7 Skills for Supervision Success

Jan 12, 2011 by

Somehow I’ve managed to generate a mini-series of “7 Things” posts on this blog – mostly complaining about people – so it only seems right to continue it; this time on a more positive note.

I recently led a workshop on supervisory skills for YNPNdc as part of their Emerging Leaders series late last year. I had a great time working with them and thought I’d share some of what I offered to them, here. If you want the full workshop experience – or want to hire me to coach your staff or yourself – contact me!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Leo Reynolds

No matter who you supervise, I think there are 7 core skills that you need to understand, practice and think about all the time. Obviously, supervising an intern or entry level employee is very different than supervising a senior level staff person but I think these skills are the basics that you need no matter who you supervise.

Let me make one other thing clear: all of these skills are simple and basic. For some of these, you’re going to think “Obviously – of course that’s what a supervisor should do.” However, just because they are simple does not mean they are EASY. If they were, everyone would be an amazing supervisor.

What are these “7 Skills for Supervision Success?” Here you go:

  1. Listening – This one is simple right? Well as I said before, simple and easy are not the same thing. Try this: the next time you’re talking to someone, try forcing yourself not to speak for 2 full minutes. Really listen to what the person is saying. And let me know how difficult it is for you to stay quiet.
  2. Availability – Availability can mean a lot of things, both tangible and intangible. On the tangible side, it means being physically present at work. Of course, you’re not going to be at your desk every second of the day, but being away all day, every day by traveling too much, having too many off-site meetings, etc. isn’t productive. That also means keeping your calendar updated regularly. Personally, I’m a fan of making your calendar ‘public’ through Outlook. On the more intangible side, availability means being mentally present and available – and being clear about when you can’t be. If you are under a lot of stress for a major project, you need to let your supervisees know that you won’t be able to help them think through a project. But don’t let the ‘can’t’ times take over the ‘can’ times or you’ll create problems.
  3. Mission-focus/priority-setting – Here is what priority setting comes down to: Figure out what is most important. Do that first. It is that simple and that difficult. In a nonprofit environment (every environment really) it is essential. We are mission-focused organizations and everything we do, everyday, should help us achieve that mission.
  4. Transparency – Not every decision needs a full, 360 degree explanation, but lots of secrecy is frustrating and ultimately dis-empowering to those you supervise. Being transparent also means admitting when you’re wrong or when you don’t know the answer. No one is perfect and if you constantly try to hide behind a perfect image, the downfall will be that much harder.
  5. Delegation – Delegation is arguably the hardest of these skills to learn and perfect. Delegation basically means transferring decision-making authority to another employee for a task not necessarily within one’s job description while still retaining ultimate responsibility for the task. There are three key pieces of this:
    • Responsibility – setting clear expectations, but not step-by-step instructions on how something should be done
    • Authority – the delegatee is given the right to make decisions
    • Accountability – delegatee is responsible for the work, but delegator has ultimate responsibility
  6. Taking Responsibility and Giving Credit – When you delegate authority, you are responsible for what your supervisee does. You must take responsibility for the mistakes. BUT – you must also give credit for the good things.
  7. Realism – Again, simple: DO NOT make commitments that you and your staff can’t keep. Promising the world to a funder, sponsor or partner does no one any good – especially if you can’t deliver. Putting that extra pressure on your employees (not to mention yourself) just creates all kind of unnecessary stress. You also need to be realistic about what you can do as a supervisor – don’t be a bottleneck.

So what do you think? Are these skills easy? Difficult? How do you operate as a supervisor? I’d love to hear more!

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  • http://twitter.com/nlayag Nelson Layag

    Elisa,
    nice post. I really think giving effective regular feedback is a key skill that all supervisors need (both positive and corrective). Effective feedback is timely, specific, and focused on behaviors (not character) and impact.
    -Nelson

    • http://www.elisamortiz.org Elisa M. Ortiz

      Nelson,

      Thanks! I completely agree with you – those you supervise can’t improve unless they get effective feedback about what’s working and what is not. I think feedback fits somewhere under both ‘listening’ and ‘delegating’ but perhaps it needs it’s own bullet…

      Thanks again for reading and for the thoughtful comment!

      Elisa

  • http://www.domain-hosting-services.in domain name web hosting

    Really this is a nice post Elisa. I feel that, responsibility, listening, and mission focus are the best skill for supervision success. Most of the people having complaining habits i.e. doing wrong thing and complaining others, this habit will suppress their skills. These are the nice effective skills for supervision. Thank you for sharing this information.

    • http://www.elisamortiz.org Elisa M. Ortiz

      Thanks for the comment – I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      I agree that responsibility, listening and mission-focus are probably the
      most important skills, but they are also the hardest to get right. I may
      explore tips for each in future posts. Thanks again!

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  • Malebogosetilo

    your article is very educational.I do think it can work best for those leaders who cannot exercise patiance with their supervisees 

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  • Bruce

    Just getting put in the supervisor seat but already know the guys for a while I will be supervising. I am hoping that transition where they see me as one of them to their boss does not create too much friction. 

    • http://www.elisamortiz.org Elisa M. Ortiz

      Bruce – thanks for the comment! My suggestion would be to have individual meetings with those you are going to supervise to talk it through and hopefully eliminate some (or all) of the awkwardness up front. Talk to them about what they want and need from you as a supervisor first and then share some of what you expect from them too. I think getting off on the right foot quickly can help eliminate challenges later. 

      Thanks again and good luck!

    • http://www.proactivesupervisor.com/ Rafael Castillo

      Bruce, this is always a tough situation. This was my first experience in leadership as a junior military leader. It was challenging. I agree with Elisa but I would add a couple of items. When you meet with each individual make sure you script and practice what you are going to say. Bounce it off someone you trust and with some honest feedback. Remember, nothing has change. The expectations of the work are the same. Make sure “they” agree with expectations (buy in) and you (the supervisor) and their to ensure the expectations are accomplished. The key factor is not the meeting but the follow up with each of those team members both Positive and Negative. If you do not regularly following up (1 hour interval) then what you said in the meeting will not matter and it will be an uphill battle after that. Make your job easy. Set the right expectations (buy in) and follow up effectively. You will Love your job!

  • Alimbu68

    i like it !!!
     

  • Rafael

    I disagree. These are too vague and will not work in an environment which needs to change its culture from a passive to results driven.

    • http://www.elisamortiz.org/ Elisa M. Ortiz

      I’m not sure what you mean. What kind of suggestions do you have for more specific recommendations that would work in a results driven organization?

      • Rafael

        Elisa, The Supervisor Position is the most important position in any organization. The person controls as much as 80% of the total cost of either a department or the entire organization. However, the supervisor fails to understand how a Management Operating System works. The key skills a Supervisor needs to develop in order to create an effective, results drive M.O.S. are Setting Expectations and following up, Confronting for results, and Root Cause problem solving. The skills you mentioned are not the skills that drive results. Today, organizations depend on results and supervisor HAVE to learn how to deliver those effectively. This does not mean they will run over everybody. The skills I mentioned require more detail and training

        • Lawrence

          yes, i do agreed with Rafael for what she mentioned. The supervisor must understand the scope of responsibilities and accountability. All staff must understand vision and mission of an organisation and how to achieve them through proper strategic planning and a good business plan..

          • http://www.proactivesupervisor.com/ Rafael Castillo

            Lawrence, not sure what you mean about “scope”. If you ask any supervisor “What is your Strategic Plan or your business plan?” you are going to get a blank stare. The better question is “What are your KPI’s for your department ?”(key product indicators). Even then, they are not going to know but they do use them. You have to keep in mind that supervisors are dealing with the “now”. Many fail to plan for tomorrow.

          • http://twitter.com/joelromero1 Joel Romero

            Nice article, Elisa. Thank you for sharing. It was very interesting the dialoge with Rafael too. Jmmhh… It seems to me that while Elisa is referring to Firsts Managers or Assistant Managers skills, Rafael has been referring to Supervisors skill properly.

        • http://www.elisamortiz.org/ Elisa M. Ortiz

          I think it really depends on how you define ‘results’. In a nonprofit organization (BTW I only write about nonprofits so if you’re coming from the business side, these tips may not work as well for you), it is often hard to measure results outside of the number of people you help, services you deliver, etc. But is that the appropriate measure? Are you alleviating poverty by offering food assistance? Reducing homelessness by providing job training? The answer isn’t always clear.

          In the end, I was more driving toward how to be successful in keeping your employees on board and happy. Most people don’t leave jobs, they escape crappy supervisors. These tips are designed to get the best out of people by treating them respectfully and holding them accountable for their actions.

          Thanks again for the comments!

          • Rafael

            Elisa, does the nonprofit not have a Management Operating System? Is the nonprofit not trying to control cost? Results are the KPI’s of the nonprofit. The process does not change between a for-profit and nonprofit business just the KPI’s. I agree in treating everyone with respect. That is a given. How do you keep people on board? Set reasonable expectations, follow-up frequently, and have them own parts of the problem solving in the department. The reason for my frequent comments is because I work with supervisors daily in the Americas. The skills I mentioned are the critical skills they fail to use on a daily basis resulting in poor performing departments. The only items in your list which are considered “skills” should be listening and delegation. All others are more tactics or tips than skills. To get to best out your people, create a successful process around them, train them to the process, and then guide them. Then they will be engaged.

  • Lawrence

    Elisa, I think some of the important aspect in supervision are:
    1) leadership and organisation skill

    2) team building and team spirit
    3) building trusts
    4) goals setting or expectation setting
    5) problems solving skill
    6) critical thinking related to priority issues

    7) Seven highly effective habits by Stephen Covey
    8) Strategic thinking and strategic planning

    • http://www.proactivesupervisor.com/ Rafael Castillo

      Where did you get this list from?

  • nguyenlanaif

    hi Elisa

    Elisa, The Supervisor Position is the most important position in any
    organization. The person controls as much as 80% of the total cost of
    either a department or the entire organization. However, the supervisor
    fails to understand how a Management Operating System works. The key
    skills a Supervisor needs to develop in order to create an effective,
    results drive M.O.S. are Setting Expectations and following up,
    Confronting for results, and Root Cause problem solving. The skills you
    mentioned are not the skills that drive results. Today, organizations
    depend on results and supervisor HAVE to learn how to deliver those
    effectively. This does not mean they will run over everybody. The
    skills I mentioned require more detail and training

    Thanks! I completely agree with you – those you supervise can’t
    improve unless they get effective feedback about what’s working and what
    is not. I think feedback fits somewhere under both ‘listening’ and
    ‘delegating’ but perhaps it needs it’s own bullet…

    Thanks again for reading and for the thoughtful comment!

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  • Heather

    All comment on this article and the article itself was very helpfull for me. Thank you all

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  • diane

    hi elisa,

    i am a first time head teacher, i supervise and at the same time,, i also have teaching loads…i think i did not start good with my job as a supervisor…i failed to establish myself as a leader because my attention was divided…i have some teachers now who seemed not to heed my requests..how shall i remedy the situation..