Bullying and harassment investigations often reveal a combination of low leadership and management skill, high technical expertise and little effort by employers to recognise ‘management’ as a profession.

Here is a key message for all managers. Especially managers who have been promoted to a management role on the basis of a strong technical knowledge. Your profession is now primarily that of a manager. Yes, being a people manager is a profession. In fact, when you are appointed as a leader it becomes your prime profession.

For example, an accountant who becomes CFO with 12 reportees, an engineer who becomes a project manager directly responsible for 20 officers or a lawyer promoted to partner status with 8 reporting associates.

Our view is that people in management roles with no time or skill to manage their people are high risk. iHR Australia’s workplace investigations into discrimination, harassment and bullying consistently demonstrate a relationship between untrained managers and a higher incidence of conflict.  This causes the subsequent need for interventions such as workplace investigations.

IHR Australia’s Director of Workplace Relations, John Boardman, corroborates “Our investigators constantly encounter organisations that require leaders who are technically competent, and recognised as such by their clients, and the community generally. Finding people with technical expertise, in a defined area, limits the pool of talent available. Focus often then sits with technical skill, often to the exclusion of good people/leadership skills. We commonly find senior managers who in reality think ‘people matters’ are a ‘tack on’ to their ‘real job’. Organisations that appoint leaders without the appropriate line management skill, training and values expose themselves to unacceptable levels of business risk.”

In IHR Australia’s Custodians of Culture training program, iHR Australia Managing Director Stephen Bell constantly reminds participants that when an organisation is defending a serious incident of sexual harassment in the Federal Court, manager’s competence as an accountant or engineer is not taken into consideration. The question is, ‘How competent was that person in fulfilling their role as a manager?’ Did they demonstrate professional acumen as a manager and take all possible action to prevent or manage the issue in question?

There are many examples citing damages claims, and worse, that are a direct result of managers not clearly understanding or performing their roles as a supervisor of people and leader of culture. Swan v Monash Law Book Cooperative [2013] VSC326, provides a good case study of management appearing not to understand their role in taking decisive action to prevent patterns of poor behaviour or the tragic case of Brodie Pamlico who was the victim of an anything goes culture where patterns of poor behaviour were ingrained in the workplace culture.  Brodie tragically took her own life, however her legacy lives on through Brodie’s Law – making, in some circumstances, bullying a criminal offence.

What employers should be doing:

The bottom line is to start treating the skill of managing people as a profession rather than an ‘adjunct role’ reinforces Mr Bell; It is the ‘management as a profession’ mindset that’s critical. Rigour in selection and development of leaders, ensuring that you have managers who understand and are passionate about their role will help reduce unnecessary incidents and potential litigation.   We need leaders who have respect for the importance of work culture, that have an ability to identify high risk behavioural patterns and know how to respond to observed and alleged inappropriate behaviour.

Inexperienced managers need training, and highly expert, lowly skilled managers require support, development and, if required, formal counsel when they fail to measure up. The days of accepting poor conduct from ‘expert’ managers simply because we can ‘ill afford to lose them’ are finished. ‘Conduct is now a big-ticket item’ affirms Mr Bell. A failure to carefully select and develop management puts team performance, organisational reputations, well-being and of course compliance to laws at risk.’

Recommended iHR Australia Programs

Custodians of Culture: Anti-Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment Training for Managers

Stepping Up – Front Line Managers Training

eLearning : Workplace Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment for Managers

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