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Talent Management

Turning Frontline Workers into Frontline Leaders

One Minute Takeaway

  • HR teams in manufacturing need to create intentional career paths, not just jobs, for their employees.
  • Frontline leaders need to be visible, approachable, and proactive.
  • Good leaders don’t try to micromanage their teams, but instead, they build solid relationships by encouraging authority, accountability, and responsibility.

The manufacturing industry continues to face considerable labor challenges. With an aging workforce that is rapidly moving into retirement, manufacturers are struggling to attract and recruit younger people to fill the gap.

We know there are several ways manufacturing businesses can overcome this challenge such as expanding their outreach to high schools, trade schools and technical colleges. The goal is to show the benefits of manufacturing jobs through an apprenticeship or tech school degree instead of the far more expensive traditional college route.

But meeting the recruitment challenge also means embracing diversity by casting a broader net into a wider range of communities and engaging a more diverse set of demographics. Great employees and great leaders can come from anywhere.

Create Manufacturing Careers, Not Just Jobs

As an HR team, you will also need to think about how you’re going to attract and retain these new workers by giving them careers instead of jobs. Part of your recruitment strategy should be to highlight distinct career paths for front line workers to develop new skills and eventually advance into leadership positions.

This needs to be intentional. If you don’t already have one, your team should develop a formalized leadership training program that can give new hires and frontline workers a clear pathway to advancement. This should include three items:

  1. A list of the benefits that workers will gain by becoming frontline leaders. Not only in terms of salary but the personal fulfillment that comes from learning new skills and an opportunity to make a bigger difference in the company.
  2. A clear description of the personal and professional qualities your management team is looking for in prospective frontline leaders. People need to understand the specific skills that make a good leader and how to better develop them in their professional lives.
  3. A distinct set of goals that employees can aim for as they advance in the company. Build out a list of specific benchmarks that employees can work toward so both they and management can measure their progress in practical ways.

What Qualities Make a Good Frontline Leader?

So, what are the leadership characteristics you want to develop in your frontline workers? And how can you help your employees build them?

Accessibility is Key

First, good frontline leaders need to be easily accessible to their teams. Remote leadership does not inspire others and is not very effective. But what does accessibility mean in practical ways?

Be Visible

First, accessible leaders don’t sit in an office most of the day. They are regularly out on the factory floor, ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in where needed. In fact, they’re so visible, they won’t need others to tell them about a problem because they’re interacting with their workers regularly enough to see it themselves.

Be Approachable

Accessible leaders are even keeled and calm, projecting a quiet confidence during stressful times. When problems arise, workers need leadership that isn’t easily rattled. But this quality does not come naturally for most people, so your HR team should be developing seminars and other practical tools to help both workers and leaders learn how to better handle stress.

Be Proactive

Accessible leaders can spot trouble coming at a distance and plan for problems in advance. They also proactively build solid relationships with their workers so when trouble does arise, they already have a base of trust and mutual respect to work from their teams.

A Frontline Leader is an Effective Communicator

Communication is an absolute must for a good frontline leader. Leaders must be able to regularly speak with teams both as a group and one-on-one. While some people have a natural public speaking ability, for most, it’s a skill that needs to be learned and developed. Your HR team would do well to develop—if you haven’t already—a few good courses on public speaking as mandatory training for all your frontline leaders.

Some qualities of effective communicators include:


Good communication begins with a positive, genial attitude. Communication is not only about the right words, but the right delivery. Like any skill, it gets easier with practice. When speaking to a group, make eye contact, and most importantly, be friendly and genuine. Remember, don’t talk at people, talk to them.


Good communicators can project their voices loud and clear. When speaking to groups, talk to the back of the room or the furthest person in the crowd. And diction is also crucial. As simple as it sounds, pronouncing your words clearly does wonders for your ability to communicate.


And finally, good communicators make their message clear and easy to understand. Know what you need to say and say it. Stay on point. Don’t ramble. Got it?

Frontline Leaders Empowers Others

Another quality you should actively build in your frontline leaders is a genuine desire to empower others. Good leaders don’t try to micromanage their teams, but instead, they build solid relationships by encouraging authority, accountability, and responsibility. In short, good leaders give ownership, not orders.

Good leaders also actively seek the advice and opinions of their team when working out problems. It is important to let your team know you value their input and trust them to make good decisions. When employees feel trusted by leadership, they are more likely to trust their leaders in return and be more actively engaged in their jobs.

Developing Engaged Leaders

The real goal of developing frontline leaders is building engagement. Engaged leaders know how to engage their teams. And an engaged workforce is more productive, passionate, and profitable.

Paycor has tools that can assist you in building solid frontline leaders. Utilize Career Management to map out and develop meaningful career paths for your team. And Learning Management can help you create powerful, personalized training programs to develop the skills your workforce needs to succeed.