This study examines how first-line managers can assume the role of change agent. The existing literature has focused on senior and middle management but has only to a limited extent addressed the critical role first-line managers – who are positioned at a distance from the strategic apex of organizations and in proximity to the majority of employees – play in implementing change. Based on a case study of organizational change in two divisions of a Scandinavian energy company, the present findings indicate that first-line managers mobilize vertical and horizontal support to take on change agency. The study argues that whom they lean on depends on their perception of spatial and social distance to superiors, and that taking on change agency involves the mobilization of distance or closeness to handle the competing pressures of change. The study contributes to the change literature by unpacking first-line managers’ experiences of change, theorizing how lower-level management take on change agency across distance.

Keywords: distance, first-line managers, lower-level management, organizational change, social interaction, social support, space