The corporate world is filled with various titles and roles. Some of them like the CEO and COO are usually clear and defined. Others seem to be more closely related in their functions that many people get the two confused. One example of this is the roles of ‘manager’ and ‘supervisor’.
While they are frequently used interchangeably, they signify different roles with distinctive responsibilities and functions. Unraveling these differences helps in understanding the complex hierarchical structure of organizations and the roles each individual plays in driving the organization forward.
Maybe you are expanding your business and are not sure if you need to hire one of these positions or both. Or, perhaps, you are looking to land a job in one of these two positions. Either way, it is important to fully understand what the similarities and differences are. This article aims to demystify these roles and highlight the essential differences between a manager and a supervisor.
The Role of a Manager
A manager is a high-ranking individual within an organization whose primary role encompasses planning, strategizing, and coordinating the efforts of their team to achieve company goals. Their responsibilities are broad and include areas such as setting targets, managing budgets, making operational decisions, and formulating strategic plans.
Managers, typically, have the power to hire, fire, and promote employees. Their role is often more strategic and less hands-on than supervisors. They are decision-makers who consider the bigger picture when determining how their department—or the entire organization—runs. They manage not just people but also resources, projects, and processes. Managers often need to balance competing demands, such as the needs of their team with the expectations of senior management.
- Strategic Planner-They are responsible for outlining the direction and scope of their department or the entire organization.
- Resource Allocator and Organizer-One of the critical roles of a manager is effective resource allocation. Managers decide how to distribute resources across various projects or tasks. This involves defining roles and responsibilities. It also includes establishing reporting relationships and creating a workflow.
- Decision-Maker–Managers serve as key decision-makers in an organization. These decisions can range from hiring and firing staff as well as operational decisions.
- Team Builder and Motivator-Managers are also responsible for building and leading their teams. This includes collaborating with Human Resources to find the right team members for the right positions.
- Communicators and Liaison-Managers are two-way communicators. They represent their team in high-level meetings and communicate the strategic decisions of the top management to their team. Conversely, they convey the team’s ground-level insights to the senior management.
As you can see, a manager’s role is multifaceted. Now let’s take a look at the role of a supervisor.
The Role of a Supervisor
Supervisors are typically individuals who oversee the day-to-day activities of employees. They are often directly involved in employee guidance. They are also the people responsible for scheduling, training, and workflow management. Think of the supervisor as the bridge between the management and the employees.
Supervisors are generally more involved in the ‘how’—how work is done. They are also responsible for working on how efficiency can be improved. They handle the practical, on-the-ground aspects of job execution. One of the challenges of being a supervisor is in their meeting team goals while managing different personalities. While they may not have the power to hire or fire employees, they are often tasked with monitoring employee performance and providing feedback. Here are some key roles supervisors play
- Frontline Leader-The supervisor, is often seen as the frontline leader. Usually, they are responsible for directing the day-to-day functions of their teams, resolving issues, and maintaining the workflow. They are more hands-on than managers, in many cases.
- Direct Task Overseer-Supervisors assign tasks to team members, set deadlines, monitor progress. The supervisor’s role is tactical, focusing on how to accomplish tasks most efficiently and effectively. They also troubleshoot operational challenges.
- Team Facilitator-Supervisors help team members understand their roles and responsibilities. They also identify areas for improvement and guide their team members toward achieving their full potential.
- Feedback Provider– They monitor the performance of individual team members. Then, they provide constructive feedback for improvement. The supervisors’ feedback also extends upwards as they relay on-the-ground insights and operational issues to the managers.
- Safety and Compliance-Some supervisors play a vital role in ensuring safety and compliance. They enforce the company’s safety protocols. They also ensure adherence to rules and regulations and take corrective action in case of violations.
What Difference Between a Manager and Supervisor?
1. Hierarchical Levels
The hierarchical level at which managers and supervisors operate within the organization is one of the primary distinctions between the two roles. In a traditional organizational structure, managers are generally positioned higher up. This gives them a broad overview and authority over multiple departments and teams. Or, in rare cases, authority over the entire organization.
Managers hold strategic roles in many companies. They create the roadmap for the company or their respective departments. They oversee a wide array of tasks and processes, making crucial decisions on resource allocation.
Supervisors, in contrast, generally operate at a level closer to the workforce. They have direct oversight of the daily functions of their teams and a more intimate understanding of the tasks at hand. They are the first point of contact for employees and are often seen as immediate leaders on the floor.
2. Decision-Making and Strategy Formulation
In the realm of decision-making and strategy formulation, managers and supervisors also have distinct roles. Managers are often the key decision-makers within their respective departments or the organization as a whole. They have the autonomy and authority to make crucial decisions that directly influence the organization’s direction, goals, and strategy. This includes decisions regarding budgeting, resource allocation, hiring or firing, and setting organizational or departmental goals.
The manager’s role is macro-level, requiring a broad perspective of the organization’s operations, market trends, and long-term growth opportunities. They must understand and analyze complex, multifaceted issues to make informed strategic decisions.
On the other hand, supervisors are more micro-level oriented. They contribute to decision-making processes through their on-the-ground insights. They provide feedback to managers on team dynamics, individual performance, operational issues, and other daily happenings. Their role is key in executing the strategies and decisions made by managers. They focus on how to accomplish the set goals most efficiently, often problem-solving day-to-day issues to ensure smooth operations.
3. Interaction With the Team
Another dimension of difference lies in the nature and extent of interactions that managers and supervisors have. Managers often act as representatives of their department or organization. They often interact with various external entities such as clients. For example, they will work with other departments and clients. Some managers also participate in high-level meetings, presentations, or negotiations that require their authority and strategic insight.
In contrast, supervisors typically have more extensive internal interactions. They are in close contact with their team members. This is so they can provide guidance. It is also so that they can solve conflicts more quickly and effectively.
4. Task Approach
Finally, the task approach of managers and supervisors also varies significantly. Managers typically have a more delegative role. Usually, they entrust tasks to their subordinates or supervisors to make sure that goals are met. They usually set the direction and define the tasks. Then, they monitor progress.
On the other hand, supervisors are more directly involved in task execution. They monitor the progress of tasks more closely than managers. This allows them to have a better insight into what is working and what is not working. It also helps them see what is the reason for the success or failure of any project goal or execution.
In essence, while the role of managers leans towards strategic thinking and long-term planning, the role of supervisors revolves around tactical implementation and daily operations.
5. Training and Development
Another responsibility of a supervisor is the training and development of the team. For companies that do not have an in-house training department or do not hire outside corporate trainers, supervisors usually fill the role of trainer. Since supervisors work more closely with employees, it is their responsibility to make sure that the new employee or current employee knows what they’re doing.
This serves a great benefit to the company in many ways. One is that because supervisors train their employees, they can give them updated information and changes to processes. This is sometimes missed by a training team or outside trainers as some lines of business make changes to processes daily.
Although both managers and supervisors play pivotal roles in an organization, their responsibilities, scope, and interactions differ significantly. Understanding these differences is essential. If you comprehend the difference, helps clarify the hierarchy within a company and the distinct roles everyone plays. Moreover, it aids in career progression. While there may be overlaps between a manager’s and supervisor’s duties in some organizations, appreciating the general distinctions between these roles can provide a clearer understanding of the workings of corporate structures.