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Front line manager, supervisor, foreman, leading hand, team leader - what's in a name?

Posted by Marg Taylor, ACAPMA on 20 February 2013

So often company management is confronted with what title to give a particular employee; the dilemma is that a title does not necessarily reflect the role itself and many times leads to confusion, even conflict.

Dictionaries can add to the confusion, as do the definitions in industrial instruments, when it comes to defining a person’s position. The roles have simply become blurred over time.

For example, you have a choice of all of the above but quite often these terms mean different things to different people and many times quite unintentionally an employee may be tasked with a title that has no bearing on the position he or she holds.

In general terms, an employee is a supervisor (front line manager) if he/she has the authority to:

  • Give instructions and/or orders to subordinates;
  • Be held responsible for the work and actions of other employees.

This person is the first level of management – managing people, work rosters, quality and operational performance, customer care.

If an employee doesn’t have this authority, then they are probably not a supervisor, but rather a leading hand. In most awards, leading hands have a weekly allowance on top of their award rate, for being in charge of varying numbers of employees, yet there is no definition of a leading hand per se in the award itself.

Then you have the differential between a manager and a supervisor. Generally speaking, a manager is someone who has the authority to “hire and fire” and who has “budget” authority, whereas a supervisor does not.  However, the supervisor may have several manager-like roles, responsibilities and authorities. An ‘overseer’ of work if you like.

Confusion can lead to conflict whereby someone is deemed a “manager” but in reality is really a supervisor, or even a leading hand. In many situations a manager may be considered “award free” or a “salaried employee” by a company when this is not the case and this is why so much depends on a properly defined job (position) description.

A supervisor or ‘front line’ manager is a member of management responsible for planning and controlling work, rather than performing it directly, whereas a leading hand performs the same functions of, say, a console operator, but is also charged with ensuring work gets done.

Whilst as a front line manager the supervisor does not have the authority to recruit and/or terminate employees, they can participate in the assessment process itself. Often it is the supervisor who recommends that a particular employee be terminated and is the one who documents the performance or conduct leading to that recommendation.  In either case, however, the supervisor does not have the authority to execute the “hire or fire” decision – this rests with senior management or the HR department/unit, depending on the size of the business and the structure.

The supervisor will be provided with a budget by management rather than develop one, and this sets out the constraints under which he or she will ‘manage’ the work group. Often there will be authority to make purchases within specified limits. Likewise, the supervisor authorises work hours and other payroll issues.

As the front line manager, the supervisor is best placed to talk to employees, to listen to their concerns, to coach, to check employees meet their targets and to ensure they are committed to the business. Other areas of authority are managing attendance and addressing disciplinary issues albeit in an informal sense. He or she is “the coach” of the team charged with the responsibility of ensuring teamwork is effective and productive and harmonious.

In today’s business world, the supervisor is more likely to be referred to as a “team leader” to describe their role. Whatever the title, the focus of the supervisor, as front line manager, is to direct and guide others in the performance of their tasks.

What’s in a name (what the job role entails) must be defined in the employment offer and contract so that the lines of authority are clearly understood by all parties to the relationship.

For more information or advice on job titles and roles, please call an ACAPMAlliance representative on 1300 160 270.

Author: Marg Taylor, ACAPMA
Tags: job titles front line manager responsibilities management

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Andrew Atley
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