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December 26, 2007

15 Tips for a New Supervisor (part 1 of 2)

Filed under: General HR Buzz3:33 pm

As a service to the HR community, HRN Management Group researches and publishes monthly HR industry white papers. These informative documents can be received, at no cost, around the middle of each month simply by subscribing on the HRN website (

Typically we do not post white papers to our blog but this month’s has relevance to a much wider audience than the professional HR community. The white paper is for both new, and perhaps not so new, supervisors and managers and offers 15 tips to help them better understand and be more effective in their supervisory role. Today’s posting includes tips 1 through 5. Tomorrow for my regular HR Fact Friday posting, I will include tips 6 through 15.


Congratulations! You’re a Supervisor. Now What?

15 Tips for Becoming an Effective Supervisor or Manager

Remember being a repressed teenager and pledging an oath that when you were a parent you would never treat your children the way your parents treated you? Now you take pause when you hear yourself, or other parents correcting or advising children with the same words your parents exclaimed. It all comes down to a change in perspective. It’s much the same way when stepping across the career threshold of being an employee responsible for just your own performance to becoming a supervisor or manager whose success is now defined by the performance of her or his direct reports.

Remember how great it felt to get that promotion to supervisor? You are on your way up. You now can be the cool, understanding, easygoing boss you always wanted your past uptight bosses to be. Enjoy this feeling. It doesn’t last long. Reality hits you square in the jaw on about your 3rd or 4th day in a supervisory role jolting you awake out of a sound sleep. Coworkers that were once your lunch or happy hour buddies now won’t look you in the eye and avoid social conversation. Bill was 20 minutes late coming back from his lunch break. . . again. Susan felt sick and had to leave early requiring you to reassign Rachel from what she was doing to cover for Susan. And Mike, who is your strongest performer, but who you just learned also applied for the supervisor job, just glares at you, rolling his eyes and muttering something under his breath whenever you speak. Your boss needs this or that report on her desk in the morning — you don’t even know where to find the data much less create a pie chart. You need to post next month’s shift schedule and three people asked for the same day off. You just got an email that OSHA will be in the office next Monday to perform a workplace safety audit. And oh yes, HR needs you to sign a document saying you have reviewed and understand all their supervisory conduct and ethics policies. Yes. Congratulations. You are a supervisor. Cheers.

How did this happen? New supervisors find themselves in their position in one of three ways.

  1. An employee who does not see a future with their current employer seeks a supervisory position at another company. This scenario is the least likely because most hiring managers that need to fill a supervisory level position and are looking at candidates outside the company want a resume showing both hands-on job/industry knowledge AND supervisory experience.

The following two scenarios are much more common:

  1. An employee has worked for his current employer over a period of time during which he ‘paid his dues’ showing himself to be a competent, reliable, and skilled employee that would accept responsibility and achieve results. When an opening in his company was posted for a supervisor he applied for the job, was selected, and promoted.
  2. As a top performing and highly skilled hourly employee the staff member was essentially at the top of her position pay scale. In order to keep the employee motivated, and provide a higher level of compensation, she was promoted to a supervisory position.

Note that in each of these cases, the employee has never before been in a supervisory role. Too many companies merely “crown” an employee a supervisor or wave a magic wand and hope the employee becomes an effective supervisor with little or no supervisory training. What happens from here is pretty much up to you. Take solace in knowing that all experienced managers were once in your same shoes.

The following tips will help a new supervisor take the first steps to acquiring the skills and perspective to be an effective supervisor and leader.

  1. Think and act using both sides of your brain. Many employees are promoted because they have great technical skills not because they have good managerial abilities. An effective supervisor must combine job expertise with HR knowledge, people skills, and motivating personal characteristics. The first step to becoming a good supervisor is to understand and accept that the skills that got you the promotion are not the same skills that will make you successful in a supervisory role; i.e. admit you have a problem and need help.
  2. Step back and see the big picture. Talk to your boss. Talk to other department supervisors. Find out what performance goals are important to them. Learn how the team you lead contributes to these goals and success of the company. A supervisor focuses on group performance.
  3. Become a leader. Accept the fact that you are now viewed as a leader and take steps to be a more effective leader. Look into supervisory leadership training. Understand that much of leadership comes down to planning, communicating and executing. If these components are done in a balanced manner the chances that you and your team will be successful are much increased if not assured. A good, and smart leader (especially a new one) acknowledges (privately, and sometimes publicly) that he doesn’t know everything and creates a personal plan to acquire and develop leadership skills.
  4. Get a mentor. A mentor provides you with access to something you don’t have – experience. Talk to HR and ask for a recommendation or simply take a look around at other supervisors in the company. Most seasoned managers or supervisors would be happy to provide guidance to a new supervisor for a period of six months to a year. Perhaps your own boss can serve as your mentor. Set times for regular weekly or monthly conversations with your mentor. Ask your mentor if it is okay to call her for advice when you are unsure how to handle a particular situation. Most importantly LISTEN to the advice – it is based on real world experience. Don’t make the mistake of going to the well too often or of complaining and venting to your mentor. Respect her time and use discretion. Another important point is not to confuse the resource of a mentor with the resource of a trained human resources professional. Some situations should only be discussed with HR.
  5. Keep a professional distance between yourself and your staff. Employees don’t want bosses that will be their buddy. Employees want bosses that stand up for them, are fair and honest, provide them with resources to perform their jobs, tell them what’s going on, and believe in their ability to achieve success. As a supervisor you are now an outsider to your staff. It’s OK. Really! It’s better for everyone. A certain amount of distance is healthy and actually benefits the supervisor/employee relationship. It’s not your imagination that people who were once your peers as individual contributors act and treat you differently because you are now a supervisor. This is because you are now in a perceived position of power. You control the work schedule, who gets what assignments, who gets what days off, who gets a new computer, who steps up and covers for you while you are away, etc. These are significant things to your staff. It is important for your effectiveness as a leader to be respected. The best way to gain respect is for your reports to believe and understand that you are looking out for them and able to make well considered, fair decisions, especially under pressure. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get asked to join any of your coworkers for a lunch run, or if water cooler conversations end abruptly when you approach.

To be continued – Check back tomorrow for tips 6 through 15.


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