Supervising people is the toughest of all leadership roles.

Supervisors in many organisations walk a tightrope between management demands for higher productivity, a safer workplace and improved customer satisfaction and the demands of workers for higher pay, better conditions and a say in how the work is designed and executed.

Supervisors have to plan, instruct, coach, counsel, report, negotiate and prioritise, often with little authority.

Good supervisors should make good managers without much help. The skills they have stand them in good stead for management. Right?

Except for a few financial skills and strategic skills which they will pick up on the job and with some judicious use of the training budget, they are ready made to move to management. Surely?


The transition from supervisor to manager is hard. Supervisors transitioning to management roles have a steep learning curve in soft and hard skills.

Most supervisory positions have targets set by their manager in consultation with the supervisor, but set by the manager. Supervisors have the vision, mission and values of the organisation set by others. Supervisors have the policies, and in most cases, a large majority of the processes designed by others.

Supervisors operate within a set of boundaries given to them by others.

Supervisors tend to have a bond with the people that work for them. They see each other every day spending hours in each other’s company, building rapport and respect if the supervisor is a good one worthy of promotion.

When a supervisor becomes a manger of teams of people rather than a team, they become accountable for many of the elements of management for which they were previously only responsible.

They have to design processes for planning the next year’s marketing, sales or operating budget. In some cases, they do all three. They have to make decisions on which of several good ideas will make the cut in the budget process.

They have to make judgements about the future worth and development requirements of subordinates who may have been their peers until recently.

In both of the above cases they have to communicate news that may disappoint in such a manner as to be clear and yet empathetic and not fall into the trap of being sympathetic.

They have to become part of a team that relies on reports and feedback from others to “see” what is happening on-the-ground rather than seeing it with their own eyes. They become part of a team which does not see each other constantly but needs rapport as much as the team from which they were promoted.

Much of their authority within the team they have now joined comes from an ability to influence, not simply an authority schedule. Politics is much more prevalent and they have to deal with more hidden personal agendas.

In many cases their technical expertise is less valued. In all senses they go from being the big fish in the small pond to the small fish in the big pond.

In the organisations that I have worked in or been associated with, only a handful provide “Introduction to Management” training for their new managers who have been promoted from supervisory level. Yet the transition is no less daunting then the first days of being in a new organisation. At least then most organisations provide induction training.

Supervisors who are promoted to managerial tasks need help. Organisations should give that help by way of training and by way of appointment of a mentor to guide them through the learning curve.