5 Skills for Transitioning Supervisors

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transitioning supervisors

5 Skills for Transitioning Supervisors

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You have to start somewhere and probably most of today’s best workplace leaders were once just part of the crowd. Transitioning supervisors, those who are moving from working as a peer to becoming a boss isn’t always easy, but with some energy spent in the proper areas new supervisors can make it look easy.

It happened to me, one day your just part of the team and the next, well, you’ve become a boss. While there is a certain amount of pride and admiration associated with your new role, there is also a lot of fear and the possibility of conflict when supervising those who you previously worked with as peers.

There are many skills that should be addressed and there are numerous books, seminars, and coaching or mentoring experiences available that can save you time and a lot of frustration. This is important not only for the person transitioning to supervisor but also for those who are now direct reports.


While it is difficult to highlight only a few, below are five skills that every transitioning supervisor should master:

  1. Ability to build trust. Everybody seems to understand the need for trust, but very few put in the hard work required to create it. Trust is often challenging to build and can be taken away in a moment. Work with your team to minimize complaining and blaming, make a commitment to decisions and actions, be available, and be consistent. These are considered to be some of the most fundamental building blocks of trust, know them, do them, and you’ll be on your way to a more trusting environment.
  2. Use empathy. Many new supervisors feel a lot of schedule pressure; they are often still doing much of their previous role only now they are also responsible to supervise. New supervisors are sometimes reluctant to get involved in problems because honestly, they don’t believe they should have any. Remember that empathy is not sympathy, empathy means that you don’t necessarily agree or disagree but that you have some understanding of a situation or problem. Being more empathetic means improving your listening skills.
  3. Become a better listener. Listening is not the same thing as hearing, it is a developed skill. Listen with the intent to develop an understanding. Make time to listen, listen to learn and not just to formulate a response. Make every attempt to break down barriers, filters, and stereotypes. Often when we feel that we really know someone we formulate our opinion before they speak, this is known as framing, and if you do it, stop.
  4. Purposely collect feedback. As much as you may feel some discomfort in your new role, those who now report to you also have to get a feel for this new environment. Be very open to feedback, in fact, work to collect it whenever possible. Place value in conversations and avoid chronic use of electronic (email) communication. Connect face-to-face, through video tools, or by telephone and develop the new relationship as a supervisor and direct report.
  5. Have conversations not confrontations. Make all of your communication clear, open, and honest. Always work from facts not opinions and base any difficult conversations on observations and not hearsay. The use of vague language or glossing over issues only contributes to the problem. Praising an employee is easy, addressing difficulties may be more challenging but when the communication is open and timely it reduces the feeling of confrontation.

It’s important for supervisors to commit to the time and resources required to advance their skills. While sometimes the method of transition is to merely give a title, a small salary increase, and turn you loose, it is never too late to work towards improving your supervisory (managers, directors, et al) skill set.

Every strong supervisor today started someplace, never forget where you came from, but it is where you are going now that may be most important.

Transition wisely.


Originally posted on October 12, 2016, last updated on January 18, 2019.

Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and culture expert. He is a five-time author and the founder of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. His business focuses on positive human performance improvement solutions through Appreciative Strategies®. Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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