Ask any business owner or human resource professional what their single most difficult position to fill or find qualified personnel for and I will assure you that it will be the first level supervisor.  These are individuals who must walk the tight rope between management and employees and must get the highest quality and quantity of work out the door while balancing between personnel, equipment and materials.

First level supervisors are often thrust into that position because they are the best technicians or because they have been performing the work the longest.  Often they have not been provided the training to supervise people and in many instances they really don’t want to supervise employees and sometimes being a supervisor is the only route to receiving a raise in pay.  So we knight them supervisors and turn them loose to handle this complex position often destined for failure through making one or more of the following critical mistakes.

  • The new supervisor has not earned the respect of the employees that they will supervise. Sure they are the best technicians but do they understand how to manage people?
  • The supervisor fails to ask for input or solicit feedback from the employees they now supervise. The new supervisor feels that they should know the answers and to ask for input is a sign of weakness or not having sufficient knowledge for the position.
  • They delegate responsibilities to their employees without giving them the tools or information for them to be able to successfully accomplish the task. Good supervisors are facilitators, problem solvers, and barrier breakers.
  • They correct or reprimand employees in front of other employees. This is often how they “learned” right from wrong so they are carrying on a bad habit. Praise should be given in public; reprimands are to be done in private.
  • Poor supervisors supervise everyone the same way. Every employee is different, has different needs, different abilities and different communication styles.  Good supervisors adjust the way they interact with employees based on these style differences.
  • They keep the best jobs for themselves and delegate the ones that they don’t want to do. This soon becomes obvious to employees and the group’s morale begins to deteriorate.
  • Poor supervisors take sides with the employees often failing to assume the responsibility as an agent of management. They might try and be friends with their employees in an effort to get things done.
  • They may distance themselves from their direct reports in order to demonstrate their new position of authority thus losing contact and rapport with them.
  • They might promote the us vs. them theme as they give information to the employees with statements like “upper management wants this or that and I really don’t agree with it but that’s what they want so we have to perform.”
  • They might even engage in illegal behaviors, often out of ignorance of the law while trying to accomplish their job. This can often be observed situations like interviewing or employee record keeping.


When filing the critical role of first level or line supervisor it is imperative that we select individuals who truly understand the role of a supervisor and want to be one, then provide them with the proper training, mentoring, processes, procedures and feedback to assure their success.