10 Tips For First-Time Supervisors

by Sharlyn Lauby on January 9, 2014

At one of my training sessions recently, we had a discussion about being a first-time supervisor. While the group had a tremendous amount of management experience, everyone recognized how hard it can be in that very first supervisory role. Driving home after the session, it got me thinking – what advice would I have wanted when I first became a supervisor?

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So I decided to put together a list:

  1. Don’t try to be everyone’s friend. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly. There’s a difference. But it’s not realistic to think that you can be everyone’s friend. Especially if at some point you need to discipline an employee or deliver bad news. This is particularly true if you’ve “moved up through the ranks” and are supervising recent coworkers. 
  2. Fair and equal are not the same thing. Employees want to be treated fairly. It’s possible to be fair and not give everyone the same thing. Recognition is a good example. Everyone enjoys being recognized but all people do not want to be recognized the same way. 
  3. Ask for feedback and input. You don’t have to know everything. Often we put additional pressure on ourselves by assuming incorrectly that being a supervisor means we need to have all the answers. Being a supervisor means we should be able to find all the answers, not that all the answers are located in our heads. 
  4. Learn how to run a good meeting. People complain about meetings all the time. Developing a reputation for chairing a good meeting will do wonders for your career – because people will attend your meetings and participate at a high level. This leads to productive conversations and measurable results. 
  5. Find time to relax. Let’s not sugar coat it – most times becoming a supervisor includes extra work. We must be able to effectively manage our workload without getting burned out. Our team relies upon us to be healthy and energetic. Otherwise, we’re a drain on the organization. 
  6. Find someone you can trust (and vent to) about work. Sometimes as a supervisor, you will have access to confidential information. And you’ll hear things that can be frustrating. Supervisors don’t always have the ability to share everything with employees. Find a place where you can talk confidentially. It could be human resources, someone at home, or a colleague. Just make sure you can trust that the source will handle the conversation appropriately. 
  7. Take every opportunity to improve your people skills. No matter how long you’re in the corporate world, never turn down training. You can even learn something from bad training. 
  8. Learn how to say “no” comfortably. The answer to everything is not “yes”. Being able to say “no” when necessary will allow you to keep your sanity. See #5. 
  9. Understand how you manage change. Business is all about change. No sooner do we get into our rhythm with a project or process and it changes. Get used to it. Become self-aware about how you personally process change and what resources you need to manage change successfully. Agility is critical. 
  10. Master the art of delegation. Remember #8? You do not have to complete every task. You are responsible for making sure the task is completed. But you don’t have to do it all yourself. 

Becoming a supervisor is about developing your team. When your team can effectively do the work, then you can attend training, take a vacation or go to a meeting and the department doesn’t fall apart. That’s the work of a supervisor.

What tips do you have for first-time supervisors? Please share them in the comments.

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Laura January 9, 2014 at 10:03 am

While I think this is a great list I think what it’s missing is the part about developing your team. The best managers I’ve had understood part of their role was helping me develop and grow as a professional and as a person. They helped me identify my strengths, improve on my weaknesses, they exposed me to new opportunities because they wanted to see me succeed, they cared about my growth as a person and they invested time into teaching me to be a better business professional. And they were happy and encouraging towards me when I took what I had learned and moved on to a new opportunity. I think what this post is missing is that being a supervisor and a manager is ultimately about developing each team member to their fullest potential. That to me is the #1 thing a supervisor or manager should focus on doing well.

Paula J. MacLean February 10, 2014 at 11:25 am

Great list for any supervisor not just first timers! I would recommend a book that helps new and even not so new supervisors get the basics right. It’s called The Supervisors Big Book of Answers available at http://www.silvercreekpress.ca.

John June 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm

This is some great advice! I for one am someone who is about to become a supervisor for the first time. I know it’s going to be an adjustment for me, but with the right tools and preparation I know I can do it. I appreciate blog posts like this since I’m learning all I can to become a great supervisor.

Clifford ortega June 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Hi I’m a supervisor for a shell convenience/diner with bout 20 employees , I recently got suspended for letting an employee get to me an I said some things I shouldn’t have I go back to work tomorrow an would very much like feed back an info.

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