supervisor explains to direct reports

The 18 Most Important Skills for Supervisors [2023]

If you are looking for the most critical skills of supervisors, this article is for you. These skills will help supervisors improve performance and the performance of their teams. As a supervisor, you will help increase revenue, wow customers, and increase employee retention.

The world is fast evolving. As a result, supervisory skills that were required in the past may no longer be relevant today. So go beyond the traditional supervisory skills of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.

Many supervisors get promoted before they get trained. Many organizations waste opportunities when they hire supervisors who cannot deliver and lead. You don’t have to be that kind of supervisor.
You can map your path. You develop essential supervisory skills that will help you succeed.

If you are looking for opportunities to build the skills of your supervisors, go to supervisory training.

What is a supervisor?

A supervisor refers to a person who is tasked to oversee other staff in a workplace, school, and other organizations. Employees report directly to a supervisor. In the Philippines, it is typical to call a first-line manager a supervisor.

If you are directly reporting to someone, to a project manager, then the project manager is your supervisor. If you are directly reporting to the CEO of the company, then the CEO is your supervisor.

Supervisors are responsible for employees’ performance, potential, and readiness.

Supervisors need skills like decision-making, problem-solving, planning, delegation, and meeting management.

Supervisors are responsible for building teams hiring new employees, training and coaching employees, designing job roles, and many more.

Read: What Leadership Is: How to Become A Good Leader

skills for supervisor - training

What are supervisory skills?

Supervisory skills are learned abilities supervisors employ to achieve targeted measurable results assigned to them by their organizations. They use their skills by identifying the vital behaviors that bring the greatest results. Supervisory skills are enablers of performance.

Examples of supervisory skills are managing conflict, motivating employees, delegation, coaching, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Supervisory skills are learned abilities. This is good news for new supervisors. Because even if you do not have all the supervisory skills necessary to become great at what you do, you can learn them on the job.

If you are a high-potential employee looking forward to getting promoted to a supervisory position soon, now is the time to go to school with the winners. Begin by finding opportunities to learn and practice the essential skills for supervisors

You do not even need to become a master of a specific skill. You may only need to practice vital behaviors that bring the greatest results.

Organizations can also accelerate skills development by providing supervisory training programs. This works by deliberately targeting essential supervisory skills for the just-in-time need of supervisors.

Supervisors may need different skills depending on their jobs and authority in the organization. Most supervisors fail not for a lack of will but for a lack of skills.

Read: Vital Behaviors: Actions That Bring Extraordinary Results

Skills are key to success. The 18 skills for supervisors can help you reach the top.
Supervisors need an alphabet of skills to succeed.

Crucial Supervisory Skills

Elsewhere, you can find a long list of supervisory skills that you can put in your resume. Though many of those skills get you employed, very few can help you get a promotion.

These skills for successful supervision create value — and anyone who practices these skills can help themselves get ahead.

Two examples of supervisory skills are effective communication and decision-making. Both are also considered meta-skills for these are skills that every leader must possess.

There are many sets of skills in communication. Some jobs may only require employees to be able to express themselves. Others demand that they know how to communicate via email and are proficient in online meetings.

Effective supervisors use a wider set of communication skills. Supervisors lead meetings, give feedback to employees, sell ideas, resolve conflict, delegate tasks, make presentations, and coach employees. All these demand excellent communication skills.

A marketing supervisor and a machine operation supervisor may require different sets of communication skills.

For this reason, it is important for organizations to map out the competencies of supervisors based on their functions in the organization.

Also, by understanding the different skill sets of supervisors, an organization can customize training programs. Learn more about the essential skills for supervisors.

Read: Successful Supervision

How to Develop Supervisory Skills

You can learn supervisory skills in two ways: through experience and deliberate training.

Learning through experience requires that you are aware of the essential skills. You intentionally practice your target skills and regularly evaluate your performance. You are experimenting, experiencing, and evaluating.

If you do not experiment and evaluate, you are less likely to learn from your experiences.

Learning through deliberate training requires that you look into the skills necessary to be successful in the supervisory job.

You will take account of all your assets, of skills that you can convert when you become a supervisor.

By deliberate training, you will consider a few vital behaviors that demonstrate skills. You do not need to go to a multiple-day training and pray that you’ll remember everything.

The best way to learn is by doing.

You can enroll in an online course and study at your own pace. You can get a coach or a mentor who can guide you. You can buy a book or join a webinar. Focus on one area of training. This is what I mean by deliberate training.

Develop supervisory skills

18 Skills for Supervisors

Read the definition of each of these supervisory skills and understand how you can learn each. Identify the vital behaviors which can help you maximize the power use of each skill in your performance as a supervisor.

During the pandemic, and even in the new normal, I saw that many organizations thrive because of these supervisory skills.

Allow me to share a bit of this.

1. Agility

Agility is the ability of a supervisor to draw conclusions, adapt, and succeed in a rapidly changing environment. In a VUCA world, a supervisor must make decisions even though he does not have complete information.

Agility allows supervisors to think and understand quickly. They cannot wait until all facts are in before they make decisions. Because by the time that all facts are in, it would be too late.

There was a time that innovation was a special project, not a core strategy of the organization. But now, we see that learning on the fly is a competitive advantage.

In one of my interviews, a manager said that when he learned that an employee tested positive for Covid-19, he at once decided that all employees will work from home the next day. This after he failed to reach their country managers. He ensures that everything gets done.

2. Empathy

Empathy is the supervisor’s ability to emotionally understand how people feel, recognize their pain, celebrate their dreams, and imagine themselves in the shoes of other people. Supervisors can use empathy in dealing with staff and customers.

Empathy goes beyond the ability to understand the feeling of others. As a supervisor, it means that you will factor in the situation of your people. You will choose between productivity and safety when you can do both.

Supervisors must understand what people are feeling now. Some of us are still working from home. And working is not the same thing as sitting on your chair and doing work.

That’s not how it works.

People are anxious. People don’t know what’s happening and what will happen to them. The situation of every employee is never the same.

This requires supervisors to find out where the employees are coming from. Most of us call this compassionate leadership. To me, is malasakit in practice.

Read: Malasakit: The Filipino Culture of Caring for Others

3. Resilience

Resilience is the ability of supervisors to bounce forward when encountering seemingly insurmountable challenges. Resilience goes beyond our ability to handle stress. It comes with the clear understanding that sometimes we fail, and sometimes we win. That business is a long game, and if we persist, we shall eventually win.

As long as we learn from our experiences, we can move forward and make things better.

A resilient supervisor thrives under pressure and drives his team to higher performance.

4. Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is the ability of supervisors to embrace change, experimentation, and innovation. Supervisors enable employees to adapt to significant change. Instead of waiting and seeing for problems to pass, supervisors consider the “what ifs” and look for ways to handle them. Instead of sticking to old ways of solving problems, they find new ways.

As I have mentioned before, our government failed us many times during the pandemic. People at the top of Covid-19 can be solved by a military solution. So, instead of making medical experts decide, they ask generals to take the lead.

We need military generals for their expertise. But they are not used to bringing diverse groups of people to the table, listening to them, and making decisions that have never been done before. They’ve got to stick to what they’ve been good at, though it does not prevent the virus from spreading.

An adaptive leader knows that there is no single solution. His ability to bring the wisdom of people, make them own the solutions, and mobilize them so that significant change happens.

Every supervisor needs to become an adaptive leader.

Coaching is a supervisory skill
Coaching is a vital supervisory skill.

Core Skills for Supervisors

To perform effectively, supervisors need to develop supervisory skills. Supervisory skills are the expertise or talent needed by supervisors (or managers) to do a job or task. Supervisory skills also allow managers to lead a team and support the overall objectives of the organization.

The essential skills for supervisors are the following:

5. Stress Management Skills

Stress management refers to the ability of the supervisor to positively respond to stressful situations in the workplace. It requires supervisors to assess situations and proactively consider actions.

The most crucial supervisory skill is the ability to manage stress at work.

The most challenging stressors for employees are toxic supervisors. For supervisors, employees with wrong attitudes. You can list a hundred more stressors after that, of course.

Stress can be an obstacle or a stepping stone to work success. You cannot make your work stress-free, but you can make it stress-friendly.

Because you are the supervisor, you can create a climate that allows employees to work under pressure. You can avoid unnecessary conflict. You can balance workloads. You can prioritize tasks. You can ensure employees’ safety and wellness.

In training supervisors, developing the ability to manage stress is often the least priority. It is a soft skill, some say. And that is a big mistake. Your ability (or inability) to manage stress directly impacts performance.

6. Time Management

Time management refers to the ability of supervisors to plan and control how much time employees spend on specific activities. Time management helps supervisors to understand the work to be done, the capacity of employees, and the process that will help them get things done.

Supervisors who are effective time managers get things done. They achieve their goals at will and on time. They teach people how to work on tasks that matter most.

You can thousands of tips on time management. You can download apps that purport to help you become more productive. You have access to these resources.

But using to-do lists, Pomodoro techniques, and productivity apps will not always make you productive. Time management is a strategic skill.

You ought to understand which 20% percent of your work produces 80% of the results. You need to identify when and how employees are more productive. You need to know how to make employees set goals, create time limits, and execute effectively.

Yes, you cannot control the hands of time. But you can choose how you and your people work every hour of the day.

7. Interpersonal Relationships

Building interpersonal relationships refer to the ability of supervisors to bring people together by first focusing on their shared qualities. Supervisors serve as bridges or connectors in the workplace. The quality of interpersonal relations at work can significantly contribute to worker productivity.

To reduce friction, supervisors must develop and maintain trust and positive feelings. They create a climate of harmonious relationships.

You can practice a few vital behaviors to build interpersonal relationships.

Create an environment where people energize each other so they can work at their best.

Show employees that you are fair and just. You must avoid showing favoritism. You want to show people that you care for them without appearing to pry. You don’t want them to think you are power-tripping and abusing your supervisory powers.

Strike the right note in your personal relations with co-workers.

And if you are new to your job, manage the transition from being a buddy to a boss. Be approachable and friendly, yet fair and firm.

8. Giving & Receiving Feedback

Providing and receiving feedback is a vital component of the supervisory process. Feedback is an important communication tool you can use to support your colleagues and ensure team success.

By providing feedback, supervisors give get just-in-time information which may help employees improve productivity and performance. Because of feedback, you can help employees see what they need to know.

Receiving feedback from others provides you with bigger perspectives. It is akin to allowing your co-workers to help you see things. Receiving feedback is active listening.

You can use your skills in giving and receiving feedback to leverage your leadership.

9. Leading and Managing a Team

A skillful supervisor ensures that people accomplish their tasks. This requires supervisors to monitor and control the execution closely. Task-oriented supervisors aim to get things done. Some supervisors do not consider themselves team builders and still accomplish their goals.

High team performance, however, requires a skillful team leader. Supervisors lead teams inspire, equip, and empower people. They articulate the values, vision, and mission of the team.

Excellent supervisors ensure that tasks are done and people are happy. They are efficient and effective. By developing your team leadership skills, you can help people perform at their best and become ready for new challenges.

10. Managing Conflict

People avoid conflict at work. But conflict is inevitable; conflict happens when people are actively working together. Often, people who want to solve the same problems don’t agree on solutions.

Good managers do not avoid conflict, they manage it. Great managers mine conflict and turn it into collaborative opportunities. There are proven strategies and techniques you can use.

You can develop your conflict management skills through deliberate training.

11. Motivating Employees

Effective supervisors find ways to understand people. Motivation isn’t about the ability to use “inspiring words”. Rather, motivation requires supervisors to be in employees’ shoes. See their dreams. Discover their values. Understand what makes them go to work each day.

You can use your skills in motivating people to make it easy for employees to do what they hate at first. You can sell to them the goals of the organization and help them commit to achieving those goals.

Motivation isn’t the same for everyone. But there are common things that people avoid or pursue. Understanding the common motivation of employees is a lever you can use.

Read books on motivation. Find mentors who can share with you their best practices in motivating people. Watch webinars and join motivation workshops. Your ability to motivate people will help you become a good leader.

12. Managing and Evaluating Performance

We manage performance to ensure that we hit our targets every time. We strive to optimize performance and help employees enhance growth and development. set goals, and provide feedback and communication.

We evaluate performance to discover what works and what improvement can be done. Effective supervisors pay attention to behaviors and results to manage and improve performance.

Performance management and evaluation are a shared responsibility of the employee and his supervisor.

You can use tools to manage and evaluate performance. But tools won’t be enough. Supervisors need to develop the skills that will help them solve problems, coach employees, and find growth opportunities.

13. Delegation Skills

Supervisors must delegate effectively to develop employees and ensure that they can do what they must do. Achieving the goals of the organization requires many tasks. A supervisor may have the capability to do each task better than anyone else. But he cannot do them all.

Delegation is a skill that requires you to trust your employees. You will assign a task that must be accomplished that they can do. You delegate so that you can focus on the task that requires your full attention.

Delegation is not just making others do your tasks. You need to prioritize. You need to adjust your communication style based on the difficulty of the tasks and the experience and expertise of the employee. You need to take ownership of the result too.

More importantly, delegation is an opportunity to enable and equip employees. By giving them challenging tasks, you help them grow. Delegation is a skill you need to learn and master.

Read: Best Tips on Effective Delegation.

14. Coaching Skills

There are many kinds of coaches. Coaching is an industry. When you are lost and want to find yourself, you can always find a life coach. When you want to improve your results, you can find performance coaches.

Effective supervisors recognize the importance of developing coaching skills.

Coaching is the process of guiding and supporting employees to acquire and develop skills and attitudes that improve performance. Coaching also helps employees eliminate the obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals.

To develop your coaching skills, you need to understand how people develop high performance. You can use job aids and other tools. You can also use a framework like the GROW model to help you so you can coach employees more effectively.

15. Onboarding New Employees

Onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee with your company and its culture. As a supervisor, you will ensure that new hires get the tools and information they needed to become a productive member of your organization.

New employees do not need to feel lost and confused during their first 30 days at work. Companies with a robust onboarding process are more likely to retain and engage employees.

16. Communication Skills

Many companies invest an hour for onboarding. Others do it for a day or two. But strategic companies map out the desired experiences of employees for the first 30 days up to six months.

Of course, it is common to rely on the human resources department for onboarding new employees. You are too busy to accomplish your tasks. But onboarding new employees is a responsibility you must not ignore. Be hands-on when developing people.

Learn the steps in onboarding new employees.

Your ability to communicate is essential to the achievement of goals. Supervisors disseminate information to employees as a spokesperson for the management and convey employees’ agenda to management. Misunderstanding often happens because of the inability of the supervisors to communicate effectively.

Communication is also essential in building harmonious relationships with co-workers, customers, and suppliers.

Much time is wasted in communicating via Ping-Pong emails. People send emails with unclear intentions, incomplete information, and no call to action. Developing skills in business writing can help you save time, reduce stress, and get things done.

Effective communication can make your meetings more productive too. For example, you can encourage conversations in an efficient and result-oriented team meeting.

Map out how you can improve your communication skills. Study how you can better communicate with your subordinates and produce better work.

Among the essential skills for supervisors, communication requires numerous sets of skills. It is connected to delegation, negotiation, training, motivation, and others. It is always assumed that many supervisors know how to communicate effectively. The assumption is wrong.

17. Making Decisions

You are paid to make decisions. Be good at it because your choices affect employees and your business. You must make consistent decisions and make them as quickly as possible.

Supervisors make choices that can impact people and businesses every day. You need to make the right decisions and drive them with conviction. Effective supervisors consider the issue, get pertinent information, explore options, identify the best solution, and decide.

Decision-making skills can be learned and strengthened through deliberate training and practice. You can start by mastering simple steps and considering various situations that will require you to make decisions.

With constant practice, you will gain confidence in making good decisions quickly. Doing so will help you grab new opportunities, save time, and resources, and reduce stress.

18. Interviewing Skills

If you are involved in hiring direct reports, you ought to learn interviewing skills. You do not want to get people who cannot work well with your team.

You are likely to be involved in initial interviews. Initial interviews consist of behavioral and situational questions to determine if the candidate has the functional expertise or qualifications to perform the job functions.

Many candidates have trained themselves to answer common interview questions. It is a common experience that many of those who seem to be a good fit in interviews fail miserably at work. This is because not all supervisors have excellent interviewing skills.

Behavioral interviewing can help you get the right employees for the job. You can use tools that will ensure that the candidate has the right values and competencies for the job.

Develop skills and attitudes that will improve your ability to lead people, improve processes, and impact productivity.

Knowing these 18 essential skills for supervisors can help you get started. Find out which ones are crucial to your promotion. You can ask your boss.

You can learn more about improving your supervisory skills. Go to What is Supervision?

How to Train Supervisors

Here’s an effective way to train your supervisors. You can make them develop their skills on the job.

Clarify Measurable Results

The purpose of training supervisors is not only to give them new knowledge about supervising. This is the common mistake of vendors who give basic supervisory skills training.

What they do is provide participants with information that is good to know but is not immediately applicable. Do not make your supervisors drink on a fireman’s hose.

Train on purpose.

Identify the change you want to happen. Find a problem that needs fixing. Or look for opportunities that you can grab now.

Write your measurable goal in one sentence. You may have two or three goals in one training, but it is best to keep the focus on one goal.

Here are examples of goals for a sales supervisor.

  • Improve sales by 20 percent in three months.
  • Conduct sales coaching once a week for the next three months.
  • Improve client satisfaction rating from 89 to 95 percent in 60 days.

Identify Skills, Then Vital Behaviors

Find the skills necessary for your supervisors to get the job done. You can search on the internet for these skills.

A better way, of course, is to look for people who are already delivering the measurable results you intend to achieve. Figure out what they are and the skills they use to get the job done.

One person does not possess all the essential skills. But I bet you have people who can demonstrate the skills you need to bring the best results.

Let us try our hand with the first example above: Increase sales by 20 percent in three months.

On the surface, the most obvious skill to develop is sales skills. People got to learn sales skills to sell more. It does not require a genius to figure that out, right?

Not always.

In one of the very few sales training sessions I conducted, the team was able to increase 30 percent sales by prioritization.

Some call it first things first. But very few get it right.

We did not consult the Internet for solutions. In an hour session, we asked questions. The sales team discovered that the opportunity is in the time they make sales calls, the people they talk to, and the measures they must be hitting.

We identified the three behaviors that supervisors must do every day to help the sales team. We also identified the three vital behaviors that the sales team must do every day.

Engage Your Team

Do you know why training programs fail?

Training programs fail because they do not have specific targets. But once you clear measurable results and vital behaviors, you will know what to expect from people.

The purpose of training is the application on the job of vital behaviors that will deliver the desired results.

If you do not know your desired results and your vital behaviors, you are just wasting your time.

The classroom training, therefore, is just 10 percent of the learning process. I do not mean that its value is only 10 percent since effective training is a multiplier.

Great training can double your results.

But classroom training alone does not ensure that people will learn. That’s because learning is a behavior change. You’ve got to ensure that people apply the vital behaviors that bring results.

I can discuss more of this some other time. I included it here to show the importance of training supervisors, that you can do it right, and that it is easy.

Ultimately, I want to help you identify the skills you need more for the job.

Let’s move on, shall we?

personal development
Supervisors must pay attention to personal development too.


Basic Supervisory Skills Training is a foundational training for new supervisors which is based on the enduring Planning- Organizing, Leading, and Controlling Framework of Management, Both big and small firms have been using the P-O-L-C Framework since the 20th century

Some training providers offer one-day basic training that does not provide learners to learn any skills. Hearing a lecture about planning, for example, will not make any supervisor develop skills in planning. Because of this, I do not recommend a one-day training for Basic Supervisory Skills Training.

I conduct basic supervisory skills training for at least three days for a cohort of 20 or less.

If all you want is for supervisors to understand concepts and ideas, it is best to enroll them in online courses, encourage them to read a book on supervision or curate content from the internet.

Smile like a happy supervisor.

You can train supervisors via classroom training, webinars, and online courses. Focus on skills that are vital that will improve performance and help employees be ready for the future. The best way to train supervisors, however, is via experience. With the help of a coach or a mentor, a supervisor can learn on the job.

Supervisors can improve performance by examining the gap between the current performance and target performance, identifying the vital behaviors that will bring results, keeping them engaged in the new behaviors, and evaluating change regularly. Sometimes, performance improvement comes with a process change.

Design supervisor training program to achieve the objectives of the organization. Begin with the essential skills (see examples here), identify the two or three vital behaviors for each skill, and then explore various ways of keeping supervisors engaged in the new behavior.

All training on essential skills for supervisors must meet the needs of the organization. Public seminars on “basic supervisory skills training” seldom do the magic as they tend to make participants drink on a firehose.

Personal Development & Supervision

Personal development is self-leadership. The first step to leading others is to lead oneself. This is obvious to some, but invisible to others. Some managers believe that this is a given, so they pay more attention to professional development.

Because of this, I wrote articles that will help leaders accelerate personal development. Thousands of articles were written about the subject, I know. But it may help to bring a unique perspective into the discussion.

I recommend you explore the following articles:

These articles may kick-start your personal development goals this year. Each will also lead you to other valuable resources.

About The Author

Learning Opportunities

Be A Better Supervisor

I have been helping companies in the Philippines design programs for live workshops for supervisors. I run webinars and boot camps too.

So, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I will help you. We can help each other.

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