Plasmonic nanoparticles are of great importance owing to their highly responsive ‘localized surface plasmon resonance’ (LSPR) behaviour to self-agglomeration/aggregation leading to the development of various nanosensors. Herein, we demonstrated the definite self-assembly of citrate functionalized silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) into a one-dimensional linear chain in presence of charged lead ions (Pb2+), one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants. We have explored detail mechanism using a variety of spectroscopic tools and electron microscopy. The self-aggregation of AgNPs leads to the generation of new LSPR modes due to coupling of nearby existing modes. The conclusion of our experimental findings is duly supported by our developed numerical modelling based on the quasi-static approximation that the generated new LSPR modes are solely due to formation of chain-like aggregation of AgNPs. We have also monitored the LSPR spectra in the presence of other metal ions; however, only Pb2+ found to give such unique self-assembled geometry may due to its high interaction affinity with citrate. These findings play a key role for citrate functionalised AgNPs to be used as a low cost highly selective and sensitive lead ion sensor for potential application in industrial lead pollution monitoring. We have further varied several sensor parameters such as AgNPs size, concentration, and the allowed reaction time for it to be practically implemented as an efficient lead sensor meeting the Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.] The possible sensing mechanism of citrate-functionalized silver nanoparticles towards Pb2 + followed by unique chain-like aggregation for potential atmospheric and industrial lead pollution monitoring.