There is no supervisor gene

Work in any business environment requires the co-ordination of effort. This is crucial to any organization’s success. There are numerous roles and processes that enhance productivity and positive results. Two of the critical positions are the roles of a manager and a supervisor.

Work in any business environment requires the co-ordination of effort. This is crucial to any organization’s success.

There are numerous roles and processes that enhance productivity and positive results. Two of the critical positions are the roles of a manager and a supervisor.

I often work with business owners to develop or update the “org chart” that illustrates the reporting structure within the company. Job descriptions identify key roles and responsibilities. While drafting these documents, the subject of a supervisor’s role always comes up.

Manager and supervisor are often used interchangeably. In many cases, a manager supervises a team and a supervisor works at the strategic planning level. However, the roles entail two distinct activities that require very different skill sets.

A manager’s fundamental role is at the strategic level, to plan and control the utilization of resources. A supervisory role usually works at the tactical level, directing other people.

My opinion is that the direct supervisory role is the more challenging of the two.

A supervisor often comes up through the ranks. The new role requires a major mind shift and a particular skill set. It’s rare this comes naturally, and no supervisor gene is inherited along with the role.

A supervisor position is often viewed as a “status reward” by both the employer and the employee. Expectations are that they know and have worked beside the team and therefore know the various jobs well. However, this means they now supervise peers or even friends.

It’s an important job and one that many are not usually trained for. More often than not, what I call “supervision by yelling” is the norm. This usually occurs out of frustration.

The primary role of a supervisor is to be a resource to the team in order to influence productivity and overall performance. Three elements — giving specific instructions, monitoring periodically and making individuals accountable for the results — are the core of the supervisory process.

A supervisor is a leadership position, therefore it’s important to be able to set the example. They now represent the organization, not themselves nor their former co-workers and friends. Management decisions can no longer be questioned in front of the team.

Everyone possesses an individual value system, which is a product of their background and experiences. Awareness of one’s own communication style and the knowledge of other styles is a powerful tool that can help overcome many issues.

This requires the ability to deal effectively with individual personalities and different communication and working styles.

Great supervisors recognize these differences and attempt to acknowledge individual styles.

One of the most difficult things to do in a supervisory role is to be a consistent motivating force. It’s important to establish trust within the group, then act in a coaching role only when needed. This creates a working environment where everyone feels like they are a part of the team.

A competent supervisor influences the overall performance of the individuals and, consequently, the entire workflow process.

Clear, specific instructions state exactly what needs to be done and identifies what results will look like so that the team can self-monitor and be accountable for results.

The supervisor periodically monitors situations and makes adjustments when necessary.

Whether regular meetings, or brief standing huddles, setting time aside for every team member is important. These are prime opportunities to discuss issues or ideas, listen to opinions and provide constructive feedback.

In summary, if someone is promoted to a supervisor level (team leads or foremen) it should be obvious that training is critical to a successful transition. Ignoring the situation only creates an environment in which friction, increased costs and staff turnover are a reality.

John MacKenzie is a certified business coach and authorized partner/facilitator for Everything DiSC and Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team, Wiley Brands. He can be reached at

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