Posted by: davidhayden | April 5, 2010

First Time Supervisors Beware, It’s NOT the Job You Think it Will Be

It’s been a year since you were promoted supervisor.  You know you have done a damn fine job, your direct reports love you and you have worked hard to make sure they do.

You know you haven’t quite met production schedules, but that’s not your fault.  Your people have had  special problems, missed some work and you accommodated them.

If it weren’t for you Sarah would have quit and she is the only one that can do her job.

Your raise is in the bag.

As you leave your review meeting in shock, you ponder, “wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

What managers never tell first time supervisors.

It is amazing how many people get into management that have zero, nada communication or mentoring skills.  The instant they hire or promote a supervisor that is the last conversation they have with them unless there is a real need to straighten them out.

Or worse, they will be cordial because they want to avoid confrontation, never really telling the new supervisor what they expect until it’s too late.

Now it’s your turn to play “Who Wants to be a Supervisor?”

You have all of these things going for you:

  • You know the job well
  • You get along with all the “guys”
  • You can really use the 20% boost in salary
  • Finally you will be in a position to really make a difference.  The old supervisor was a complete jerk.  By doing better, you will be popular and make a positive difference.

That’s a good start for sure.  But what does management want?

Your first meeting with management will be something like this.
As you know Guido left and we need someone to supervise the production department.  Your name popped up and I think you are the right person for the job.

You don’t have to take this position, and before you decide, there are a couple things you need to consider.

First you will be supervising people you have worked with.  Will that be a problem?

There may be some long days, especially as you are learning the new tasks like verifying time cards, planning schedules and so on.  We realize this that is why you will get a 20% increase in salary after your first 30 days.
Naturally you are expected to set a standard for department.  That means being on time, staying until the work is done, minimum sick days and so on.

You will be expected to attend production meetings to determine scheduling priorities and report progress.

Any Questions?

You mull this over and think “How bad can that be?  If Guido could do it, I know I can.”

You are honored to be offered this position and with a sense of pride and confidence you reply, “No questions.  When do I start?”

Here is what they failed to tell you
With every supervision position comes a few critical unspoken rules.

The prime directive of all supervisors is to make their boss look good.
Choose to ignore this one and you better start working on your resume.

Second, as lofty as your goals are, your job is to implement policy, not make it.
Sure you want to change things, make life better for the worker bees.  The first line supervisor is rarely the platform from which to launch that noble project.

Third, as a supervisor, there is no winning.

Rarely when you do what’s right for the company will your direct reports thank you for it.

Try too hard to keep the employees happy and you will be regarded as weak and not good supervision material.

Fourth, people whom you believed to be your friends will ask you to make exceptions for them.

Do this and you will lose the respect of your department and upper management.

Don’t do this and you will lose the friendship.

A good rule to remember is:
A true friend will not ask you to compromise your job.

A true friend will respect that you have a job to do and let you do it.

Fifth, if there is a good rumor mill on the shop floor, you will suddenly be cut out of it.
You will no longer be welcome in the worker bee inner circle.

I once worked for a guy that started every meeting by asking if anyone had heard if he was going to be fired.

Not only will you be cut off from the shop floor network.  Managers will see you as a potential liability and withhold information from you for fear you will tell your buddies.

Your buddies will know secrets anyway from somewhere else, but you will always be suspected of being the leak.

Is all that headache worth a measly 20% salary boost?
That is a question you have to answer for yourself.  It is a hassle and the boost in salary rarely covers the extra hours you will will be working.

However, unless you want to be pulling handles,  flipping burgers or whatever, for the rest of your career, supervision is a rung up in the career ladder.

Good supervisors get noticed.
The key to being a good supervisor is knowing and living within the unspoken expectations.


  • There will be a time in your career to make a difference, just not now.
  • Your real friends will respect you and support your decision to advance.

Your first year as a supervisor has gone by fast.  The long hours and stress have worn you down but you never lost perspective.  You made your boss look good on every occasion by keeping him informed, pushing his agenda and implementing company policy.

Production is a little down from expectations, but your safety record is outstanding and your cross training of Richard really paid off when Sarah quit because you wouldn’t give her extra smoking breaks.

Much to your surprise, your review lasted 2 hrs.  Your boss and his boss took you to lunch to discuss how well you are doing and to ask what resources you might need to get the production back on schedule.

Oh, and that raise won’t hurt either.


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