10 Things Successful Supervisors Do Differently

10 Things Successful Supervisors Do Differently
10 things successful supervisors do differently than others

We’ve all had good supervisors and bad ones, and chances are, we remember the characteristics of both pretty vividly. The good ones probably stick out as people who have made a positive impact on our work lives and who have made us more successful in our careers. The bad ones probably showed us the type of supervisors that we don’t want to be and the mistakes we don’t want to make.

Outstanding supervisors can create a profound ripple effect in their organizations. Their behavior, integrity, and treatment rub off on others for the better. Not only do supervisors directly impact their team members, but they also indirectly affect others. The people they supervise and manage frequently move on to lead others, often in a way that emulates how they were supervised.

Here are 10 things that successful supervisors do differently.

10 Things Successful Supervisors Do Differently

1. They treat others as they would like to be treated

Much of what makes certain individuals more successful in supervisory roles than others is following the simple golden rule we all learned in kindergarten – treat others as they would like to be treated.

Think of how you would like to be supervised. If you want others to be respectful, consistent, honest, fair, loyal, kind, flexible, and empathetic with you, treat your employees in the same manner. That’s what outstanding supervisors do.

Here are some of the ways supervisors can treat others the way they want to be treated:

  1. Display Empathy and Understanding — Be understanding and empathetic towards your team members. Take the time to listen to their concerns and respond with compassion and understanding.
  2. Maintain Positive Relationships — Foster positive relationships by using the principle of reciprocity—treat team members with the kindness and respect they wish to receive.
  3. Be Adaptable — Be adaptable and flexible, understanding that each team member is unique and may require a different approach to management.

2. They exude integrity

Successful managers and supervisors have high integrity. They exude honesty, sincerity, consistency, and credibility regardless of whether they may potentially displease someone or experience some uncomfortable conflict or negative consequences. They say what they mean and follow through on their actions.

Likewise, if they aren’t sure of a commitment or promise, they don’t make it. They realize that failing to follow through time and time again shows that their words are empty. It gives their employees false hopes and makes employees question their commitments.

Effective supervisors also know right from wrong and follow a strong moral and ethical code in the workplace. Here are some specific traits that supervisors and leaders that exude integrity leverage:

  1. Transparency — A good supervisor operates transparently, being honest and direct with their employees. They share departmental or organizational successes, failures, opportunities, or concerns as deemed appropriate.
  2. Responsibility — Supervisors should take responsibility for any project failures or poor choices, demonstrating accountability and integrity.
  3. Respect and Consideration — They show respect and consideration to both management and employees, treating everyone fairly and with integrity.
  4. Positive and Constructive Feedback — Good supervisors are capable of giving employees both positive and constructive feedback, helping them to grow and succeed in a supportive and respectful manner.
Supervisor holding a mug

3. They set the example

Along the same lines, successful supervisors demonstrate strong leadership skills by walking the talk every day. They comply with policies and procedures, follow the rules, model the company culture and values, set an example of leadership, and exude all of the behaviors and attitudes they expect of their employees.

In addition, outstanding supervisors often work as hard, if not harder, than those they supervise. They don’t think they are privy to a different set of work standards than everyone else because of their role and title.

What are some specific ways that supervisors can set a strong example? Here are a few:

  1. Demonstrate Strong Management Skills — Supervisors set a standard for productivity by effectively managing their team and ensuring goals are met efficiently.
  2. Be a Team Player — By collaborating with both their direct reports and other departments, supervisors highlight the importance of teamwork.
  3. Show Goal-Oriented Behavior — Supervisors motivate their direct reports by clearly defining and actively pursuing organizational objectives.
  4. Communicate Effectively — Clear directions and constructive feedback from supervisors encourage open and effective communication within the team.
  5. Practice Active Listening — Supervisors foster a positive work environment by being attentive and responsive to the input and concerns of their direct reports.

4. They have humility

Too much pride and ego get in the way of many supervisors’ effectiveness, which is why successful supervisors have humility. They don’t let their title, authority, power, and importance go to their head. They don’t assume they know or deserve more than the people doing the work nor do they put their success and ego ahead of others. They influence through inspiring rather than commanding or demanding compliance.

They are givers more than they are takers, more participative than dominant, and are quick to take responsibility when things go wrong rather than put the responsibility on others.

Humility can be a tricky trait to learn, but there are some excellent ways that supervisors can exhibit humility in the workplace:

  1. An “Always Learning” Attitude — Humble supervisors acknowledge that there is always more to learn and actively seek feedback and advice to improve their skills and performance.
  2. Emotional IntelligenceThey practice empathy and strive to understand the needs and perspectives of their employees, recognizing the value of each individual’s contribution to the team.
  3. Coaching/Staff Development — Humble supervisors see themselves as coaches and mentors, taking the time to understand what their employees need and helping them grow and develop in their roles.
  4. Diversity Awareness — They appreciate the value of diversity and are open to learning from people with different backgrounds and perspectives, recognizing that this diversity can bring new ideas and innovation to the team.

5. They listen and communicate well

Effective supervisors communicate and interact with their employees frequently and professionally.

They keep a pulse on their employees. Similarly, great supervisors are attentive to and listen closely to the needs of their employees, and respond to them accordingly. In fact, they do more listening than talking, because their job is to help their people solve problems and succeed and build a winning team.

Here’s what strong communication skills look like in practice for supervisors:

  1. Effective Communication — Clear communication is crucial for supervisors to convey expectations, goals, and processes, ensuring that the team is aligned and understands their roles and responsibilities.
  2. Active Listening — Strong listening skills are essential for supervisors to truly understand employee needs, concerns, and feedback, which in turn helps in making informed decisions and providing appropriate support.
  3. Approachability and Empathy — Being approachable and empathetic enhances the supervisor-employee relationship, creating a comfortable environment for employees to share their thoughts and concerns.
  4. Transparency — Transparency in communication fosters trust within the team, as supervisors share important information and encourage open dialogue, making the team feel valued and included.
  5. Positive & Constructive Feedback — Providing positive and constructive feedback is a vital aspect of communication, as it helps employees recognize their strengths and areas for improvement, contributing to their professional growth and success.
Supervisor and direct report

6. They encourage the best in people

Outstanding supervisors do more than just manage results—they look for and encourage the best in their entire team, boosting employee morale as a result. They help employees identify the unique talents they bring to the table, and align those strengths in ways that best fulfill their team’s needs.

They understand that each of their employees is ever-evolving on their professional journey, and they encourage and help them to become the best people they can be with their wisdom, knowledge, and leadership. In essence, great supervisors choose to be more like “stewards” rather than “bosses” who care for, nurture, and support employees.

Encouraging the best in people happens not only through positive attitude and approach but through specific actions supervisors and managers can take, including:

  1. Provide Coaching and Development Opportunities — Act as a mentor and coach, offering guidance and support, while also identifying opportunities for professional development and growth.
  2. Foster a Team-Oriented Environment — Encourage collaboration and teamwork by clearly communicating common goals and facilitating team-building activities.

7. They acknowledge others

Effective leaders acknowledge others, particularly their value to the team and the value of their contributions, achievements, and ideas. They give them credit for their work, point out their accomplishments, and acknowledge them either privately or in front of others. This is one of the best tactics that strong leaders can use to positively impact employee engagement.

Acknowledgments can be a rarity in the workplace, and they can truly make an impact on the work lives of your employees, strengthening their commitment and motivation.

Specifically, supervisors can:

  1. Recognize Various Contributions — Recognize employees for their achievements, exhibiting desired behaviors, going above and beyond expectations, and reaching milestones such as tenure.
  2. Democratize Recognition — Encourage peer-to-peer recognition, which can be just as meaningful as recognition from the top down.
  3. Celebrate Major and Small Achievements — Celebrate both major achievements and small wins to reinforce a sense of purpose at work.

8. They freely delegate and build capabilities

Successful supervisors freely delegate new projects and tasks to their employees. Rather than micromanaging, they build the capabilities necessary to produce the results they desire and provide autonomy to complete tasks on their own with support.

Delegating work to direct reports can be a fine line between trusting employees to perform work independently and feeling the need to provide oversight. Here are some ways to effectively delegate work:

  1. Know What to Delegate — Identify tasks that can be delegated to help employees develop new skills and gain valuable experience.
  2. Play to Your Employees’ Strengths and Goals — Delegate tasks that align with employees’ strengths and professional development goals.
  3. Define the Desired Outcome — Clearly communicate the expected outcome and objectives of the task to ensure alignment with organizational goals.
  4. Provide the Right Resources and Level of Authority — Ensure that employees have the necessary resources, training, and authority to complete the delegated task successfully.
  5. Be Patient — Understand that employees may take longer to complete a task initially, but with practice, they will become more efficient.

Some of the most common skills that supervisors and managers are tasked with developing are problem-solving skills, people skills, critical thinking skills, and of course the technical skills and essential skills necessary to perform each job.

Supervisor in a training course

9. They multiply talent

Successful supervisors multiply talent, which means they make everyone smarter and better at their jobs. They cultivate talent and intelligence throughout their team by teaching and mentoring their employees, bringing people together to participate and generate ideas; and giving their team autonomy, authority, and responsibility.

In this article, we’ve outlined ways that supervisors and leaders can make direct reports better at their jobs, including:

  1. Setting Clear Goals — Clearly defined goals provide employees with a roadmap of what is expected of them.
  2. Rewarding and Recognizing Employees — Recognition and rewards motivate employees to improve their performance.
  3. Maintaining Open Lines of Communication — Effective communication ensures that employees understand their roles and responsibilities.
  4. Enabling Collaborative Learning Opportunities — Collaborative learning fosters teamwork and improves employee performance.
  5. Balancing Accountability and Authority — A balance between accountability and authority empowers employees to take ownership of their work.

10. They lead employees to the right answers

Supervisors in leadership roles lead employees to the right answers and solutions. They point employees to resources they need to complete a task, suggest people to talk to for guidance, and provide clear instructions and information necessary to do the task. They make themselves available for questions, coaching, and additional support. When employees encounter roadblocks, they advise on how to improve.

If you’re a supervisor, consider the fact that you spend a significant amount of time per week with your team members and how you might use this time to be a better steward and leader of those you supervise. Supervisors have a tremendous opportunity every day to make a difference in the lives of their employees and create a positive, fulfilling work atmosphere.

In the end, supervisors reap the fruits of the seeds they sow. What kind of effect will you create as a supervisor? Will you manage for better or for worse?

Interested in learning more about training your supervisors?

Click the link below to watch a real ERC trainer in action and access the full Supervisory Series training outline.


  • Tom Ault

    Tom specializes in assisting organizations with a full spectrum of human resource projects, programs, and training. Tom’s primary areas of focus are creating and sustaining effective teams, leadership and supervisory development, financial acumen, leading change, communication, talent management, organizational and employee development, performance management, coaching and mentoring, and employee engagement.