Supervisors fulfill an essential role in organizational performance. Unlike managers, who may adopt a more strategic approach, supervisors need to have a detailed, "hands-on understanding of the complexities of the work their team is undertaking. They also need to be skilled in leading their team and motivating them to deliver at the highest levels of effectiveness and efficiency.
As supervisors are usually promoted from within a team, they may be new to managing and overseeing the work of others. In such cases, training and development needs to be timely, wide-ranging and aimed as much at boosting the new supervisor’s confidence as his knowledge. Helping the new supervisor to understand his position within the organization and the expectations that others have of him is an important part of the initial training.
The supervisor must plan, organize and control the work of his team, communicate with team members and the team as a whole and represent the team within the organization in meetings and briefings. To fulfill all these functions, the supervisor needs to be fully briefed and trained in all the relevant systems and procedures within the organization that relate to her team. She may also need formal training in topics such as objective setting, project management, performance appraisal, quality control and work planning and efficiency.
Motivating and getting the best from others through strong leadership is another key skill supervisors need to develop. A new supervisor may have been promoted to the role due in part to his existing leadership qualities and an ability to integrate well with other team members. These key strengths may need to be built upon further through formal training in team-working and leadership practices—usually through an external course.
Types of Training
The most useful way to learn supervisory skills within an organizational context is through working alongside another, more experienced supervisor. Job “shadowing” can be extremely helpful as a way of demonstrating supervision in practice, even if the area of work is different from the new supervisor’s own. In addition, formal training sessions (ideally within the organization) on the theory and practical skills of supervision may also be helpful for fully exploring the complexity of what is required.
People learn mostly by doing, so some form of ongoing training or studying is valuable to build up the supervisor’s skills as they develop. This will help the new supervisor realize how much she is learning and progressing. Studying for a formal supervisory or management qualification over a period of time is a way of combining theory and practice and puts the supervisor in a stronger position for further promotional opportunities.
Many of the issues and challenges faced by supervisors—whether new or highly experienced—are related to problems concerning people. Conflict, poor performance, absenteeism, stress and low morale are all likely to occur at some stage. Supervisors need to be able to adopt different management styles and techniques to deal with them. Use video demonstrations and role-play as training. This will highlight the possibility of such problems and increase the supervisor's confidence around dealing with them. Every supervisor also should have access to close and ongoing managerial support. Successful supervisory training and development means ensuring that a supervisor continues to grow and develop as a person at the same time she becomes more proficient in organizationally focused managerial skills.
Dianne Bown-Wilson is a highly experienced writer, speaker, management consultant, executive coach and trainer. A professional writer since 1973, Bown-Wilson has written for numerous print and online publications. She is currently completing Ph.D. research in age management at Cranfield University, and she has co-authored two books: "Marketing, Management and Motivation," and "Primetastic!"