4 Top Tips for Charity Line Managers

By Fran Borg-Wheeler, Heart-Centred Leaders

With small charities experiencing increased beneficiary need in an environment of severely reduced funding, Charity Line Managers are uniquely positioned to:

  • Support staff wellbeing.
  • Ensure best use of limited resources.
  • Foster innovation and adaptability.
  • Boost team morale.
  • Act as conduits for two-way communication, (between senior leadership and ground level staff).

But being a good line manager is not easy. In this blog I share 4 top tips for line managers which will support your charity to create resilient, engaged teams, more capable of adapting to the sector’s evolving demands.

Let’s dive in!

1. Prioritise Thriving

Role-modelling thriving is the biggest gift you can give your team. Because, in prioritising your wellbeing, you give permission to your teams to prioritise their wellbeing too.

According to Unite’s recent survey of 2,000 not-for-profit staff, a shocking 70% of employees “regularly run themselves into the ground” by working up to a 50-hour week.

When it comes to thriving, what works for me, may not work for you.

But here are some pointers which you may find useful:

  • Get the wellbeing conversation started…whether that’s at the start of your team meetings or by having staff trained up as Mental Health First Aiders www.mhfaengland.org
  • Listen to your body – slow down when you’re not feeling 100%. Take time off sick when you need to. People and projects can wait. As my former boss at Charity Finance Group, Sarah Lomax, often said; “No kittens will die!”
  • Review your work boundaries – if you’re regularly skipping lunch breaks, or answering emails at 10pm, then STOP! Unless you’d be ok recommending this to your team.
2.  Be an intentional leader

When I ask groups of Charity Managers, how many identify as “leaders”, only a few hands go up. Then I share my definition of a leader: “Anyone with responsibility for or influence over projects or people” and the room becomes a sea of hands.

Next, I invite these Managers to consider their “leadership legacy” or the difference they want to make and I invite you to do the same.

Considering your leadership legacy enables you to become more intentional in your leadership approach. Which in turn positively impacts your results, team morale, productivity and retention.

Why not start by:

  • Identifying your core values and vision.
  • Asking yourself the following self-reflection questions, “How do I want to make my staff feel? What difference do I want to make?”
  • Identifying the skills and qualities you need to hone in order to align your actions and words with your intended impact.

You could even try crafting a 6-word leadership legacy, this short video from Bluepoint Leadership Development offers some inspiration to get you started. Working with a coach or mentor around intentional leadership can also help.

American poet, Maya Angelou’s words come to mind:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

3. Lean into Challenging Conversations

Using your voice to advocate on behalf of your team or challenge the status quo requires courage. Being the “bridge” as I call it, can be a powerful communication tool, enabling your Senior Leaders to better understand staff needs, whilst building trust between you and your team.

It’s natural to feel some trepidation about having a difficult conversation as it’s human nature to want to avoid confrontation. But, if we put off having the conversation, the problem usually gets bigger!

One way to develop more courage in this area is to focus on your Why? Reminding yourself of your intention for your team and the organisation will strengthen your motivation.

Three practical steps to reduce your fear around challenging conversations include:

  1. Plan how to deliver the message well.
  2. Leave space for your audience to share their concerns and ensure you respond with empathy.
  3. Highlight shared objectives.

Reference: “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” by Brené Brown, published in 2018.

4. Harness the Power of Kindness

Showing kindness as a Manager has been criticised as being the soft option. But building genuine caring relationships with your team can become your no. 1 superpower as a charity Manager. And will lead to loyalty amongst your team and staff who will go the extra mile. There’s nothing quite like knowing that your Manager actually cares about you. Not just the work.

  • Practise active listening and responding with empathy.
  • Share a kind word, often. We won’t always know what struggles our staff are dealing with.
  • Give colleagues the benefit of the doubt. They are most likely doing the best they can with the resources, knowledge and skills they have at the time.
  • Celebrate your team’s successes and give praise where praise is due.
  • And show you value your team by creating individual learning and development plans, coupled with progression pathways. Even if you’re a small charity.

Yes, there may be times when you have to pull staff up for making mistakes. You’ll need to deliver difficult messages, maybe staff cuts or disciplinaries.
But we can still treat our staff with respect and avoid a blame culture.

Instead, encourage your team to embed reflective practice into their work so that lessons can be learnt together from so-called “failures”.

When I look back at my 30 years in the Charity Sector, it’s the kind Managers who I remember. The one who trusted me to tell her what I could and could not do when I was struggling with acute depression and anxiety. The one who reached out to offer support when I was drowning in work.

If you’d like to develop your skills as a Charity Line Manager, please join us for, “The Confident Line Manager: Line Management Matters”- a series of 1hr workshops starting Thursday 26th Sept @£55 each: https://subscribepage.io/LineManagementMattersAutumn24

About the Author

With over 30 years’ experience in the charity sector, 13 of which were as a small charity CEO, Fran has a passion for supporting charity leaders and their teams to boost their impact whilst thriving. Through her business, Heart-Centred Leaders, Fran provides 1:1 and group leadership coaching and courses; team workshops and away days; key-note presentations and charity consultancy.