Tips for First Time Supervisors

Taking on a supervisory role for the first time is exciting and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Start off on the right path by taking these steps to ensure a smooth transition into your new role.

Start Smart

Not just at the beginning, but throughout your career, make it your mission to learn everything you can. Chances are, you’ve been promoted into management because of your skills and attributes, not how much you know, so it’s important to stay humble and remember you don’t know everything. Look for the tools and resources your organization offers. Some companies have formal supervisory training, and nearly all have policy and procedure manuals and HR policies. Read them, ask questions about anything you don’t understand, and keep them in a place where you can access them easily.

Also, you should learn as much as you can about the people you’ll be supervising. Review their performance evaluations, resumes, and their goals, and get ready to get to figure what they need and want from a supervisor, and how you can support them.

Find a Mentor

While manuals and handbooks are a great place to start, most of the situations you’ll face as a supervisor aren’t outlined in a book. How do you deal with someone who is not performing? What do you say to an exceptional employee you’d love to promote but can’t due to this year’s budget restrictions?

This is why a mentor is crucial. Chances are, someone else has probably dealt with any situation you’ll face. So one of the most important things you can do is find a mentor, someone with whom you can confidentially discuss issues as they arise. Maybe your boss would be a great mentor. If not, try to find someone else in your company who can serve in this capacity.

Focus Your New Lens

You’ve likely been promoted because you’re amazing at your job. But your new position? It’s not about you anymore. “Before you were a manager, your number one job was to accomplish tasks,” says Penelope Trunk in 4 Worst Mistakes of a First Time Manager. “Now, your number one job is to help other people accomplish the tasks in an outstanding way.”

This shift is often the most challenging for first-time supervisors, but it’s crucial because now, your performance will be tied to the performance of your team. This means, if your team fails, you fail. And if they succeed? Don’t take all the credit. Sharing and celebrating credit with the rest of your team will help ensure they’re willing to do a great job for you in the future.

Listen and Learn

Resist the urge to come in and make bold changes quickly to show that you’re in charge—it’s a bad idea. Instead, take plenty of time to fully understand your organization and team. Set up individual meetings with each of your new team members to understanding their roles. Ask questions about what they like about their job, the biggest challenges they face, and ideas they have for improving the overall organization.

You won’t be able to please everyone, but saying “I would love to get your input as I make plans for the future” goes a long way in building positive relationships and open communication. Understanding what people’s goals, hang-ups, and challenges are can help them perform at a higher level, which will only serve to help you.

Also let them know that you’re open to listening on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s having an open-door policy, calendaring one-on-one touch bases each week, or scheduling “office hours” each day, make sure your team members know when and how they can reach out to you.

Address Relationship Changes

The biggest mistake that new supervisors make? When asked this question, “90% of the women whom we interviewed replied that they tried to be liked,” say authors Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio in The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch). This can be particularly true if you’ve been promoted from within and find yourself now supervising someone who used to be at the same level as you.

If you do find yourself managing a former peer, you must address the relationship change—immediately. You can’t keep up your happy hours and closed-door lunch dates with your work BFF without feelings of distrust and resentment developing within the rest of your team. Also keep in mind that, while your former colleague may be happy for you, she may also feel awkward or resentful.

Try starting the conversation with “You know that I value our friendship, but as a manager, I need to make sure that everyone on the team views me as being fair and consistent, so our work relationship is going to change.” Easy? No. Important? Crucial.

Model Your Behavior

Complaining about a new policy over cocktails? Showing up 10 minutes late to meetings? Making fun of the boss with your work BFFs? Those days are long gone. As a manager, you’re looked to as a role model by not only your employees, but also others in the company at all levels. You can’t expect anyone to give their best at work if they don’t see you doing it, so be sure you’re always on your game. This means meeting deadlines, keeping promises, keeping your personal opinions under wraps, and doing your best to represent your department and organization.

Manage Up

It’s more important than ever, now that you’re a supervisor, to keep your boss in the loop, since you’ll be reporting the progress of an entire group of people. It’s also important to make sure that the goals you outline for your team are in step with your boss’ goals and the organization’s mission and values. Ask to set up regular meetings to discuss your goals, your progress, and any issues you are facing, and how they relate to the company as a whole.

Being a manager is an ongoing learning experience, and it’s probably never going to be easy. But, do your research, set expectations, stay focused on serving your team, and shift your focus from the beginning, and you’ll be off on the right foot.