What makes great supervisors?

After 15 years of facilitating and coaching supervisors, in various industries, I would like to share some insights about what makes great supervisors.

This is a level in the organisation key to bridging management and worker expectations, whilst enabling productivity and greater profits.

1. Great supervisors have the right attitudes.

If a company has many supervisors, a question I enjoy asking is, “How many of the (exact number) supervisors are your top performers?”

A typical answer is “About 2 or 3”. I pause, and reply, “If all 7 or 8 were performing like the top 2 or 3, what would that do for productivity and results?” Back comes the reply, “Well that would double or triple our productivity”.

“Why makes your top performers excel from the average and bottom?”

An expected answer is: ‘Poor hiring, mindset, attitude and job fit’. The right supervisors and right attitudes are more than skills, which although important, are bare minimum entry requirements.

Can attitudes be trained, or changed? If an attitude is a ‘habit of thought’ or one that habitually reveals itself to most situations, this means that attitudes are and can be learned. If attitudes can be learned, then attitudes can be unlearned. How? It takes awareness and desire, as two key drivers, to make any worthy shifts.

2. Great supervisors are leaders

Although supervision is often described as a management function in the organisation (with functions of plan, organise, lead/ motivate and control being similar), great supervisors should be leaders.

By leaders, we mean:

· Able to influence or persuade a group to organisational objectives

· Use their power base of character, competency and experience to influence others

· Exert authority or rank not for people, but rather inventory and system changes.

· “We lead people, we manage things”

Great supervisors are not born, but developed. Mentors contribute greatly. Not all great supervisors advance to managerial or leadership roles in the organisation, but a good number with potential are capable of career advancements. Talent management remains important in this area.

3. Great supervisors have people skills

Whilst top management may require more conceptual skills, supervisors require both technical and people skills. Anyone can have technical skills, but to work with people – whether small, medium or large teams – requires people skills.

Good people skills include:

· Going one on one with people – review, coach, guide or nurture better working relationships. You win the team over ‘one at a time’

· “People don’t care how much you know but how much you care”

· Balance tasks and people perspectives. They both go hand in hand.

4. Great supervisors delegate tasks

If you wish to grow your team, develop your people and prepare for future leaders – then delegation is a key practice to team success. Delegation is much like risk management, yet delegation is rewarding.

Not all who think they delegate, actually delegate. Most ‘assign tasks’. The inherent understanding and steps followed is incorrect. Delegation is when you share part of your job as a supervisor or manager with others in your team. This could also include sharing tasks in a project that a supervisor must apportion and break down. Staff should be challenged with new responsibilities to develop skills and abilities on the team.

Among many benefits, delegation allows a great supervisor to:

· Share the workload

· Spend more time on supervisory/ management functions – and less on actual doing of mundane tasks. The key is to work through people to accomplish company goals

· Identify potential in the team. This could also be useful for further training and development gap interventions for continuous improvement

5. Great supervisors set standards

Great supervisors lead by example. A principle that governs effective leaders and followers is that “you cannot tell someone to do something that you yourself are not doing”

Great supervisors support performance management. They work with staff to understand key performance areas and key performance indicators. Rather than act as police for policy, they act as coach and support to help eliminate barriers that prevent employees for meeting and exceeding standards.

When setting rules, they think SMART*: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Rather than say, “Be at work on time!” – they explain, “ The standard is to be at work at 08:00 ready to start at the operating machine”. Watching the scoreboard helps you to know if you are winning in the game.

Much about great supervisors depends on getting the right supervisors on board, nurturing the right skills and attitudes and support from top management.


Anil Salick

Anil Salick

Strategist, Facilitator, Coach, Writer. Shares about inspiration, leadership, critical thinking, fun, sports and current events.