abstract It is frequently argued that, as a consequence of radical organizational change, the role of first‐line manager (FLM) has shifted from supervision to team leadership/co‐ordination or business unit management. After reviewing the nature of these claims and the debate about the relationship between first‐line management and supervision, evidence is presented from a survey of 135 organizations in London and the South East on how the role of FLM is presently defined and how it has changed. The findings paint a picture of a stable, consistent FLM role where a common performance‐oriented supervisory core is surrounded by a penumbra of additional managerial responsibilities relating to stewardship, translating strategy into operations, unit management and, exceptionally, business management. The FLM role remains part of a hierarchical system of individual managerial responsibility and vertical accountability, with narrow spans of control, vertical and internal contacts and authority, participation in decisions and accountability confined largely to operating routines. Changes to the FLM role have been as much towards a strengthening of the supervisory core as a broadening into business management responsibilities. It is argued that the persistence and prevalence of the supervisory core stems from the continued location of FLMs within systems of external, hierarchical supervision. Far from being weakened, the supervisory core of the FLM role has often been strengthened by the adoption of more stringent controls over work practice in order to cope with a growth in business activity or comply with a greater range of external regulations. In some cases, however, a re‐division of managerial labour has led to formerly middle management responsibilities and accountability being added to the supervisory core to produce an extended FLM role.
Journal of Management Studies – Wiley
Published: May 1, 2005
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