The skills associated with supervising a team differ from those required to lead a team. Supervisory skills typically involve directing the work of subordinates on a daily basis, assigning work, communicating expectations, ensuring people have the necessary resources, and improving performance. Leadership skills usually focus on communicating a strategic vision, managing change, and inspiring innovation. Effective managers require both skills to achieve a company’s goals and objectives on an ongoing basis.


When you supervise a team, you assign tasks, and you monitor and control the execution closely. While the employees are responsible for completing the tasks, the supervisor is accountable for maintaining safety and upholding standards. On the other hand, when you view your role as leading the team, you tend to focus on motivating and inspiring the staff. A leadership approach works well when the team has the skills and knowledge to complete job tasks without much guidance.

Making Decisions

Supervisors tend to make decisions without consulting subordinates, while leaders adopt a democratic or participative style and invite opinions. Supervisors focus on completing work and reaching quotas. They discourage conflict and any activity that takes away from productivity. Leaders approach things differently to take advantage of the skills and knowledge of the team. For example, when operational metrics reveal problems, such as product errors, low customer satisfaction, or waste, a leader asks team members for advice on improving performance. A supervisor, on the other hand, might simply make the decision to institute punitive measures if employees fail to fulfill expectations.


Leaders present a compelling vision of the future so that subordinates embrace transitions and transformational activities that enable a company to maintain a competitive edge. Charismatic leaders express passion and enthusiasm. Supervisors tend to focus on the present, not the future. Leaders identify threats and opportunities that can be exploited. Supervisors then take action to mitigate the risk or take advantage of the event. Leaders act as a catalyst or trigger for change, while supervisors actually make the changes in procedures or processes required to implement the transformation.


When you supervise a team, your daily operations include scheduling resources to get work done. This may involve using spreadsheets to analyze resource utilization. Because you focus on short-term goals, you identify opportunities to reduce costs. Leaders tend to spend their days analyzing operations to redesign them. Leaders focus on planning, communicating and motivating the staff, but delegate tactical activities to subordinates. Leaders generate the strategic plan; supervisors handle the tactical work.