Why your line managers are your frontline for resistance management

When line managers become resistant to change, their direct reports are also highly likely to become resistant. The rapport and relationships built between a line manager and their team is critical for supporting a change effort. Just as they can help gather support, they can develop resistance. This resistance is often most visible in the front-line employees, but after further investigation you will often find that the line manager is either intentionally, or unintentionally growing the resistance.

Participants in the Prosci® Change Management Best Practices 2018 study identified groups from which they experienced resistance. Out of executives, directors, senior managers, line managers and frontline employees, line managers were the most resistant group scoring 43%. This makes line managers even more pivotal in ensuring the proficient adoption and usage of the change.

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There are several things you can do to manage resistance in line managers:

Anticipate resistance

Plan ahead for line managers who may become resistant. This can be executed in two ways: develop the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) messages to be delivered as part of the communications plan, and planning to leverage the direct chain of command for impacted line managers to coach them through the change. 

The WIIFM messages should come early, through a range of different mediums such as social media, focus groups and videos. Dealing with resistance often requires authority within the organisation; the change leaders and change team are not a sufficient substitute for individuals with significantly more political clout. These individuals may need coaching to help develop their argument for adopting the change, this is where the change team can support.


Engagement throughout the whole change journey is likely to reduce any initial resistance and maintain adoption of the change, especially after go-live. Suggestions for a solution or solutions from line managers and other impacted employees of the change, and active implementation of these solutions, is an effective way to engage and reduce resistance. When you discover a pocket of resistance, make sure to begin working to reduce it as soon as possible, leaving them to stew will only make it worse. Working with the direct line of command to influence those pockets is the easiest and most direct way to engage. Ensure involvement once the solution has been implemented through feedback. Once feedback is submitted return to those who responded, communicating the impact of the feedback, how it has been taken on board and how it will be implemented.

Consider the Sender of the Message

In the 2018 Prosci Change Management Best Practices 2018 study, when asked who was the preferred sender of personal or individual messages about the change, participants responded that the employee's supervisor was by far the most preferred route. Just as line managers are critical to delivering these messages to their own teams, the direct chain of command for that line manager should be responsible for delivering those personal messages to the line manager. Furthermore, delivering those messages face to face with sufficient time for the individual to ask questions about the change is important.

Implement a Change Management Methodology

Finally, implement a change methodology to support your change effort. Consider using change management strategies such as ADKAR or developing quality training programs and requesting support in the form of manager workshops delivered by CMC. 

If you want a practical exploration of how to prepare your managers for change and dealing with resistance, join us on one of our Prosci Practitioner Certification courses this summer.