An undeniable reality is that most organizations don’t have a formal training program for new supervisors. Even among those that do, few fully understand what’s required to succeed in the role. While technical skills are most often the basis of promotion into management positions, they share little in common with the skills required for success once there. According to research by CEB, only 40% of new supervisors make it past the first 24 months. Put another way, 60% fail within the first two years. The primary purpose of this article is to shed some light on what matters most for those transitioning into management roles.
Most of what supervisors are responsible for doing hinges on effective communication. Whether conveying information verbally or in writing, being able to recreate in someone else’s mind an exact replica of what’s in yours is a skill that takes practice and time. If communication is an area where you struggle, consider taking a course or two at your local community college. There are also online resources available, including a number of podcasts (including ours, Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success) well worth listening to when time allows. The ground-level truth is that without strong communication skills, you won’t succeed as a supervisor. Put forth the effort to develop this essential skill and always strive to get better at it.
Contingent upon effective communication skills, supervisors must provide direction to employees. Setting clear expectations with direct reports eliminates confusion and helps them understand priorities. According to a LinkedIn Learning study about employee experience, giving vague or unclear expectations is the single most frustrating thing a supervisor can do. Before discussing performance expectations, make sure you’re clear on them yourself. From there, engage in dialogue and collaboration. Verify understanding before moving on and always be open to ideas and suggestions employees may have.
Most employees want to know how they’re doing. More importantly, they want to know how they can get better. Providing performance feedback, while awkward for many supervisors, is essential to growth and development for your direct reports. It’s also directly related to levels of engagement. Highly engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to receive weekly feedback than low-engagement employees. Recognize opportunities for performance improvement, interact with the employee for identifying needed changes, and agree on a path forward, which the employee owns and you support.
While we can’t get more time from a day, we can get more from what time we have. Supervisors that excel are often organized, plan well, and manage priorities effectively. These qualities are all associated with time management skills. If you don’t have a field planner or calendar, you should strongly consider getting one. List your priorities, identify steps required to complete them, and track progress until done. For those that may not fully understand what your priorities are, they are the things your boss uses to determine whether you succeed or fail in your job. If you’re uncertain or occasionally receive mixed messages, ask for guidance from your manager.
Critical thinking is a term broadly used, loosely understood, and inconsistently applied as a means of dealing with everyday challenges. In practice and for the purposes of this article, critical thinking is the ability to look at problems holistically and to reach logical conclusions about them using the circumstances involved, resources available, and past experiences with similar situations. Functionally, critical thinking skills allow supervisors to make decisions and move past inevitable challenges that pop up from time to time. Being indecisive or using poor judgment is one of the biggest complaints senior managers have of mid and front-line supervision. Tackle issues head-on, involve others when needed, and never dump a problem on someone else without at least having developed a recommended strategy for resolution.
Of all the leadership traits covered in the AEU LEAD Supervisor Skills Workshop, building rapport with direct reports is the one that learners indicate they struggle with the most. Getting to know your employees and allowing them to get to know you goes beyond pleasantries. It forms the basis of establishing needed connections, a critical part of effective communications. Build time into your calendar to walk the shop floor or job site for the purpose of getting to know your employees better. Look for areas of common interest and don’t let differences form a divisive barrier where it shouldn’t exist.
The average number of direct reports per supervisor is nine. That number can (and does) vary. Regardless of how many employees you have reporting to you, your success is dependent upon the team functioning as one. In an era whereby five generations are represented in the workplace, this is a formidable challenge and one you must constantly work towards improving. Building teams is about gaining alignment around a shared vision and focusing on a common purpose. It’s about getting buy-in, support, and commitment for performance outcomes and operating interdependently as one.
Credibility is like glass; once broken, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repair. As a supervisor, you need to understand the importance of credibility. It’s the basis of respect, which in turn is the active ingredient of influence. If you don’t have credibility, you won’t be respected. Without respect, you have no chance of having influence upon others. Do what you say you’re going to do, follow up on commitments, and treat employees with the respect they deserve. More than anything, always remember it’s what you do – not what you say that matters most.
A perennial top-five priority for companies across all industries and sectors involves attracting skilled labor for open positions. Instead of focusing on recruitment, however, most organizations would be far better off improving efforts to retain the employees they have. Why is this topic important to supervisors? Because most of those voluntarily leaving companies are doing so to escape their boss. The most commonly cited reason for employee turnover involves the lack of feeling valued or appreciated. When employees go above and beyond, thank them. Express appreciation and gratitude for the unique skills and talents they provide. Help them understand how their contributions impact the customer and help shape the bottom line. Make them feel welcomed and create a sense of belonging for each and every employee.
While opportunities for promotion may not always exist, opportunities for involvement have never been better. As a supervisor, seek input from direct reports for operational challenges you face. Delegate routine tasks as a way of making more productive use of your time and helping expand areas of authority for those motivated and capable. Recognize opportunities for personal and professional development and encourage direct reports to take advantage of resources available when and where they exist. Few things express a genuine and authentic sense of caring more than helping employees expand their roles, areas of responsibility, and technical skills.
Getting results is about learning from mistakes or shortcomings and using the experience as a platform for growth and improvement. While no one expects you to get it right every time, you are expected to get better over time. As a supervisor, you must get results. Doing so requires that you do so through the collective performance of others. Whether it involves safety, quality, customer experience, or something else a good supervisor does everything within their power to meet performance expectations. A great one pushes the envelope and looks for opportunities to go beyond them.
Jack Welch once said, “Before you’re a leader, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Offering support to your employees is at the heart of what’s required to help them succeed. In a traditional sense, it requires being transparent, accepting vulnerability, and relinquishing control. It also means recognizing needs and adapting to emerging trends we may not be fully comfortable or prepared to deal with. Throughout the remainder of the current decade, 90% or more of entry-level jobs will be filled by employees from Generation Z. With this transition, organizations will see a sharp increase in challenges related to anxiety, depression, and stress. While supervisors aren’t expected to counsel direct reports or help them with coping skills, they must have the ability to recognize symptoms of mental illness and provide support by directing employees to available resources when appropriate.
Most supervisors are promoted into their position based on performance as individual contributors. Success once there, however, is about getting results through others. The skills outlined above are among some of the most important for those wanting to succeed in front-line supervisory roles. Throughout 2022, focus on one of the skills each month. By year-end, you’ll have grown and become a better supervisor as a result of the experience.
For those needing additional support, we’re here to help. AEU LEAD strengthens organizations and empowers managers with leadership and safety training tailored to your business.