The relationship between HR and Line Managers: When Line Managers become HR

The line managers are important in facilitating the role of HR to their employees as they are often tasked with delivering HR processes, such as enabling and implementing HR policies and practices, and the delivery of people management practices such as performance appraisals [1]. Hutchinson and Purcell believe the line managers role is to bring HR policies to life and ensure effective HRM implementation to their employees [2]. The line manager’s role in HRM is essentially to administer HR policies and practices and it’s their responsibility to ensure they are correctly understand and followed by employees within an organisation.

But the role of HR in organisations is everchanging based on economic developments, the strategic objectives of the organisation and the human resources of the organisations. Businesses are now realising their HR team is an asset and shouldn’t be dealing solely with admin and employee relations, which can result in this aspect of their role being transferred to line managers. Mark Sandham of Thomson Reuters believes he days of HR being focussed solely on implementing processes and managing employee relations are a thing of the past [3].

Many organisations are now realising that their HR departments have the potential to be engaging in more than payroll, hiring and paperwork, and should be more dynamic and beneficial to the business. Also, that HR should be involved with the CEO or company leader as this structure allows executives to utilise the valuable information HR has access to for strategic planning [4].

Senior HR professionals are warning that businesses need to devolve more HR responsibilities to their line managers to enable them to realise the organisation’s full potential [5]. HR professionals are able to make a more strategic contribution to the organisation, with them seeking to demonstrate their contribution to organisational performance by focusing on the strategic aspects of their role, meaning line managers are expect to consume the HR responsibilities, but the impact of this structural change can often be ignored [6].

I’ve had first-hand experience of a similar thing happening only last month at my place of employment. All employees in the HR function of the business were made redundant, expect for one, whose role has changed drastically to become the sole HR Advisor. The HR aspect of the organisation has altered dramatically and the responsibility has been placed on line managers and the HR Advisor acts as more of a consultant to them now. This was a cost saving exercise, it wasn’t done to alleviate the menial tasks from HR and allow them to concentrate on the corporate elements of the business, but it does demonstrate how the responsibilities of HR tasks are expected to be undertaken by line managers.

The problem with this is, HR professionals are generally qualified practitioners, they have specific HR capabilities and knowledge that is needed to perform in their role. So, what happens when the line managers are now responsible for the employee based HR function of the business and they don’t have the necessary skills?

Despite more being asked of line managers, investment in essential training and development for them is often neglected and ignored, meaning they are woefully unprepared for situations and issues that they are likely to face in their position [7]. If this is the case, surely it’s only a matter of time before something wrong? Or line managers face an issue they’re not equipped to deal with? It seems irresponsible to entrust HR responsibilities into the hands of those they haven’t made the effort to develop and prepare appropriately.

Op de Beeck, Wynen and Hondeghem’s research paper looked at the devolution of HR to the line managers. They found that although there is evidence of a greater line management involvement in several aspects of HRM, little attention has been paid up until recently to the partnership that exists between HR professionals and line managers. The key to this partnership is a shared understanding between HR and the extent of the line managers HR roles and responsibilities, and furthermore their research suggests there’s an absolute lack of clarity of the role of line managers within their HRM responsibilities [8].

If this is the future of the HR and line manager relationship; organisational strategy and line managers are expected to consume the majority of HR responsibilities, maybe it’s time organisations start preparing them for it!



[1] CIPD. (2017). The role of line managers in HR and L&D. Retrieved from CIPD:

[2] Hutchinson, S., & Purcell, J. (2003). Bringing policies to life: The vital role of front line managers in people management. London: CIPD.

[3] Persaud, J. (2013, July 24). How HR can master strategy. Retrieved from HR Magazine:

[4] Fallon Taylor, N. (2014, August 14). Supply and Demand, Marketing, Design: HR’s New Role. Retrieved from Business News Daily:

[5] Flores, P. (2012, April 16). HR ‘must devolve to line managers despite risks’. Retrieved from HR Review:

[6] Hutchinson, S., & Tailby, S. (n.d.). HR and the line: how can front line managers manage? CIPD.

[7] Cook, A. (2013, November 22). Line management – the heart of the employee/employer relationship. Retrieved from HR Zone:

[8] Op de Beeck, S., Wynen, J., & Hondeghem, A. (2016). HRM implementation by line managers: explaining the discrepancy in HR-line perceptions of HR devolution. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1901-1919.




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