Frontline leadership training: 5 tips to improve managing front line employees

Developing leaders on the front line is crucial to employee engagement and productivity. Ensure effective frontline leadership training with these solid tips.
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Quick question: who does a forklift operator turn to when there’s a problem? Or to whom does a shift nurse bring her safety concerns?

In most cases, this would be the middle-level, frontline manager or supervisor. That’s how critical frontline leaders are to the day-to-day functioning of your organization and its workers.

But many of them are handling a management role for the first time. They were probably promoted because they were great at their job. So the skills and behaviors they need to manage frontline workers may not come naturally to them.

Whether you’re leading frontline workers or leading those who manage frontline workers, proper frontline leadership training is essential. And the following tips will help take your training programs to the next level. 

Frontline leadership training tips

The right frontline leadership training strategies don’t just show people how to lead frontline teams, but also help you turn junior frontline workers or those with no frontline experience into powerful frontline leaders. Let’s see what these are.

Get out in the field 

This frontline leadership training tip may look obvious on the surface. After all, how can you lead or train deskless workers just from your desk?

But it’s surprising how many leaders and supervisors become disconnected from the people they lead due to physical distance.

Their teams are out there in the factory, toiling away at the warehouse, serving customers in their rooms, or traveling to client locations, while the managers spend most of their time in their little cabin.

This doesn’t just impact frontline leadership training, but also puts you out of the loop from what’s really happening on the ground level.

So get out and see your world. Frequent places you wouldn’t normally visit. Seek out conversations with workers you don’t usually interact with. And train other frontline managers in your company to do the same.

Prioritize empathy

A hospital security guard was once working the night shift. He noticed the hospital CEO walking toward him in the hallway. Wanting to make a good impression, he acknowledged and smiled. But the CEO walked right past him, as if he was not important enough to engage. So how would the guard feel at that moment?

Understanding and empathy are essential to engaging frontline employees. And it’s important to reinforce this fact as much as possible in frontline leadership training.

As a frontline leader, you should be easily approachable. And make your workers feel comfortable in raising their concerns and suggestions.

Also, be proactive about this. Many frontline managers unintentionally project a stoic image. They accidentally come across as cold and uncaring even though they are not. So a frontline leadership training session is a good opportunity to identify and improve on these blind spots.

Empower your people

As per a 2019 employee engagement study, 33% of workers feel undervalued at work. Without the motivation and authority to take full responsibility, it’s hard for them to take pride in their work.

So another aspect of effective frontline leadership is teaching and supporting workers in taking ownership of their tasks.

As you train frontline leaders and employees, you’ll notice them wanting to step up. And this is the time to allow them to do so. Encouraging independent decision-making is the key to building a high-performance team.

Empowered frontline workers from frontline leadership

One way to empower your frontline leaders and workers is to reduce the bottlenecks and red tape preventing them from experiencing autonomy at work.

Instead of micromanaging their every move, provide clear expectations about the final outcome. Your role as a frontline leader is not to micromanage every little process, but to empower your teams to handle day-to-day operations on their own.

Second, always encourage open communication. When a team member communicates with you, listen actively and respectfully to their issues and feedback. And provide candid feedback of your own when required.

Use storytelling

As humans, we are wired for stories, and they’re easy for us to remember. Not just that, stories activate more areas of the brain than just language processing. So they have a better chance of inspiring and impacting us.

When training or managing frontline employees, storytelling goes a long way in creating cohesion and showing them that their actions make a difference.

For example, a real-estate company built a set of simulation videos to demonstrate a new customer-success approach.

The videos featured the activities of the protagonist — a leasing agent — as she worked with customers to fill a unit in her locality. And each video created an opportunity for the viewer to learn how to handle a specific conflict that may arise in the process.

As a frontline leader, we bet you have a lot of stories to share from your experiences in the field. If you do, you’re sitting on a goldmine that can be invaluable when imparting frontline leadership training. So use stories to emphasize key takeaways in your training sessions and drive frontline workers to action.

When telling a story, follow the standard story arc. Start with a character your audience can relate with, build tension with a conflict, then introduce concepts and actions the character used to resolve the conflict. For more information, see our guide to employing storytelling for communication.

Invest in a continuous improvement program

Training frontline leaders and workers on improvement strategies like TWI, Lean, Kaizen, and Kata can kill two birds with one stone. They learn how to be more efficient and be a good leader.

Kaizen, for example, is the process of making tiny, incremental improvements in both strategy and operations over time. And these small improvements eventually lead to a big difference in the long run. Toyota is famous for applying this model right from the beginning, and it played a big role in the company’s success.

Frontline workers demonstrating continuous improvement

By introducing a continuous improvement course in your organization, you can turn frontline supervisors into real leaders, and teach them how to:

  • Motivate frontline employees
  • Collaborate with people in other departments
  • Get workers to comply with safety measures
  • Empower frontline employees to share feedback
  • Build trustworthy relationships at work

Start small and see how the small changes you initiate are impacting your team. If everything goes well, you can apply the changes to the whole organization.

According to the Kaizen philosophy, the goal is not perfection, but improvement. No matter how trivial. So remember not to get your workforce bogged down with unrealistic expectations.

Frontline leadership FAQs

What is frontline leadership training?

Frontline leadership training programmes will aim to improve the skills of those currently in or looking to move into a frontline leadership role. The majority of these courses will focus on improving communication, reducing conflict, improving employee performance, and enhancing team effectiveness.

What is frontline leadership?

Frontline leadership refers to the ability of supervisors or managers on the frontline and their ability to combine practical management skills with proactive and decisive decision marketing.

What are the skills of a frontline manager?

A frontline manager will rely on a lot of skills to keep their team performing efficiently. Some of these skills include: communication, critical thinking, leadership, strategic thinking, motivation & engagement skills.

Conclusion: frontline leadership training tips

According to a Woohoo study of employees worldwide, workers say that 40% of their bad days are because of a lack of guidance and support from their manager.

Frontline managers in your organization need to listen and be responsive to their teams’ needs. And effective frontline leadership training is essential to develop the skills that make this happen.

Even if you already have a training program in place, the tips outlined above will help you make it better. So go ahead and use them to turn workers into leaders.

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