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John Pope

Woolhampton Management Services


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Influencing engagement: the role of the line manager


John Pope offers advice on how managers can work with their teams to maximise engagement, supported by the HR function.

I thought that the subject of engagement had had enough debate; we have read about its importance and its measurement by engagement surveys; we have heard about the importance of bringing new staff into an existing work team so that they feel valued and belong. At times it has seemed that HR has a major influence in generating engagement. I want to concentrate on what the line manager can do to increase engagement and how HR can help that happen.

Some assumptions
Anyone can find exceptions to these assumptions, that there are basic factors which lead to people being ‘engaged’ with their work and their organisation. These may change.

Individuals are more likely to be ‘engaged’ in the work when:

  • it is interesting and seen as valued by people whom they respect, or it has intrinsic worth
  • it uses their skills and knowledge and when completed is seen as valuable.

They are more likely to be working in an organisation where:

  • their time and efforts are not wasted
  • they are well regarded by those they work with and by the management.
  • they are supported by friendly colleagues, subordinates and managers, and feel part of the team.
  • their views and ideas are valued and are acted on.

They are more likely to stay with the organisation when:

  • they can identify that they are making progress and becoming more skilled or valuable
  • there are fair opportunities to gain more experience, and be able to take on new jobs
  • they can see that there can be an interesting future.

This much has been known for years. You are welcome to add refinements and restatements which will depend on your views of what your workforce wants in your own sphere of work.

You will have noticed that I have not mentioned money as a means of gaining engagement. Depending on the way reward, remuneration, benefits are allocated has an effect on retention and, in some cases on effort or skill put into the work. But often this only guarantees, for a while, their presence and activity. Such ‘engagement’ that rewards bring is usually only temporary – the rewards are soon forgotten and often lead to greater expectations and demands year by year. In extreme cases they remain with their existing employer because they are in ‘golden handcuffs’.

Managers are the biggest influence on engagement
In theory we work for the organisation which employs us. With the exception of those who have a calling and, for example, work for their Church, or a strongly held principle, we work for a person, our immediate supervisor, and for the group of people with whom have work, whose support we need, whom we respect, and who give us example and maintain strength of purpose. The manager helps us become and remain engaged by:

  • example
  • strength of purpose
  • encouragement by the history of previous success and prospect of future success
  • challenge and enthusiasm
  • the maintenance of a progressive atmosphere.

Most readers will be familiar with several leadership models – that of Adair and Eagan where the leader has to bring task, team and individual into common focus is a good one.

But the managers’ influence on engagement comes also from helping the group stick together and maintain enthusiasm and effort through thick and thin. That fosters engagement in a, usually small, local team. At successively higher levels the task of fostering and maintaining engagement becomes more difficult and can only be maintained by sustained, visible enthusiasm at the highest levels in the organisation. Difficult to transmit the positive enthusiasm, easy to undermine it by divisiveness in prestige, treatment and reward, and by distance or lack of visibility.

All in the same boat?
It is very difficult to ‘engage’ staff with their organisation and its work if there are recognizable class divides between workers at different levels. Employees are cleverer than managers (themselves employees). Most can read; all can see the signs. They know when ‘All in the same boat’ is true and how calls for pay restraint or economies are undermined by the pay-off of a director who has failed. Engagement is fostered by equality of opportunity. The rise of a top manager who started as an apprentice and has a record of real achievement is a spur to others to be fully ‘engaged’. The rise of a good talking worker generates criticism and undermines it, and yet it goes on in even in well run organisations.

You want engagement? You can have it
I have seen businesses, where the workforce is demoralised and the results accordingly poor, be turned around by an energetic senior manager. I have seen such a manager do that in several businesses and his approach has been similar each time. There is nothing special about it except that it is, unfortunately, rare now where many managers are promoted on the grounds on what they know, rather than on what they achieve. Real engagement comes when the top management are all committed to furthering the performance of the business by raising the performance of those who work in it. They do so by paying real attention to unleashing the potential of their people, at every level, and demonstrating their own commitment to success. Staff at all levels can spot when top managers are really committed and when they care about the performance of their people who are genuinely engaged.


John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of businesses, managers and management teams for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and services please visit the website: His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ was published in 2009 and is available through his website. He can be contacted at

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John Pope


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