Skip to main content



The Transformative Impact of Training for Frontline Managers

Frontline managers are crucial because they bridge organizational goals and frontline employees. They significantly influence workplace dynamics and performance outcomes. In this context, my company surveyed 110 safety professionals and interviewed 10 safety professionals across various industries – including construction, utility, wind energy, public works and manufacturing – to gain insights into the current state of frontline leadership skill development within organizations.

Our research reveals that the significance of frontline leadership skills cannot be overstated, as highlighted by this poignant quote from one construction company’s safety director: “We either have somebody who knows how to manage, who sets an example, who sees a corrective action before it becomes an issue. Or we have nothing.”

Despite their critical role, many frontline managers are promoted to leadership positions without adequate preparation, leading to a gap in leadership effectiveness. In fact, according to a McKinsey survey, only 10% of respondents believed that their company’s frontline manager training program adequately prepared managers for their leadership roles (see

This article delves into the efficacy of leadership training for frontline managers, drawing from research and case studies to underscore its significance and benefits.

The Imperative of Leadership Training for Improved Safety
In workplaces where occupational safety is a daily concern, frontline leadership skills become even more critical. Recently, in a study conducted across various construction companies, both newly promoted and experienced frontline managers underwent the Foundations for Safety Leadership (FSL) training program. The study’s findings (see suggest a significant increase in the frontline managers’ safety practices and crew-reported safety-related conditions after the FSL training.

However, the FSL training is more than reviewing scenarios in which the manager’s safety or their team’s safety is in danger. The training introduces five critical safety leadership skills: leading by example; engaging and empowering team members; listening actively; developing team members through teaching and coaching; and recognizing team members for a job well done.

It should come as no surprise that frontline managers must learn fundamental leadership skills that any leader in any company must know. That’s because what makes a company a good place to work are many of the same things that make it a safe place to work. What makes a supervisor an excellent person to work for are many of the same things that make that supervisor capable of ensuring work can be completed safely.

There is no separation between safety leadership and leadership. What frontline leaders learn and apply to be better leaders will impact workplace safety because these skills are transferable. If a frontline manager can notice and address a safety concern, they can notice and address a production issue. If they can notice and address a work quality problem, they can do the same with a safety hazard.

The Role of Safety Departments in Leadership Development
Given the pivotal role of frontline managers in ensuring workplace safety, it is imperative that safety professionals take the lead in shaping their development. Their involvement in identifying the skills and activities to be covered in upcoming training is crucial, as this helps to ensure that the training is tailored to the organization’s specific needs and will make the largest possible impact on workplace safety.

In addition, as part of their daily responsibilities, safety professionals often interact with and support a wide variety of employees. They have unique experiences and insights into what people need and how they will respond to training. Their frontline interactions and comprehensive understanding of workplace dynamics position them as invaluable collaborators with human resources and learning and development departments to develop practical and effective leadership training classes.

Perceived Impact and Tangible Benefits
Our research has provided compelling evidence of the value and impact of frontline leadership training. Among organizations that have implemented such programs, 88% reported a noticeable improvement in their leaders’ effectiveness. The primary benefits cited by respondents were improved communication, enhanced team dynamics and heightened safety practices.

Our interview subjects confirmed these benefits. Training improved frontline leaders’ abilities to de-escalate situations, reduce personality conflicts, and professionally represent the organization to the public, customers, OSHA and other regulators.

Furthermore, they reported that leadership training improved team dynamics by fostering a culture of respect, inclusivity and empowerment. It also improved their ability to attract and retain the right employees. Frontline employees who like and respect their immediate supervisor, who feel like their immediate supervisor respects them and who aren’t micromanaged are more likely to stay with the company. As a result of lower turnover, companies reduce recruitment and onboarding costs.

In addition to reducing turnover, our interview subjects reported using their leadership training as a powerful recruitment tool, helping them to attract skilled talent and reinforcing the organization’s reputation as an employer of choice. Prospective employees are drawn to organizations that invest in their workers’ professional development and offer opportunities for advancement, thereby enhancing the organization’s competitive advantage in the labor market.

Improved safety was the third most reported benefit of leadership training for frontline managers and is likely the result of improved communication and team dynamics. Teams that communicate better and stick together longer have a greater foundation upon which to complete work safely.

One employee of a mechanical contracting company found the benefits of leadership training so significant that he said, “We will be busier over the next 18 months than we are right now, so we have added an additional class on top of the one we already had going. We’re doing that because we know we’re going to be busy 18 months from now, and we need to get the people ready now.” He draws a direct line from their leadership development efforts to the growth their company can sustain.

Effective leadership training programs not only equip frontline managers with essential competencies – such as communication, conflict resolution, decision-making and team management – but they also pave the way for personal growth and career advancement. By providing frontline managers with the tools and resources they need to succeed in their roles, organizations foster a culture of empowerment, accountability and continuous improvement, thereby inspiring and motivating these managers to reach new heights in their careers.

Calculating the Return on Leadership Development Investments
While the qualitative benefits of leadership training are clear, it is also important to consider the potential financial gains. Our research revealed that organizations have yet to systematically measure the financial impact of their leadership development efforts despite their significant effects on productivity, safety and employee satisfaction, all of which impact an organization’s bottom line. Future research could focus on quantifying these benefits to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the return on investment associated with leadership training initiatives.

The benefits of developing reliable frontline managers extend beyond immediate gains, contributing to long-term organizational success and profitability. Reduced turnover rates facilitate the retention of institutional knowledge, leading to greater efficiency and a more defined organizational culture. Moreover, effective leadership development initiatives are powerful recruitment tools, attracting skilled talent and reinforcing the organization’s commitment to employee growth and advancement. Combined, these are powerful forces for improving workplace safety.

Leadership training for frontline managers is not merely a discretionary expense but a strategic imperative for organizational success. By investing in comprehensive and tailored leadership development programs, organizations can cultivate a team of competent and empowered leaders capable of driving sustained growth, innovation and excellence. The involvement of safety departments in leadership development efforts ensures the integration of safety principles into leadership practices, fostering a culture of safety and accountability throughout the organization.

As organizations navigate an increasingly complex and dynamic business landscape, the importance of frontline leadership development cannot be overstated. By investing in the development of frontline managers, organizations can unlock their full potential, driving productivity, profitability and long-term success.

About the Author: Sharon Lipinski is the Habit SuperHero and CEO of Habit Mastery Consulting (, which helps organizations increase their targeted safety behavior by up to 150%. She is a Certified Gamification for Training developer, certified CBT for insomnia instructor, speaker, TV personality and coach dedicated to helping people create the right habits so they can be happier, healthier and safer at home and in their work.

For more information about this topic, download the Frontline Leadership Development Case Studies at Each study showcases a different organization’s approach to a different facet of frontline leadership development, including building a leadership pipeline, a yearlong safety leadership program and a multiyear program covering all facets of leadership skills.