Who are the faces and voices of change? Your immediate reaction might be the project leader. Or perhaps the change management specialist. Or the communication specialist. Benchmarking data, however, suggests a very different answer. In times of change, employees look to two individuals in the organization: the person they report to and the person at the top (who they view as "in charge" of their part of the organization). This finding has significant implications on the roles in change management.

This tutorial examines the "employee-facing" roles and the "enabling" roles in change management. Change management is different than other improvement disciplines because it must be done by supervisors, managers and leaders throughout the organization - not just by a small group of specialists.

Five roles in change management

Prosci's Roles in Change Management ModelThe "Roles In Change Management" article  presents the five roles in change management, with discussions about why each role is important and what the responsibilities are for that role.

Each of the roles is crucial and has a unique and significant contribution to driving successful change. However, several of the roles do more of their work behind the scenes while others engage employees directly. 



Employee-facing roles in change management

Employee facing roles The employee-facing roles in change management are at the top of the model:

1. Executives and senior managers

2. Middle managers and supervisors

These two groups engage in one-on-one and one-to-many interactions with employees impacted by change. They are the voice and face of change.

Why do these groups need to be the face and voice of change?

Employees likely do not know the project manager, the change management specialist, the HR specialist or the communication specialist assigned to the project. But they do know and have a relationship with their immediate supervisors, and they do know who they consider "in charge" of their part of the organization. The employee-facing roles are determined by the nature and the relationships in the organization, not by an arbitrary team model or structure created for a given initiative.

Most effective senders of change messagesProsci's benchmarking data shows quite clearly that employees prefer to hear change messages from the person they report to and the person they consider as "in charge". Below is preliminary data from Prosci's 2011 benchmarking study showing the most effective senders of change messages - senior leaders for business messages about the change and the immediate supervisor for personal messages about the change.

Are these two roles the employee-facing roles just because they are at the top of the model? No. Are they the employee-facing roles because they have the word "managers" in their title? Absolutely not. These are the employee-facing roles in change management because they are the groups that employees look to in times of change.

What do they need to do?

Prosci's benchmarking research indicates specific roles for each of these two groups*:

Executives and senior managers:

  1. Active and visible participation throughout the entire project
  2. Build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance
  3. Communicate directly with employees

Middle managers and supervisors:

  1. Communicator
  2. Advocate
  3. Coach
  4. Liaison
  5. Resistance manager

* From Prosci's 2009 edition of Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report

These two groups, more than any other, play a direct and critical role in helping employees impacted by a project or initiative to embrace, adopt and ultimately utilize the change to their day-to-day work. These are the groups that must answer why a change is happening and how it will impact the specific employee and the organization. They are the ones who share the importance of the initiative and their own personal commitment to the change being successful. They are the face and voice of change.

More than words

Executives, senior managers, middle managers and supervisors are more than the "voice" of change - they are both the "voice" and "face" of change. Employees will not only listen to what is said, but will look to the actions of these groups to determine if a change is meaningful and worth investing the time and energy it takes to succeed. "Actions speak louder than words" is an appropriate adage here - as most employees are intelligent and sophisticated enough to see through half-heated support.

Enabling roles in change management

Enabling roles in change managementThe enabling roles in the model include: change management resource/team, project team and project support functions. These groups do more of their work behind the scenes, preparing the employee-facing roles to be successful.

These groups are key sources of information and direction for the employee-facing roles. These groups must provide timely, accurate and complete information about the project or initiative so the employee-facing roles are most effective and delivering aligned messages. These groups may prepare talking points, frequently asked question documents and communication collateral such as presentations and newsletters, but the employee-facing roles are the ones who should be delivering the messages.

The change management resource/team in particular has a responsibility to provide guidance to the executives, senior managers, middle managers and supervisors. They create sponsor roadmaps for senior leaders and coaching plans for managers and supervisors. The role of the change management resource is to coach the employee-facing roles and make it as easy as possible for them to fulfill their role. The employee-facing roles often do not have the time or capacity (and in many cases, the information) to do all the work themselves - they look to the change management specialist for direction, coaching, guidance and information to effectively engage employees.


Separating the roles in change management into the enabling and employee-facing categories may be a bit of a shock to change management practitioners and project leaders. It requires setting aside ego and realizing that much of your work is done through others. It also takes a unique skill set to effectively work through others - to be the conductor of the orchestra or the director of the play. Employees look to those at the top and the person they report to in times of change. In the end, these roles must take center stage as the face and voice of change for change management to be effective.


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Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.