· News

Line managers key to building workplace trust

Line managers have a critical role to play in building trust in the workplace, according to a report from Westminster Business School, in collaboration with Top Banana and the Institute of Internal Communication.

The report, Leadership, Trust and Communication: Building trust in companies through effective leadership communication, looks at the connection between internal communication, leadership and trust in organisations.

It suggests that line managers could hold the key to rebuilding trust in organisations, which has declined significantly since the financial crisis. It says middle management have a “central role”.

Top Banana managing director Nick Terry told HR magazine the line manager is “critical”. “If the line manager doesn’t trust the leader then the workers under the line manager won’t be engaged,” he said.

He added: “Trust is transitive. If your middle manager believes a message then the people who work for them are going to be more inclined to believe it.”

Katalin Illes, principal lecturer in leadership and development at Westminster Business School and co-author of the report, said that because trust tends to be context-based, “trust in a business leader is largely based on trust in line managers and the company itself, which is based on its values, behaviours, procedures and perceived fairness.”

She added that declining levels of trust show “we are not relating to each other in the right way”. “Humans are social creatures and past and present findings confirm that strong, supportive communities have higher survival rates and prosper more. This is also true of business communities,” she said.

Terry also advised organisations “get their leaders out there”. “It is the strongest, quickest and most powerful way of starting that trust journey,” he said. “You need to understand if your leaders are credible and trusted because if they aren’t you need to put in place tactics to build or replace that trust.”


The report offers 10 recommendations for business leaders. They are:

1. Listen to the organisation and its people, and create opportunities for listening to take place

2. Articulate a clear set of values supported by genuine management commitment

3. Create and support a culture of transparency

4. Make trust a corporate governance issue

5. Ensure you have a professional ‘communication counsel’

6. Be seen via face-to-face communications

7. Communicate with and work collaboratively with your line managers to address trust

8. Be authentic

9. Be clear on the changing and developing skills expectations of business leaders

10. Remember the “phenomenology” of leadership; leadership is not static but a series of moments