Promoted to Supervisor? Get Ready for Big Changes.

Stepping up to a supervisory role is more complicated than it seems. It means a new approach to work and a changed relationship with colleagues

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In the TV series Band of Brothers we learn that soldiers who got battlefield commissions were always assigned to a different unit from the one they served.

Why? Because suddenly becoming the superior of people who had been peers was simply too difficult a transition. It was better for the newly minted officers to be placed in charge of people they didn’t know before.

There are no battlefield commissions in the water business, but as an operator you may one day win a promotion — to lead operator, plant supervisor, plant manager. Now, instead of being a friend and colleague to your team members, you’re their boss. And that is a very big change, bigger than many who become bosses imagine.


I know this from hard experience. After four years as an account executive in a marketing communications agency, I was promoted to account supervisor and had two account executives reporting to me. I had earned the promotion by excelling as an AE. No one bothered to tell me that my new role meant something quite different: the care and development of my subordinates.

As a result, I struggled. I assigned two team members a major project and, intent on being the prototype hands-off manager, failed to offer counsel and advice along the way. The project went far over budget, and I got called on the carpet.

I had such a rough time that at one point I asked to be demoted to my old position. The request was denied; apparently my superiors preferred not to derail my career. Indeed, after a couple of years I did find my footing as a leader. But it wasn’t easy.


Beyond learning the techniques of leadership and supervision, there’s the matter of relating to the people on your team. The internet is full of advice on how to make a transition into leadership. Here is some advice gleaned from a variety of credible sources.

Create some distance. As the boss you are no longer just “one of the guys.” SHRM (formerly the Society for Human Resource Management) advises separating personal and professional relationships: “You can remain friendly with former co-workers, but make it clear that personal relationships cannot and will not influence your decisions and actions at work. This separation may involve limiting or eliminating after-work socializing to avoid potential conflicts.” It’s unwise to be too personally close to people you may one day have to discipline.

Keep in touch. Writing in Forbes magazine, management expert Miriam Grobman recommends getting frequent feedback: “Regular one-on-ones will allow you to better understand the needs and concerns of each team member and build closer relationships.” She also suggests checking in with your own boss “to see how you are doing and get practical advice on how to tackle managerial challenges.”

Don’t play the Big Boss. Marta Simeonova, at the website, cautions against taking an overbearing stance. She notes that as a manager your job is to make sure your team members are achieving the expected results. “Being overly demanding and authoritarian will not bring you respect faster. It may make them fear you eventually (if that is what you want). But initially, you will most likely get quite a few laughs. You do remember how you used to mock managers who took themselves too seriously together, right?”

Own your promotion. Author and consultant Bruce Tulgan, writing in Training magazine, says to expect former peers to question why it was you who got the chance to step up. He observes,  “When you get that promotion and all of sudden you are the new manager of your old team, you have two choices: behave in such a way that your former peers wonder why you are the new boss instead of one of them, or else do such a good job that nobody will ever wonder.”

Prepare in advance. Business consultant Cheryl Grazier, writing on the Women’s Leadership Today website, recommends learning about management leadership techniques even before taking on a leadership role. “Ask for formal training if available. Look for someone to coach you. By taking the time to learn and prepare, you will set the foundation for your new leadership position and guarantee yourself the ability to start your job as a new manager with an abundance of knowledge about how to be a good leader.”


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