Stepping into a supervisory role for the first time is both exciting and daunting. It can also be frightening, as there is no telling what challenges you will need to overcome in order to succeed. As a supervisor, you are now faced with new responsibilities including managing schedules, training your team, and keeping them motivated. All while trying to reach your own goals. This can often be difficult for first-time supervisors.
Even more so since there is often little done to help you in your new position. 59% of managers who oversee one to two employees report having no training at all. While 41% of managers who oversee three to five employees claim the same.
The transition from being part of the team to leading it brings a lot of challenges and learning curves. For those who find themselves in this pivotal position, the following tips can be instrumental in navigating this new terrain.
Whether you’ve been promoted to the position, hired from the outside, or an entrepreneur learning how to be a leader for the first time, here are some tips for you as a first-time supervisor.
Get to Know Your Team
Besides understanding your role as a first-time supervisor, understanding your team is one of the first goals you should set for yourself. And the best way to begin to understand them is by getting to know them. If you’re a supervisor who joined the team from the outside, you’ll need to get to know your team as individuals.
Building a rapport with your team is foundational. Understand their strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and concerns. This doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with everyone. However, it does mean that you build the foundation for a pleasant working relationship.
If you’re a supervisor who was promoted to the role, you may already know about your team. However, as a supervisor, you’ll need to know them in a slightly different way. In this scenario, you’ll have to look at your colleagues more critically. Are they in the right position for the strengths they possess? Is there a shift in schedule, role, or mode of operation that needs to be made for them to perform at their best? Are they happy with what they are currently required to do?
As a first-time supervisor, you won’t be making these types of changes right away if they are necessary. Still, it is important to know what everyone on your team does and how well they do it so that you have some insight when the time comes to make those decisions.
Organize one-on-one sessions, team-building exercises, or casual coffee breaks. Ask clarifying questions about things that you may want to know more about and listen actively to your team’s answers. All of this will help you understand your team better so that you can do your job better.
Begin Improving Communication From Day 1
Clear communication is the backbone of effective leadership. From the very first day, establish open channels where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas. Also, set the expectation that they can come to you with any concerns they may have. From day 1, practice the communication habits you intend to use as a leader. Then, build on those habits as you settle into your position.
Be it regular team meetings, emails, or informal chats, ensuring everyone is on the same page reduces misunderstandings and enhances productivity. For instance, if there’s a change in project timelines, communicating this promptly can help the team adjust their workflow accordingly.
Be Open to Learning
First-time supervisors should be willing to learn as much as they can about their roles, processes, and their team. One of the major mistakes newly hired supervisors make is thinking that they know enough to handle their responsibilities. In reality, every promotion comes with unexpected requirements and challenges that need to be addressed.
That is why embracing a continuous learning mindset is one of the most critical attributes of an effective supervisor. When a leader professes to know it all, they block the opportunity to grow their knowledge base and improve their leadership skills. They may also come across as arrogant and difficult to work with.
Conversely, when a leader acknowledges that they do not know everything and are willing to learn like the rest of the team, it makes those around them feel more comfortable and approachable. As a supervisor, it is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses. This is the first step in improving them. If you are open to learning more about your role, you can simultaneously improve your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
Don’t Try to Get Everyone to Like You
The transition from a peer to a supervisor can be challenging. With this new position of authority, there’s often a subconscious desire to be liked by everyone. While this is natural, it is not always helpful. Doing so can lead to decisions aimed more at popularity than productivity. Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. Effective supervisors understand that their primary role is to guide their team toward organizational goals, even if it means making unpopular decisions.
This doesn’t mean supervisors should be indifferent to their team’s feelings or concerns. Instead, it’s about striking a balance between being approachable and making objective decisions. There will be instances where disciplinary actions are necessary or where a team member’s idea might not align with the project’s objectives. In such cases, decisions should be communicated clearly, highlighting the rationale behind them.
Aiming for universal likability can also dilute a supervisor’s authority. If team members feel that a supervisor is more concerned about being liked than making the right decisions, respect and cohesion can erode. Instead, supervisors should focus on being fair, consistent, and transparent. Over time, while they might not be liked by everyone, they will certainly earn the respect and trust of their team.
Seek Feedback from Managers and Team
Supervisors must know what those around them think. This could be what they think about their jobs, the company, and even the supervisor’s performance. This is why it is a good practice for first-time supervisors to seek feedback from both their managers and their team.
Seeking feedback from managers gives supervisors insight into their performance from a hierarchical perspective. Conversely, feedback from the team offers a ground-level perspective. You need both perspectives to truly understand how well things are going.
However, seeking feedback is just the first step. Effective supervisors actively work on the input they receive, showing their team and managers that they value their opinions and are committed to continuous improvement. This not only enhances the supervisor’s skills but also fosters a culture of open dialogue and mutual respect.
Learn How to Run a Meeting
Meetings can be productive, or they can be infamous time drains. As a supervisor, mastering the art of running effective meetings should be one of your goals. Meetings are necessary for communication, collaboration, and planning. However, they can be boring, and unorganized, and feel like they drag on forever. This is why supervisors need to do their best to run efficient meetings.
Here are some ways to run meetings better:
- Schedule the Meeting: Use tools like Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook to schedule.
- Prepare the Agenda: List the topics to be discussed, the time allocated for each, and the desired outcome (e.g., decision, information sharing).
- Set Up Logistics: If it’s a virtual meeting, ensure a stable internet connection and choose a reliable platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. If in-person, ensure the room is suitable, with the necessary equipment (projectors, whiteboards).
- Set Ground Rules: Before the meeting, clarify the rules of what is allowed and not allowed during the meeting. For example, you can request everyone put their phones away during the meeting.
- Facilitate the Meeting: This is where you make sure all topics are covered, the meeting stays on topic and on time, and that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the discussion.
- Document Key Points: Have someone take minutes for those not in attendance.
- Follow-Up: Make sure a follow-up email is sent to the attendees of the meeting.
By the end of the meeting, everyone should be clear on the meeting topics and know their part or role in any resolution. If you’re discussing a marketing strategy, for example, ensure that by the end of the meeting, everyone knows their roles and next steps.
Don’t Take on Too Much Too Fast
Sometimes, new supervisors take on more than they can handle. This is usually done because they want to show their leaders and their team that they are capable, competent, and willing to work hard to make the team better. It’s understandable since we all want to make a good impression.
While enthusiasm is commendable, overextending yourself is never a good idea. Not only do you create the possibility for burnout, but you also increase the likelihood of making mistakes in your work. All of which is the opposite of making a good impression.
A Slack survey found that 43% of middle management reported experiencing burnout. Since this is so common, as a first-time supervisor, you don’t want to develop the practice of taking on too much.
Prioritize tasks, learn the art of delegation, and understand that it’s okay to ask for help or more time when needed. If there’s a massive project deadline looming, delegating tasks effectively can ensure timely completion without compromising quality. All of this will help alleviate some of the pressure you feel and allow you to function at a higher level.
Remember Why You Were Hired
When beginning a new position or role, with all of its challenges, doubt can creep in. This can happen whether you are an entry-level employee or the new department head. About 65% of professionals at some time during their careers have imposter syndrome or self-doubt.
When that happens, remember why you were chosen for the supervisory role. Reflect on your strengths, skills, and the value you bring to the team. You were hired because someone believed in your potential to lead and make impactful decisions. Holding onto this confidence can guide you through challenging moments, ensuring you stay grounded and focused.
Transitioning into a supervisory role is an opportunity that is filled with learning and growth. It is also filled with responsibility. By focusing on relationships, communication, continuous learning, and self-awareness, new supervisors can set the stage for a successful and impactful leadership tenure. Embrace the challenges, and celebrate the wins. This will get you closer to the type of supervisor you want to be. Remember that every experience, good or bad, contributes to your evolution as a leader.