First-Time Supervisors
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Top Tips for First-Time Supervisors

Becoming a supervisor for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming all at once. These tips can help new managers build successful teams.

By Samantha Whitehorne

Becoming a supervisor for the first time marks a big step in a professional’s career. The additional responsibility can be exciting, but maintaining good relationships with subordinates and ensuring they perform well can feel stressful and overwhelming at times.

So what’s a first-time supervisor to do?

Talk to [your team] about their jobs, what they hope to do in their careers, and what they think needs to be changed within the department.

-Carol Vernon

“Remember that while you may be eager to make changes, don’t move too fast,” says Carol Vernon, a certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters. “Don’t make any changes until about three months—no sooner.”

Instead, Vernon recommends that new managers pretend they just started at the organization and spend some time observing and learning. This includes assessing individual team members’ strengths and weaknesses, watching how they perform as part of a group, and asking their previous supervisors (if possible) about their talents.

To begin building relationships with subordinates, Vernon recommends that new managers set up individual meetings with each team member. “Talk to them about their jobs, what they hope to do in their careers, and what they think needs to be changed within the department,” she says.

Once managers build that foundation and show employees that they care about them and their needs, supervisors must continue to nurture these relationships, Vernon says. She suggests three ways to do that:

Be accessible. “Let staff know you have an open-door policy, and literally keep your door open,” she says. “If you are going to have your door closed for a while because of a call or some other meeting, let them know what time they’ll be able to reach you again.”

Take a field trip. Vernon says some supervisors forget to take time away from their offices. “Walk around the department and see what folks are up to, but do so in a friendly way, not an ‘I’m keeping an eye on you because I don’t trust you’ way.”

Ask what team members need. Vernon suggests asking employees what can be done to help them perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. “Remember that your role as supervisor is to be your employees’ biggest advocate and fight for them whenever you’re able to do so,” she says. “You need to know what their biggest pain points are in order to help out.”

Vernon says the best way for a new manager to build a productive and happy team is to be the type of employee he or she wants team members to be.

“No more complaining. No more showing up late. No more coming up with creative excuses as to why something can’t be done,” she says. “If you want your staff to be upbeat, you must be upbeat. In other words, a supervisor can’t ask staff to be something you’re not willing to be as well.”

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

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