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From Stars to Star Makers

Are your front-line leaders enabled to excel in their expanding role?

Supervisors and foremen – your front-line leaders – work day-to-day with their teams developing a detailed understanding of the workplace, its daily challenges, and its opportunities. They ensure teams meet targets and enable those teams to resolve challenges. They make decisions that affect the success of your business.

Over time, the front-line leader role has expanded. They must enable, engage, and manage their teams to perform, innovate, and improve not only in operational execution but in transformation as well. Senior management rely on this critical role to link management to execution.

So, ask yourself:

  1. Does my company have an integrated well-aligned front-line support platform?
  2. Does the platform have an up-to-date behavioural model for front-line leaders that fits our current or our evolving business environment?
  3. Is that platform equipped with the tools needed by front-line leaders for operations and for transformation?

Proudfoot’s Lean-Forward Leadership™ focuses on enabling leadership to achieve today’s results and to address emerging needs. Active Management is one dimension of the front-line leader’s support platform to enable today’s results. It is an important element of Lean-Forward Leadership™ and supports front-line leaders executing operational and transformational change.

What can management do in the African market to help these front-line leaders to succeed? I have formed my perspective on this challenge through collaborating with Proudfoot clients in Southern Africa. We studied 54 front-line leaders (Supervisors, Foreman, etc.) to understand how well equipped and supported they were to lead their workers using Lean-Forward Leadership™. One part of the study evaluated the front-line leaders’ ability to “actively manage” their teams. This considered both the tools that support Active Management and the behaviours that demonstrate it.

Active Management encompasses eight specific behaviours and tools required to support and drive effective management. Active Management supports the front-line leaders in all aspect of their role to enable, engage and manage their teams to perform, innovate and improve – in operations and in transformation.

In this Proudfoot Africa study of front-line leaders, we looked at the use of Active Management Behaviours and Tools. We also solicited the front-line leaders’ perspective on barriers to Active Management, and the impact on performance.

From Proudfoot’s experience, a key role for management is to remove barriers to success. This means that Active Management should comprise at least 60% of the front-line leader’s day. They must maintain effective relationships with front-line personnel and understand the challenges facing those people. They must coach, build skills, and break-down barriers.

Our study found that these front-line leaders spent barely 6% of their time using Active Management. These behaviours include walking the floor, reviewing anbriefing with teams, and planning, assigning, and following up on critical work. Properly used, Active Management tools support managers and their teams to accomplish these tasks more effectively.


Why do these front-line leaders spend so little time actively managing their team? Even they believe that it should make up over a third of their day (37%).

The greatest challenge for these front-line managers is the lack of a well-aligned and integrated Active Management support platform – a set of tools and behaviours to enable their teams to execute work and achieve results.

In our study none of the supervisors or foremen used Active Management tools consistently. Only 2 used 5 tools, while 35 only used 1 tool to support Active Management.


Given their tool-poor environment, it’s not surprising that only one in ten front-line leaders demonstrated more than half of the behaviors in our Active Management model. This leaves operations and transformation initiatives at great risk. In the absence of a well-aligned and integrated front-line support platform – behaviours and the tools to encourage and support them – the foreman and supervisor become prone to:

  • Taking on too much – seizing every activity that could either impact their team’s or their own performance, and end up “Gasping for Air;” or,
  • Retreating from the front lines – focusing on administrative tasks that keep them in their office away from the shop floor for fear of being asked a question or finding an issue that they don’t know how to resolve, thus “Disengaging” from their teams; or,
  • Reverting to their comfort zone – stepping in and “taking over” from the actual workers, doing what they excelled at in the past, and becoming “Do-it-yourself heroes.

Front-line leaders must master a simple set of managerial soft skills and behaviours to get hard performance improvements. While these skills and behaviours may appear basic, they are not easy to execute. Your people need your support to succeed. Crafting a well-aligned and integrated front-line support platform, with the front-line managers’ involvement, creates the foundation for Lean-Forward Leadership™ and a jump-start to brilliant results.

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Article by Joel Kadish, Managing Director, Africa