Understanding the role of and enhancing the impact of the supervisor

I have been asked to deliver a HR Best Practise Forum for the Calderdale & Kirklees Manufacturing alliance on the 17th November, the topic has been set as “Understanding the role of and enhancing the impact of the supervisor”.

It is an interesting topic and an important issue in terms of both HR practises and also productivity, especially in the manufacturing sector. I often try to explain the impact of failing to focus or support middle managers as having a negative ‘pull me’ back effect on the entire company, rather than a positive ‘push me’ forward effect. I find it often helps to focus the leadership team on the importance of getting the first line of management right, explaining how neglecting this has the effect of pulling the leadership team back into day to day operations and firefighting rather than allowing them to have the space and freedom to push forward and drive the company.

It is often the case once we get into these discussions, particularly with SME’s clients that we discover that the supervisors and middle managers have been promoted for a variety of reasons; driven by necessity due to growth, the person tends to have been in the right place at the right time. Often considered to be reliable and good at their job

But does this automatically mean that they will make a good supervisor or that they actively want the challenge? Does it mean that the senior team have thought the promotion through and been proactive whilst planning and driving the business forward? Unfortunately, the answer to either one or both of these questions is usually no.

You have an ambitious team member who’s asking to be promoted to manager. He’s great at his job, but is he really ready to lead? How do you judge his skills and experience? What’s the best way to measure his potential?

As a senior manager and leader within the company you should always be on the lookout for the next generation of talent coming up through the ranks, an internal promotion is often more efficient and beneficial, but take care that it is the right appointment, not a lazy solution.

Trying to figure out whether a particular employee is management material is not always straightforward. Effective management requires a very different set of skills than those demonstrated as an individual operator. What we should be looking out for is behavioural evidence that this person has the potential and talents to manage, whether that be other team members, a process or a mix of both. When we are talking about robust succession planning, rather than reacting to day to day changes in the business we must take the time to actively observe and evaluate each individual. In doing so senior managers will be in a better position to anticipate the person’s weaknesses so they can help the employee adjust into a management role when the time comes. Here are some ways to go about it.

Gauge interest

A good starting point, is to establish firstly whether or not the employee is interested in and geared toward management, not just going through the motions, and thinking that they have been at the company a certain number of years (so it’s time for a promotion) or that the extra money might come in handy. The best way to find out is to ask. It is important to pay attention to what the person has actually done, whilst they have been with you not simply what he/she says.

Ask yourself, “Have I ever seen an instance where this employee took on a leader-like role, or a time when they took responsibility or stepped in, in a crisis.

Assess experience

If the employee is looking at their first step up into a junior management or supervisor role they may not have had a chance in the work environment to demonstrate these skills or their natural ability. It is important to try to look

beyond the obvious and the workplace by finding out what other management experiences the person has had, roles like captaining a sports team, running a volunteering program in the community or editing a colleague magazine. All of these activities demonstrate leadership and an ability to motivate others.

Test their know-how

Once you have a sense of the aspiring manager’s interest level and past experience, you need to get a handle on his/her understanding of the company—its culture, its needs, and where he/she thinks it’s going. The senior manager’s goal is judge whether the potential manager understands the role and find out how he/she would run their particular team. It’s also important to evaluate the candidate’s contextual intelligence “Can he/she see the big picture? Can he/she connect the dots? Can he/she think systematically?” Without the ability to see the bigger picture the potential manager might have trouble prioritising and thinking ahead about implications for their actions or their team’s omissions.

Seek other opinions

Even if the ultimate hiring decision is yours, senior managers should take time to discuss the prospective manager’s potential with other colleagues and fellow team leaders, paying special attention to what the candidate’s close colleagues have to say. “Maybe the bosses are happy, but peers tell a different story,”. This is valuable information.


It’s also important to observe the potential manager in action. Notice whether he/she is a person who comes to staff meetings and has ideas not only about his/her tasks but also about other things going on in the company. In other words: does he/she have a vision for the company and is he/she someone who wants to have a broader reach? Think about your impressions of this person. Is he/she curious? Is he/she a learner? When he/she faced setbacks, did he/she exhibit resilience? Who does he/she go to for assistance? Is he/she a loner or does he/she have a network?

Red flags

When evaluating management potential, there are certain negative characteristics to be on the lookout for. Beware of those who are not open to feedback or who react negatively to criticism. Think twice about those who very rarely take into account other people’s points of view. Look out for those who are not generous, or who don’t work well with other people and who thinks they are smarter than, or better than, others, these traits do not make for a good manager. You are looking for people who give credit freely, who acknowledge the achievements of other team members, who don’t punish other team members for their foibles, who do not try to create cliques and who are willing to help.

Have faith

No one is going to score a perfect 10 at the start of their management career and remember that you are evaluating their potential and determining whether someone is ready to be a manager. This isn’t a perfect science and it will help if senior managers take the time to reflect on their own experience. Think back to when you took on your first managerial role or your first big project.

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Tom Peters