The organizational structure of small businesses varies greatly. Some small businesses have one or two employees, while others can have several dozen or more. Depending on the level of your business and the number of employees you have, you may need to hire a supervisor or a manager to oversee operations, human resources, marketing and several other aspects of the company. However, supervisors and managers play different roles within a business, and both may not be right for your company. Before you hang up a help wanted sign, it’s important to understand the difference between a supervisor and a manager.


Supervisor responsibilities include overseeing tactical aspects of the department, while managers develop strategy that affects the whole company.

Understanding Supervisor Responsibilities

In most cases, the role of supervisor is an entry-level management position. Supervisors oversee a small team of employees and are responsible for ensuring that the tasks of the team members are completed properly and efficiently. Sometimes, a supervisor may have previously held the role of one of the team members, so he is intimately familiar with the tasks that need to be completed. He may have been promoted due to his leadership skills or work ethic. Generally, supervisors perform the same tasks as their subordinates while taking a leadership role.

Supervisory roles are generally internal facing, meaning that they are concerned with matters within the business. For example, supervisors may execute plans for rolling out new product placements in the store or teaching their team new customer service policies. They may resolve conflicts that arise within their team, or they may conduct on-boarding training for new employees.

In the general hierarchy of an organization, the supervisor reports to the manager who then reports to the small business owner. In smaller companies, there may not be a managerial position, and so the supervisor may report directly to the small business owner.

Looking at Manager Responsibilities

A manager is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of her department. Part of the job involves making important decisions regarding the company’s resources, which can include financial budgets and personnel. Depending on the size of the company, managers may oversee supervisors within the organization and provide them with plans that the supervisors can implement with their teams. If the business doesn’t have a supervisory role, managers can oversee the employees themselves.

Managerial roles are primarily external facing, unlike supervisory roles. They are concerned with the strategy and direction of the company as a whole and how it relates to the industry and the target market. Managers interact with external stakeholders, including key accounts, business partners and suppliers, and they establish relationships and trust.

Developing strategies and plans to meet company goals is one of the major responsibilities of a manager. In addition, managers need to liaise with other departments within the business to ensure that all areas are working toward the same goals.

Should You Hire a Supervisor or a Manager?

When deciding what kind of role you need to hire for your business, ask yourself whether you need someone to make big-picture decisions or execute tactical plans. Do you need someone to focus his energy externally or internally? Will this role need to make critical decisions about the direction of the business, or will he be more focused on the direction of his department? By having a deep understanding of what you need the person to accomplish, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of employee you need.

Other important questions to ask yourself include: Will he need to allocate resources like finances and personnel, or will he be charged with ensuring that people are doing their jobs efficiently? Will your employee need prior management experience or can he be an entry-level candidate? By answering these kinds of questions, you can determine whether your business needs a manager or supervisor as a part of your team to help your business reach its goals.