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What is a Competent Supervisor?

What is a Competent Supervisor?

Today’s organizational supervisors in the third millennium face far greater challenges than any of their predecessors. Enterprises of all kinds are not only supposed to pursue higher quality, meet and exceed ever-changing customer expectations and beat ever-more agile competition, but expect this to be achieved in less time, with fewer people, using more modern technology and working within the flattest possible organizational structure. Supervisors (especially first line ones) must therefore constantly “juggle” their time and energy to simply survive (and try to remain reasonably sane in the process).

Despite these challenges, the good news is that any supervisor’s main competencies or skills clusters can be broken into five key (and relatively unchanging) activity sets. In other words, supervisors can usually cope well if they are strong or developed their skills in each of these areas. These five clusters are shown in the circular diagram below:

Supervisor Skills Clusters

Let’s look at what each of these clusters, and the competencies underneath, look like in a little more detail:

1. Setting Direction

  • Vision determination: Developing an interesting and compelling picture of the future
  • Clarity of communication: Communicating clearly, concisely and consistently
  • Option evaluation: Identifying different decision alternatives
  • Harnessing input: Gathering people’s input and suggestions
  • Motivation: Offering constant enthusiasm and encouragement to individuals

2. Planning and Organizing

  • Preparation: Taking regular time to plan ahead
  • Time management: Assessing task urgency and importance in the light of available time
  • Task allocation: Assigning work according to each individual’s skills and experience
  • Delegation: Identifying tasks that can be allocated to team members to aid development
  • Prioritization: Determining high versus low value added work and/or projects

3. Coaching/Developing People

  • Style identification: Determining the best style to adopt to influence people successfully
  • People assessment: Analyzing people’s strengths and development needs
  • Listening skills: Soliciting feedback and taking the input seriously
  • Rapport building: Building positive relationships with team members over time
  • Feedback giving/receiving: Offering and inviting constructive comment within the team

4. Measuring and Managing Performance

  • Goal/Benchmark setting: Identifying competitive targets to which to aspire
  • Process identification: Reviewing the work systems that contribute most to effective team performance
  • Standards: Establishing clear guidelines for and measures of performance
  • Quality: Seeking to constantly improve the quality of products and/or services
  • Checking/Monitoring systems: Encouraging individuals to measure and check performance at every level

5. Maintaining Effective Relationships

  • Teamwork: Actively seeking ways in which cooperative relationships can be built
  • Communication: Listening to people attentively and relating to them empathetically
  • Collaboration: Creating regular opportunities for individuals to work together
  • Morale maintenance: Looking after the emotional well-being of the team
  • Empathy building: Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes

By becoming fully proficient and competent in each of these skill clusters, supervisors can not only survive more effectively in the modern organization but they can actually excel in their roles and progress to higher levels of management, by building on a solid skill foundation.

Today’s supervisor is the link between the group or team and the rest of the organization (irrespective of the size of the enterprise). This is never an easy role to play. After all, carefully having to balance the demands of your boss or the wider organization with the needs and expectations of your team members and the internal or external customers they are serving is a difficult task indeed.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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