What Are the Responsibilities of a Supervisor?

Team meeting together with supervisor and reviewing plans
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The title of the supervisor is typically applied to a first-line or lower-level managerial role, often in industrial or administrative settings. The designation of a supervisor is less common in the twenty-first century than in prior eras where the actual work of observing co-workers closely was deemed a necessary management tactic. Still, there are a variety of roles and vocations today where the designation and role exist. 

Functions of a Supervisor

A supervisor is responsible for the day-to-day performance of a small group. It may be a team, a department or a shift. Typically the supervisor has experience in what the group does and has earned the position based on management's belief that he/she is capable of guiding the team.

Common supervisory tasks include:

The Balance 2018
  • Helping the team understand performance targets and goals.
  • Training or ensuring that workers are properly trained for their specific roles. 
  • Scheduling work hours and shifts. 
  • Coordinating job rotation and cross-training.
  • Providing real-time feedback on worker performance.
  • Sharing company updates, financial results and new objectives with team members.
  • Assisting in resolving emergencies. For example, a quality or a customer problem may be escalated to the team supervisor for handling. 
  • Identifying and resolving workplace problems, including tardiness or absenteeism.
  • Providing reports and activity updates to management. 
  • Assisting in hiring and firing activities, although often the supervisor requires the managerial approval of all new hires or terminations

Sample Position Titles

Titles vary by industry and vocation, however, here are some common examples of supervisory titles: 

  • Team Supervisor
  • Shift Supervisor
  • Support Supervisor
  • Service Supervisor
  • Nurse Supervisor

Becoming a Supervisor

The supervisor role is one where the individual must have an excellent grasp of the work of the team and also an understanding of the tasks and activities of a manager. The supervisor is often drawn from the working team because management appreciates his or her work ethic, company attitude, and commitment to quality. Organizations often require individuals promoted to supervisory roles to attend first-line or front-line management training, where they learn important communication and management skills.


Challenges of Being a Supervisor

The role of a supervisor is often a challenging one. The new supervisor often must navigate the awkward transition from being one of the team members to the individual responsible for guiding work, offering constructive feedback and even writing up, disciplining or terminating a long-time colleague or friend. Instead of being a team member, the individual, as supervisor, is now part of management. This transition is often extremely uncomfortable for all parties. 

A large part of the role of supervisor involves offering feedback, both constructive and positive, with constructive being the more challenging for most individuals to deliver.

If training has not been offered, many supervisors report struggling with delivering constructive feedback.

In the role of supervisor, the individual is accountable for team performance, which offers pressure above and beyond the level he or she may have experienced as a team member. 

Often the supervisor is charged with responsibility for the team and overall performance, yet has relatively little direct authority without gaining managerial support. 

Best Practices of Successful Supervisors

  • They understand the importance of team development, and they work hard to support their team. 
  • They work to earn the credibility and support of their team members. 
  • They focus on creating a culture where accountability and fairness are present in every encounter.
  • They support the professional development and training of their team members. 
  • They shield their team and often hold themselves visibly accountable for any mistakes or mishaps. 
  • They work hard to master the art and science of delivering effective, constructive feedback.