Being a Great Manager: The Art of Supervision

Business People Having Board Meeting Editor’s Note: Robert Taibbi, LCSW is the author of Clinical Supervision: A Four-Stage Process of Growth and Discovery. For 40 years, Bob has specialized in community mental health almost exclusively. His continuing education presentation for, titled Clinical Supervision: Mastering the 4 Stages of Development, is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT on April 24, 2015. This event is available at no additional cost to members and is good for two CE credits. For details, or to register, please click here.

Imagine you’ve been hired on as a manager to supervise a team that includes the following two staff members, among others:

  • Mary has been working at the same job on the same team since the dawn of time. She is planning on retiring next year.
  • Tom is straight out of school. He’s anxious, feels pretty incompetent compared to the others on the team, and is doing his best of look good and keep his head above water.

Supervising both Mary and Tom, who are at entirely different points in their careers, is sure to pose some challenges. In this article we’ll talk about some of these challenges and how to deal with them.

Goals of Management

As a manager, you have two primary goals, the first being to provide quality control to make sure that clients are receiving high quality services. Here is where you are assessing Mary’s and Tom’s performance, gathering feedback from clients, making sure that they are trained and working within budget guidelines.

Robert Taibbi, LCSW

Robert Taibbi, LCSW

The second goal is that of developing skills and performance in both Mary and Tom. Their different levels of experience come into play here. You need to be a different supervisor to both Mary and Tom and you need to be a different supervisor as they both move along in the job. Especially with someone like Tom, if you are doing the same thing at Day 300 that you are doing at Day 1, either Tom isn’t going to grow professionally, or he will become frustrated and eventually leave.

Being a good manager is like being a good parent. You need to anticipate and adjust to the ever-changing needs of those with whom you work. 

Qualities of Good Managers

Be the role model you are. You can’t help but be a role model for your staff. You can only deliberately decide what type of role model you will be.

Demonstrate leadership and proactivity. Leadership is … leadership. This is not being the control freak but one who sets the pace and tone. Leadership is what helps folks like Tom settle down. The other side of the coin is being proactive. You don’t want to be a reactive, crisis-driven supervisor. This only creates a reactive and crisis-driven staff.

Be realistically optimistic. Again you set the tone and climate. Be positive without being Pollyannaish. Speak the truth, have high energy.

Think individual, think team. Decide how you need to approach and manage Mary and Tom differently—one size does not fit all. Also don’t assume that Mary’s occasional bad attitude is only about Mary. She may be representing the tip of a bigger iceberg. Determine when problems are individual and when they are reflective of something bigger.

Have clear expectations, standards, and actions. This doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. But what clear expectations, standards, and actions do is create a stable structure that staff can psychologically build around. Without it, they are either constantly testing the limits or feeling anxious. Structure creates reliability and dependability in you.

Treat everyone fairly. Teams are like small families and you’re the parent. Favoritism only breeds sibling rivalry and manipulation.

Challenges of a Manager

You inherit people you didn’t hire. You’re Mary’s 80th supervisor and she wants little to do with you. You need to find a way of building an alliance with her. Tom, on the other hand, is banging your door every five minutes with questions. You need to find ways to help Tom calm down.

You are the sandwich generation. You are part of middle management. You need to bring stuff down from the top to your staff without the drama that may come with it. Similarly you need to be an advocate for your staff so those above understand their needs.

The art form here is being able to speak two different languages. To advocate for your staff you need to translate their concerns into the concerns of upper management—usually these are budget, productivity, and quality control and public relations. Somehow the concerns of staff—that their workloads are too large, for example—have to tie into those upper management concerns. To just say that your staff are overworked means nothing; those above likely feel overworked themselves.

On the other side, you have to translate upper management talk into staff concerns—show how billing impacts client services, or how the policy affects their everyday work tasks. If you don’t, you are just imposing more stuff on them; without demonstrating the context, they will resent it.

You want generalists not specialists. You want to cultivate staff who have a range of skills. Why? Because when Sally goes on maternity leave for three months you want Tom to be able to take over some of her clients. To do this Tom needs to develop a range of skills both technical and person-centered.

Assessment: The Key

To bring this all together, assess needs and develop a supervisory plan for each and every person on your team. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the nature of my relationship with this person? How can I improve it, develop rapport and trust so he or she feels safe coming to me as a supervisor?
  1. How does this person learn? Some are visual learners, some experiential. Find out how each person learns best to maximize skill development.
  1. How do they manage stress and anxiety? Does Mary become controlling, does Tom overdo it and burn himself out? How can you help them manage their anxiety and stress better?
  1. What are reasonable 3–6 month goals? What does Tom need to learn most in the next few months? Develop a list, have a plan.

The aim here is to not go on autopilot, not to treat everyone the same, because they are not the same. Deliberately discern and discuss what it is that each person needs, and needs from you and the company to be successful.

Be creative, be deliberate, be honest. Be the role model you are.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Robert Taibbi, LCSW, Featured Presenter

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • stef

    April 9th, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    Everyone always wants to be the one in charge
    But definitely not everyone is cut out for that job

  • Jordan

    April 9th, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    I always thought that I would be a pretty good manager but now that I actually have that job, I am not sure that I have what it takes! I think that my biggest downfall is that I sincerely want everyone to like me ad to respond to my type of style, and that just isn’t happening. I am not saying that I can’t be flexible, but it can be a hard job to do when you want to be friends with these people too. That just isn’t going to be in the game plan I don’t think.

  • Courtney w.

    April 9th, 2015 at 3:17 PM

    I know that this is something that is hard for people to hear but there are some people who are naturally born to lead and then there are others who aren’t cut out for it and are more born to follow. That’s the truth and you have to find what your most successful role will be to fulfill in the workplace. There will always be those people who shine form the extra responsibility and others who will crumble. The hardest ones to work for are the people who think that they are the leaders when really, they should just fall in line behind everyone else.

  • Arthur

    April 10th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    Do you ever get the feeling that this isn’t something that can be taught and learned; to me it is more like the person either has what it takes or they don’t. Some people are naturally those great and dynamic leaders while the others who are sort of thrown into those roles really don’t have any idea how to manage them once they are. There are so many things that can be taught, learned and improved upon… but the art of being a good manager is I think something that is simply inherent in those people who are able to do it and do it well.

  • calista

    April 12th, 2015 at 7:46 AM

    I think that there are those who think that being a manager is a piece of cake but what they fail to see is that we not only have to make our patrons happy but we also have to make sure that our employees are happy too. What makes one set happy is not necessarily going to be what suits the other so there can be a very fine line that you have to navigate as you try to do both at once but with ultimately the same result- happiness and contentment on both sides.

  • Ruiz

    April 13th, 2015 at 5:44 AM

    Obviously you have been placed in a leadership position because someone somewhere saw something in you that impressed them. So that is the time to seize the moment and make the most of it.

  • tj

    April 14th, 2015 at 5:27 AM

    We have a supervisor where I work who is always more concerned with being a buddy to everyone instead of managing the office.
    If you want to be friends, that’s great, but I think that most people have a very hard time juggling those two roles.
    I think that you either have to choose whether you are going to be a manager to your co workers or if you are going to be a friend, because I think that the lines get a little too blurred when you try to be both.

  • Frederick

    April 15th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    When everyone is all on the same page with where you would like to see the company or the project go then that can be a great collaboration.

    But when there are those one or two people who have their own idea about how things should be done and it always feels like they are pushing when everyone else on the team is pulling, that is when a good manager has to really step in ans let everyone know how the work needs to be done.

  • Cherlene

    April 16th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    I have worked many many jobs, and I have to say that the best supervisors are the ones who are willing to acknowledge their own faults and be willing to learn from their mistakes.
    There are some people who get this type of job and then they think that their word is gold, and that they are infallible. Simply not true.
    We all make mistakes no matter how good at something we are. But it’s those who can admit when they are wrong, those are the people who earn my respect.

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