Professionally Speaking

Donning the Supervisory Cap

This month, Greg discusses the right (and wrong) way to be an effective supervisor.

Steve has made some very pertinent points on the topic of supervision, and there are a few I’d like to expand upon.

If you’ve been selected for a supervisory role, it’s anticipated that you probably have a big career ahead of you; this is your chance to demonstrate that you’re up to the task. If you can demonstrate ability in this position, it can lead to management or other senior roles.

Something you need to remember is that high achievers who find themselves in these leadership roles typically have a great need for success. This is a great quality for individual contributors, but it makes things more difficult when leading others. People with a high need for achievement find it difficult to delegate tasks and may find themselves feeling conflicted when their staff doesn’t do as a good a job as they think they would themselves. I once went as far as re-assigning a task to myself when a team member was struggling. Rather than using this as a development opportunity for that team member, my ego couldn’t help itself—and off I went. You can be very sure that I’d never do anything like that again! All you can do here is be aware of these tendencies and think carefully before you act. Remember, your team members like to know that they’re important, too. The best approach is to treat your staff as willing volunteers; often this means asking people to do something rather than ordering them to do it. (Leave the ordering to the manager, if it comes to that. They often have more ways available to influence staff behavior than you think).

I was somewhat fortunate in that I made most of my leadership mistakes when I was leading a rock band—not in a work situation. I had to learn to appreciate the value of everyone, even when they didn’t play their parts the way I had originally written them. Otherwise I would soon have ended up putting on a solo guitar show instead of leading a grooving band. The dynamics of a band and work situation aren’t all that different.

From a manager’s point of view, a supervisor can be a great way to manage the day-to-day issues in the team. This way, you can keep the operational wheels turning, leaving the manager to deal with the exceptions that require their attention. It’s important to keep your manager informed of anything they’re likely to be asked about, particularly if it’s bad news. No one like surprises—particularly managers. It’s also vital that you and your manager enjoy a degree of mutual trust and confidence.

One last point. In this type of role, you’ll likely hear all manner of confidential information about the organization, other staff and the individual team members. It’s imperative that you keep your mouth shut and don’t run out to tell your buddies all of the great gossip you’ve just come across. If word ever gets out that you can’t be trusted with confidential information, then it’s possible that you may never again be considered for a leadership role.

So if you’re considered for a supervisory role, I urge you to think seriously about it. It can be a great developmental step in your career—even if you have no ambitions to move to management—and will do a great deal to help you understand how to work with other people. No matter what your career ambitions, to move ahead in your career you’ll need to understand how to work with others to get things done—there’s only so much you can do by yourself.

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to and


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