How to develop first-time supervisors

This business magazine and many like it are replete with articles touting the latest trends in effective management practices necessary to lead today’s complex organizations. The target audience for most of this literature are those executives in upper and senior leadership positions.

The unique problems companies face when trying to select and develop first-time supervisory personnel often receives less attention than they should.

Here are my observations, along with a few suggestions that employers might use to successfully promote employees into the ranks of entry level supervisors:


A common mistake of employers is to reward employees with technical competence by promoting them into supervisory roles. The ability to lead a small group of workers involves not only procedural expertise but also an understanding of human behavior and motivation, a complex skill set not easily learned.

At a minimum, employers should identify potential entry-level supervisors in the workforce and offer supervisory and human relations programs that prepare them for future supervisory roles.


The move into lower-level supervision can bring with it some cultural shocks. Often the newly promoted employee will be considered a working supervisor and be expected to carry on with the routine activities of the work section in addition to leading the other group members.

There is a tendency for the new leader to assure their former co-workers that friendships will continue unchanged. It doesn’t take long before both parties realize the relationship has changed, and permanently.

Supervisors will make unpopular decisions that create distance between them and those they lead. Workers might no longer invite their leaders to after-work activities. Supervisors will tend to seek relationships with those in management and with whom they share common problems.

I’ve lightheartedly reminded more than a few newly minted supervisors experiencing the loss of workplace friendships of the old adage “if you want a friend, get a dog.”


When promoting an employee into entry level management many companies wisely assign a well-regarded and experienced supervisor to mentor or coach the new supervisor.

While formal training will introduce key elements of effective supervisory practices, there’s no substitute for being able to tap into the wisdom and hard-earned experience of those working on the line. Mentors can truly be a lifeline for those struggling during the early days of their new career.

Introductory period

Sometimes an employee might be reluctant to take the big step into management if failure means loss of employment.

The offer of an introductory period with the possibility of returning to the previous position provides options for both the employee who finds the new work undesirable and the employer who might have mistakenly promoted an otherwise capable person who is unable to adapt to the stresses and demands of supervisory responsibilities.

The opportunity to return to the previous position allows an employer to keep a valued worker.


Often newly appointed supervisors with a long history with the company are at the high end of the pay scale and transfer to salary pay is seen as only a modest increase over the previous hourly rate, especially when combined with overtime pay.

The resulting pay compression needs to be addressed by the employer so that hourly employees with opportunities for overtime are not being compensation close to or above that of their supervisors.

I’ve had many supervisors claim, and rightly so, that they’re supervising subordinates making higher earnings than their leader.

Employers ought to develop programs where talented and interested employees can be identified and promoted into the management ranks of the company. Entry and mid-level managers are the lifeblood of any enterprise. When this cadre of employees is properly developed and nurtured, organization effectiveness is increased.