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The 9 Skills Every Great Supervisor Needs

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The 9 Skills Every Great Supervisor Needs

The 9 Skills Every Great Supervisor Needs

A post from our Managing Teams blog

      Written by Jordan James
If you're a supervisor or team leader, chances are you feel you don't always get the respect you deserve. Some lower-level staff think supervision is easy. Outsiders, too, may look at the organization's figureheads – the top bosses and the young talent – and think "these are the people driving success."

They couldn't be more wrong. The fact is, a good staff supervisor tends to deal with more responsibilities in any 10-minute period than many other employees handle in a week.

A supervisor often supports team members in a range of roles, which means they need to understand lots of different jobs, and how to solve all the problems associated with each one.
A good supervisor also motivates through leadership. They make sure their team has the tools to do their job, and the confidence to do it brilliantly. Without a supervisor, things break down fast.

None of the above is easy. But then, you probably know that – and you might be doing it already.
Or, perhaps you're a newly-promoted supervisor - and you're working hard to develop the skills you need to be a truly great one.

To help, we've broken down this important specialism into 9 essential skills that every great supervisor needs. Check if you already have them, identify the ones you need to work on - and learn how to use them.

1. Being proactive

As a supervisor, your team needs you to:
  • Set standards
  • Give direction
  • Provide support when things go wrong
That means you need to be one step ahead of your staff. You must be ready with instructions and answers.
In other words, you must be proactive. Make sure you:
  • Plan ahead
  • Solve problems as soon as you spot them

2. Creativity

Ever heard someone say, "no two days are alike in this job"? You might have said it a few times yourself!  As a supervisor, you're constantly challenged by new problems and goals. That means you must be creative in solving them. To be a creative problem solver you must:
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Keep your mind on your job – think about how to improve performance, even when away from work

3. Quick Thinking

Two things make the modern workplace hectic: constant change, and the quest for higher performance. As a supervisor, you must be ready to grasp new ideas fast, and juggle multiple problems at once. The skill of quick-thinking is essential. Great supervisors demonstrate it by:
  • Being alert to new challenges
  • Addressing issues as soon as they arise

4. Technical expertise

At the heart of the supervisor's role is the need for a conscientious expert - someone who can make sure the team's work meets the high standards required. That person is you.

Great supervisors have comprehensive technical knowledge of each role they support. It takes a high-calibre individual – but nobody ever said being a supervisor was easy. Make sure you have:
  • The right qualifications
  • The experience needed to measure help improve performance

5. Being a continuous learner

Standards and technologies change over time. So, to remain an expert, you must never stop learning or refreshing your knowledge.

A great supervisor should:
  • Stay abreast of current trends, by reading relevant journals and studies
  • Update your training and qualifications regularly
  • Always be on the lookout new ideas that can benefit the team

6. Good communication

This is perhaps the most important skill on our list. You can possess every other skill in spades – technical, mental, or strategic – but if you can't connect with your team, you're done for.

A supervisor's job is ultimately to support the team. You need to give them what they need to excel at their job, whether that is a pep talk, advice, or a telling off. Everything you give them requires good communication. Great supervisors are, undoubtedly, great communicators too. Make sure you:
  • Speak regularly to every member of your team, whether at employee review meetings or in normal work settings
  • Tell your team about problems, successes, and new methods
  • Stay respectful and supportive

7. Having self-control

Things get heated in every workplace - when work pressures are high, when personalities clash, or when colleagues disagree on the right way forward. In these situations, the staff you supervise may lose their tempers and resort to arguments and name-calling, and it's up to you to sort this out. If you have your own issues with anger, the charity Mind has help and advice.

A great supervisor sets the right example by having self-control. When things get heated, you bring the focus back to work by keeping a level head. Check your self-control by making sure you:
  • Don't lose your temper unnecessarily
  • Bring something positive to every interaction – never start or escalate negative situations

8. Listening

As we said earlier, being a supervisor is a support role. It's not just about telling people what to do, or what they did wrong. You also need to help your staff to solve problems and become better at their job.

That means being a good listener. Make sure you:
  • Are approachable and your team know they can talk to you
  • Listen carefully to supervisees' needs
  • Act on team members' requests in a way that helps improve performance

9. Being even-handed

Finally, good supervisors always reward their supervisees fairly. When something goes wrong, you need to make sure the person responsible know how to improve next time. But as their supervisor, you must also take responsibility. And when you achieve success, a fair supervisor shares the credit with the team. You'll quickly lose their respect otherwise.

A fair supervisor:
  • Is just as ready to give praise as to accept it
  • Accepts responsibility when things go wrong
  • Only uses disciplinary measures to address real problems, never for personal reasons


Being a great supervisor requires more intelligence and guile than most people realise.
As we've seen, your skills make everyone else better at their jobs. Without a great supervisor, morale and performance suffer.

But with a supervisor who is pro-active, communicative, supportive and fair? That's when a team can really succeed. If you learn the nine skills described above, you'll be well on your way to greatness.

Take a look at our supervisor and team leader skills training page for more inspiration.

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