Recently, Haggerty and Wright suggested that HR could be reconceptualised as signals sent to employees rather than practices. We examine this novel approach and consider how it fits in the practice. In hospitals, ward managers are intermediaries in relation to signals that are passed between upper managers and their staff. We discuss to what extent ward managers have the analytical and functional skills required to interpret and convey complex signals to the staff under their jurisdiction. We draw conclusions about the role of ward managers in the HR function of hospitals. There are theoretical and practical implications for the role of line managers more generally, beyond the hospital context.