When Supervisors Become Managers

Any promotion means more responsibility. Few steps require as big a leap as the transition from supervisor to manager. Each step up the ladder involves a change in tasks, but an employee’s first managerial position necessitates a change in thinking; one which isn’t intuitive.

career climbingBeing named a supervisor is an adjustment, but one that can be handled largely through intuition. The likelihood is that the employee who is promoted from the ranks has already shown responsibility and initiative. He or she is a solid performer, and has shown leadership with peers, now subordinates. In most cases, the bestowing of a supervisor title is merely recognition of talent that is already in use.

When a supervisor performs well, the normal tendency is to consider him for manager. As a manager, he will have responsibility for other supervisors. His role becomes more hands-off, planning and directing teams from a tactical, rather then an operational viewpoint. Unless you take the time and effort to mentor a new manager, one of several problems are likely to arise.

  1. Staying too far from the work. New Managers sometimes avoid working side-by-side with their subordinates, in the belief that their new position raises them above all that. They risk losing touch with what is going on day-to-day.
  2. Dipping into the work. Alternatively, the manager may seize opportunities to act in a supervisor’s role, directing first-line employees personally. It’s a skill that got him promoted in the first place; and it’s easy to fall back on when efforts to work through the chain of command are frustrating.
  3. Placing too much weight on position. A title carries authority with it, but designated authority doesn’t replace leadership. As a supervisor, his subordinates did as they were told because it was clearly his job to tell them. As a manager, he is expected to lead others who have their own base of authority, and don’t follow orders blindly.
  4. Ignoring position. “I know I’m a manager now, but you can treat me just as when we were supervisors together. I’m not going to be one of those managers who acts as if he is above everyone. “ Collegiality is great, but the manager has been placed above the others, and needs to keep some distance.
  5. My way or the highway. It’s a supervisor’s job to instruct his subordinates on what to do and how to do it. A manager with competent supervisors should be focused on what needs to be done, and not so much on how to do it. A supervisor shows others how to do things just like him. A manager adjusts his style to fit different individuals or teams, so that others can do what they do best.

The shift from supervisor to manager has one more factor. As my friend and business owner Van Palmer says it, “Supervisors are in a customer facing position. Managers are in an employee facing position.” A manager’s role is to accomplish objectives through the work of others, and it is their success that defines his.

When you make your next managerial promotion, look beyond the high performance of an individual. Look also for the humility to take satisfaction in the success of others. Then take the time to teach the difference, and recognize the success of others as shared by their manager.

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