| AWWA Career Zone - Becoming a supervisor may not match your expectations
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AWWA Career Zone - Becoming a supervisor may not match your expectations

By Stuart Karasik, Ph.D.

Note: This column was originally published in 2019. We're sharing it again to support the career growth and success of water professionals.

Caution: curves ahead. Keep that in mind when moving from a staff position to a supervisor.

Career Zone #AWWAConnectionsOne of my clients offers an annual New Supervisor/Manager Orientation Program, and I participated in a follow-up briefing about how to improve the next year’s series. One fascinating conversation focused on the participants’ expectations of their new management positions before they were promoted, compared to after they completed the training and began work as a supervisor.

Each participant in the orientation program was surprised at how radically their expectations of supervision differed from their actual experience. Below are some of the realities they discovered during their transitions into supervision.

  • It is difficult to shift from being a team member to supervising your former peers.
  • Supervisors require additional and different skills than they relied on as a performance-level professional. 
  • Being a new supervisor provides the opportunity to learn and experience much outside of your comfort zone.
  • It is difficult to live up to your own and your staff’s expectations.
  • It is a change to be responsible for work that you no longer personally perform, even though you have the skills and expertise to do that work.
  • You are responsible for encouraging others to help meet goals that you negotiated with them.

The keys to becoming a successful supervisor may seem straightforward, but they can be difficult to implement. Here are some tips for being effective.

  • Although you are responsible for setting the goals for your group, encourage your employees’ input on how to how to achieve them. Your job is to listen to their ideas, not dominate the discussion. If you show you care about their ideas, they’ll continue to offer them. 
  • Employees work harder, smarter and longer for supervisors who encourage them to think for themselves and ask for their suggestions, rather than telling them what to do. When a member of your team is losing focus or floundering, use phrases like “have you considered” or “might it be helpful” to start a productive conversation. 
  • Your group’s goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. As supervisor, your focus is on the outputs or solutions, rather than the details of the process.
  • Keep your eye on long-term goals. Think of a shepherd keeping a flock moving forward as one. You need to be present in the moment, but a few steps ahead in planning.
  • Cultivate a trusting and safe work environment. Encourage your team to “storm positively and effectively” and “conform collegially.” Encourage each member to use their unique strengths and skills while working toward common goals.
  • Hold your staff responsible and accountable for meeting their individual goals and do the same with your own goals. Successful completion, and failure to complete, both have real consequences.

 Being an effective supervisor is challenging and hard work. When done correctly, it also is rewarding and allows you and your staff to grow and succeed professionally.  

Stuart Karasik spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was the training program manager for the City of San Diego. More career resources and job opportunities are available at AWWA’s Career Center and at Work for Water.