Handbook of Research on Managing Managers

Handbook of Research on Managing Managers

Research Handbooks in Business and Management series

Edited by Adrian Wilkinson, Keith Townsend and Gabriele Suder

This book explores the changing role of managers in the workplace. In recent years, there has been considerable debate on the future of management, with both pessimistic and optimistic views being put forward. However, in the wake of delayering, downsizing, re-engineering and the pursuit of leanness, the more gloomy perspective has gained currency, especially in the popular managerial literature, and some have pronounced the end of management altogether. Some paint a more optimistic picture of managers and managers’ work with roles being transformed rather than replaced and the new organisational context providing more demanding work but greater autonomy and increased skill development. With contributions from experts in the field, this book is concerned with the way organisations manage their managers and how this continues to evolve with reference to global issues.

Chapter 6: Managing the front-line manager

Keith Townsend and Ashlea Kellner

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, organisational behaviour


The foreman, the top sergeant of the factory floor, is facing a greater challenge – and probably greater frustrations – than ever before. The foreman, management’s first line of contact with labour, is caught up in a strange mix of declining powers but new-found importance. No longer master craftsman or shop room tyrant, the foreman is becoming a key figure in the new gospel of worker participation. But that is not all. Today’s foreman is also inundated in increasingly complicated manufacturing technology, bewildering regulations and demands by number-crunching superiors in the front office for more detailed reporting on production data. (Feder, 1981, section 3, p. 4: cited in Schlesinger and Klein, 1987) Published in the New York Times 30 years ago, this comment would be just as relevant today with ‘foreman’ replaced with ‘front-line manager’ (FLM); ‘factory’ changed to ‘call centre’, ‘hospital’, or any service sector employment; and ‘labour’ changed to ‘human resources’. There is consistent agreement that the person working in this role has always been crucial to organisational performance (Jacoby, 2004; Lowe, 1995; Renwick, 2003, 2004; Martins, 2007; Townsend et al., 2013). Throughout recent decades there has been a steady stream of research demonstrating organisations and, indeed, professions in some cases, evolving, restructuring and changing, although far too often the FLM has been a ‘research finding’ rather than a ‘research focus’.

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