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Today’s competitive labour market means that an increasing number of people are being trained up to be supervisors, with minimal prior leadership experience.

For the new supervisors, this can be exciting and daunting in equal measure. While you may have plenty of knowledge about the business and industry, supervising others is a very different prospect, and requires a unique skillset.

While a few aspects of great supervision might be innate, the majority can be taught and honed. Here then is our quick guide to what new supervisors need to know: from managing your many responsibilities, to cultivating good relationships, to communicating with clarity and positivity. While there’s no substitute for training, these pointers should help to prime you for your new position – or confirm whether being a supervisor is right for you.

1.  Planning and organisation

Being a supervisor is all about planning, organisation, and execution. The responsibility for work being completed on time and to standard falls on you, and this means planning out who needs to do what and when. This is a matter not just of helping to provide others with structure, but having a solid structure for yourself. In planning this work, you need to make the best use of your time to ensure that everyone else is making the best use of theirs.

Ensure that everyone’s workload is as fair and even as possible, and account for any extra work which may fall on people’s shoulders through the month due to their unique skill sets. Account for the time you will need to help individuals who may need extra supervision, such as new hires or people changing departments. Plan work by prioritising certain tasks, and outline contingencies if something takes longer than expected. Supervision should make things easier for everyone, and planning for all possibilities will make things easier for you too.

If you don’t have a full understanding of what the role of a supervisor encompasses, you may find it difficult to structure your planning, and to ensure that every base is covered. Our Team Leadership & Supervisor Development Programme not only covers every facet of the role, but also provides a crash course in setting goals and objectives, and conducting meetings and reviews to ensure they are being met – all fundamental aspects of the planning process.

2.  Communication

Any leadership position is distinguished by the need for good communication, but this is especially true of supervisors. Where managers or executives distinguish themselves through strong and timely decision making, supervisors are constantly in the thick of the action. While managers seek to improve individuals, supervisors ensure that individuals work to the best of their current abilities, both alone and as part of a team.

Achieving this means communicating what needs to be done effectively and efficiently. This can be divided into several categories, but chief among them are the need to ensure a task is completely understood; that the instructions provided maximise the opportunity to produce good work; and that individuals feel able and empowered to discuss any issues with their supervisor. Communication is a two-way street, and not being as open to hear feedback as you are to give instruction is a common mistake for people new to the role.

As a new supervisor, a large part of communication is about confidence. Have belief in yourself and your abilities, but try to also be receptive and welcoming, with mechanisms in place for employees to provide anonymous feedback. Excessive bravado is easy to see through and will set you out on the wrong foot; conversely, being clear in your communication and showing a willingness to learn and be flexible will show that improvement is a universal goal.

3.  Growth and development

While managers often approach business growth from a more macro perspective, supervisors address it on a micro level. Instead of looking at processes and team performance, you’re likely to be focused on a smaller group of individuals, and seeing how they work on a daily basis. This gives you an almost unique capacity to affect and boost individual performance, in a way that broad policies or programmes are unlikely to achieve.

Individual development starts with understanding people. Looking at existing performance records and notes and talking to people within the business will give you an appreciation of employees’ strengths and weaknesses, and the work that’s been done to improve their performance. If you’re worried about being beholden to someone else’s opinions, looking at their actual work will also help to give you an idea of their current output.

Beyond this, the best way to start improving employee performance is to make yourself available when people need you. Make sure to establish an open-door policy early on, and make it clear that you’re there to help people whenever needed, as far as your time allows.  Ideas for more specific improvements will emerge in time as you get to know your team, but ingratiating yourself – and showing you’re a capable teacher – will open them to the prospect of further development.

4.  Performance management

Performance management is the crux of your role as a supervisor. You not only need to ensure that work is accomplished and projects are completed on time, but also that employees maintain the consistent standards needed to achieve this. In this sense, being a supervisor is as much about assessing and managing individual employees as it is about setting targets, and supervising the completion of tasks.

As a new supervisor, it isn’t advisable to come in all guns blazing, and set unrealistic targets for employees to aspire to. Instead, you should start by being realistic about your goals, without changing anything that is already working. If you have been brought in specifically to address problems, then these should be laid out in a transparent manner, with corrective measures being introduced gradually, carefully, and with the understanding of all parties.

A simple but effective means to manage employee performance early on is to set the standard yourself. By going the extra mile and demonstrating your own commitment, you can inspire the people around you to raise their own levels. Don’t work harder or longer than you can sustain – you don’t want a massive drop-off later on – but if you feel employees aren’t performing as well as they should be, this can be a subtle way to prompt them into changing their own behaviour.


Becoming a supervisor can be daunting, particularly if you haven’t held a leadership position before. We hope the points above have given you a basic understanding of your responsibilities as a supervisor, and some ideas for how to integrate yourself into your new position. For a more detailed and practical guide to being a better supervisor and leader, consider joining our Team Leadership & Supervisor Development Programme.

Develop the leadership potential in your team

Leadership & management is about more than just decision-making. The best business leaders arm themselves with the information they need to make good decisions. Whether you are looking to gain a better understanding of your training and development gaps, build training plans across multiple teams, or need bespoke training solutions for a particular challenge, we can help identify your options and the solutions available.

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Mark Fryer

16th January 2023

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