indicators to produce credible performance ratings.

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