Are Line Managers Ready to Handle HR Roles?

Organizations as well as the HR department expect the contribution of line managers in handling HR operational as well as strategic roles

– Divya Singh –

It is year-end again. Lots of work need your attention, be it the deadline of reports, targets or goals that you need to accomplish, meetings with various stakeholders, pending works at the year’s end……and the list goes on. On top of that, you get a call from the HR department that you need to complete the annual appraisal within the deadline. Further, there is a half-day interview scheduled today for new team members for a new branch opening. Also, you cannot miss out on the most important stakeholders- your valuable team members who are looking forward to your direction, clarity on various queries and encouragement from you.

This could be an example of various responsibilities- both functional as well as human resources related- that department heads or senior people in the organizations need to take care of. When we say line managers, they are not only department heads or senior people, in fact, they could also include employees who may not be at the managerial level yet have team members reporting to them.

Just going back at how the HR department functions in an organization. In the simplest way, the HR department takes care of the entire employee life cycle activities of an employee from the pre-joining phase till the employee leaves the organization. This entire journey of an employee involves so many important moments. To name a few, it could be the first interaction with HR, a plethora of selection processes, onboarding moment, confirmation day, 1st work anniversary, 1st salary increment, 1st promotion, transfer, assignment of higher roles, ongoing conversation for guidance and clarity, etc. In fact, the role of the HR department starts much before An individual joins an organization and it can extend even after one leaves an organization, in the form of formal settlements and connections that can be continued through alumni.

So, where does the line manager’s role come into the picture in HR management? No doubt, they are subject matter experts and have expertise in the field they are in. But, they have also another important role which is managing people reporting to them, i.e. handling HR roles for one’s department. If we look at HR-related roles that the line manager handles, it could be overwhelming to see the list. If they are departmental heads or at the senior level, they will also be involved in strategic roles of HR in addition to an operational role. At the beginning of the year, the HR department shall get involved in annual HR Planning and formulating HR strategies, this cannot be possible without the involvement of line managers’ inputs. Also, while formulating or revisiting new policies pertaining to employee benefits or revisiting new HR-related systems such as performance management systems, the input of line managers will be valuable. Apart from the strategic role, line managers’ role in the day-to-day HR operations, such as involvement in selection processes, preparation of job description, on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching to one’s team, continuous performance monitoring, and ongoing check-ins/feedback session with teams cannot be overlooked. These are just a few examples of significant HR roles that line managers handle; in reality, the list will be even more.

We hear it quite often in big conferences, and training programs as well as in day-to-day conversation that ‘Line Managers are HR Managers’. This statement seems quite obvious from the above roles that line managers handle. Plans, policies, and systems are made by HR and in the end, it’s line managers who need to get the job done. It seems so simple, yet it’s not that simple. A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources (SHRM) among 750 HR directors and line managers in the US, UK and China, found that 88 percent of HR directors believe that empowering line managers should be the key goal and 51 percent of responding managers believe that they are not being empowered (Babcock, 2014). People-centered activities such as interviewing, defining roles, reviewing performance, providing feedback, coaching, and identifying learning and development needs require skills that line managers may or may not have (Armstrong, 2014).

Organizations as well as the HR department expect the contribution of line managers in handling HR operational as well as strategic roles. Everybody might think it’s obvious. But, the question is – can they handle HR roles for their teams? Let’s explore some practical approaches to how we can make our line managers ready to handle HR roles for their departments:

a) Building capabilities:
Let’s take a simple instance. HR and senior management ask line managers to conduct performance appraisals. But has the organization ever arranged any workshop on how to give feedback or simply how to do the appraisal? Another example- HR involves departmental heads as interview panelists. But do they actually know interviewing techniques such as formulating different kinds of questions? Many of us might have the wrong notion that such a myriad list of HR works such as interviewing, coaching, mentoring, giving feedback, etc. can come very naturally. But, in fact, if we want to undertake these roles professionally, and efficiently and make them more outcome-driven, then it requires a certain set of knowledge and skills.

So, building the competencies of line managers in handling HR roles should be one of the foremost priorities for HR and senior management. Rather than organizing a workshop on the entire HR roles of line managers or one major function of HR in some session in one go, educating line managers through bite-sized modules could be more effective. Such micro-learning approaches whereby only one single step or process is focused will be easier to learn as well as easier to implement. For example, rather than talking about the entire Performance Management session in a few days continuously, conducting only a session on ‘Making KPIs’ before the start of the new fiscal year and another session on only ‘Giving feedback’ before year end could be more practical.

Although such capability-building sessions as shared are useful, they may not be adequate. One-to-one mentoring sessions from HR and Senior managers would be useful for new managers. Rather than mere lecture sessions, experiential activities and problem-based learning activities such as role plays, and case studies demand participants to reflect back on their past real experiences, reflect on new learnings, and conceptualize new theories and learning techniques to implement back at work place will be more useful.

b) Checking availability of resources:
Apart from capability building, also analyzing whether line managers have enough resources or not could be another important step. Do line managers have adequate time to carry on HR roles? If not, how can we make it more efficient? One tool could be the use of technology in terms of apps/platforms/software.

c) Revisiting the basis of performance evaluation:
Further, is senior management only emphasizing targets from line managers? Or, is people management also regarded as an important criterion for performance evaluation? Giving importance to results as well as people management competencies of line managers in performance evaluation can also build a culture of prioritizing HR roles by line managers.

d) Providing required authority:
Last, but yet very important is: empowerment will not happen if responsibility is given without authority. Although finalizing policies, strategies, and processes of HR is the role of the HR department, are line managers given some amount of authority to carry on roles that HR and management are expecting from them?
It’s obvious that line managers are HR Managers for one’s department/unit/branch. Looking at the range of roles line managers get involved such as giving inputs in HR planning, HR policy making, interviewing, job analysis, employee training and development, and ongoing feedback, the role of line managers as HR managers are really significant. However, if we are only assigning HR roles to line managers without making them ready through required learning and development opportunities, mentoring, required resources, and the required amount of authority, then it will not be fair to expect the best from line managers in managing their teams.

Singh is an HR Professional, SHRM-SCP (Society of Human Resource Management-Senior Certified Professional), Visiting Faculty and Trainer. She can be reached at

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