When you are first promoted to a supervisory position, it can be a shock to your system!
Your promotion caused you to change spots in the hierarchy of the organization. In terms of interpersonal relationships, the ground under your feet will have shifted. This means people will not relate to you in the same way, whether you like it or not.
You now have “subordinates” (a person under your authority and control). And you must communicate with your manager as a person with knowledge of the systems, a higher level of organizational vision, and by showing team deliverables.
Salary is no longer dependent upon you doing your assigned job and going home to relax later. It is dependent upon your team’s performance and your role in helping them reach company goals.
A promotion to supervisor or manager is a whole new level of stress and responsibility that can certainly keep you up at night.
But don’t worry, it won’t always be this stressful! Once you understand your new role more clearly and start to master the skills required for the new outcomes, you will feel more comfortable and start to enjoy being in charge. To make progress in moving from operations to management thinking, I’m going to talk about the most important piece of starting in a new role whether you are a first-time supervisor or a manager moving into a different department or company.
Spoiler alert – be prepared to get deeply scared before feeling relieved!
The Cambridge dictionary defines authority as “the moral or legal right or ability to control”, and the Oxford dictionary defines it as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” Let’s look at both these definitions for a bit.
A moral right is something you have as a human right, like freedom to life and liberty, access to education and employment without prejudice for example. A moral right is not something to be taken lightly. Thinking of your position as having and being responsible for moral rights rises your promotion to the level of ethical responsibility.
A legal right is also a very weighty concept. As supervisor you have legal control over your team. This means you and they have a duty to follow laws, rules and regulations that, if broken, could have legal or criminal ramifications.
If you aren’t already terrified of your new position from reading this so far, add on to it that you have the ability to control – what? People, resources, outcomes and most importantly, your own behaviours. This involves giving orders, making decisions and enforcing obedience. Within all that responsibility you have to step up to new and more weighty responsibilities, take on the mantle of authority and show an example to the team that they will want to follow.
You may be thinking at this point, “Hey, I have never even experienced a manager who had that high level of understanding, let alone someone I would follow anywhere because of their great example! Is this even real?” To answer that question let’s start with a Gallup study that found 70% employee engagement variance was as result of immediate supervisors. If you are a manager who does things in a way that inspires and motivates, your team will reflect that. And if you are a manager who demotivates and disempowers, your team will reflect that too.
The real question is not whether you should lower the bar because others didn’t manage you well. The real question is how you can aspire to a standard that others will want to emulate. THAT my friends, is real authority. Click To Tweet
Fortunately, there is help. The secret lies in intentionally cultivating the following four authority generators. As you create them, you will build your authority and credibility in the eyes of the team and your managers, but it won’t be without difficulties. At each point you will likely face challenges and obstacles. To make sure this is practical for you, I’m going to address one likely challenge for each of the four authority generators. Ready? Let’s get started.
Authority generator #1: Know yourself
Now that you see how important it is to lead effectively, let’s consider what it takes to show authority with your team, in a way that respects this high vision. It starts with having a vision of what it means to you personally to lead. You can find this out by finishing these sentences:
A good supervisor/manager always…
A good supervisor/manage never…
Finishing these sentences with a few answers will give you an idea of where your values lie and what you are likely to want your team to do. You will probably come up with a few statements like:
“A good supervisor communicates with the team”
“A good supervisor always shows a good example”
“A good supervisor never throws the team under the bus for a mistake, or takes credit for something he/she didn’t do”
“A good supervisor never shows disrespect to others.”
This helps you to find out what you stand for and gives you some words to communicate those values to the team, which is the first criteria for authority. If you try to be generic or neutral, you will not have any effect. People want to follow a supervisor who stands for something. Click To Tweet
So make sure you are clear in your mind about that that means in your work context. As you continue to supervise, things will come up that show you your strengths and your weaknesses which will challenge you to make sure you are walking your talk. Nothing like a manager position for a crash course in self-development! Which brings me to a challenge you will likely face when you start to know who you are and what you want. Push back.
Dealing with push back from one individual within a group setting:
First you need to recognize push back when you see it. A team member or even the entire team might refuse to do something you asked, challenge you in front of others, be disrespectful or show less and less excellence in doing their work. These are all signs of pushback. Everyone will be watching to see how you respond and your response will determine whether they push harder or respect your direction.
If you have a direct challenge to your authority in front of the team, the best thing to do is to stop and stand in silence while looking at the person who challenged you.
Because people are so silence-avoidant, the challenger is likely to back down if you wait up to a minute. Or a team member will tell the challenger to smarten up or let it go just to stop the silence. If that doesn’t happen, stop what you are doing, indicate to the challenger that he or she is to step out with you and then address the challenge privately. Reacting to a challenge with anger or resistance in front of the group is not usually helpful.
There are many other things you can do in the face of a challenge like this, but this one is a great way to start.
Authority generator #2: Know your team members
Having all that moral, legal and decision-making control doesn’t mean you know what to do all the time or that you will be right. The best way to make sure your decisions are based on reality and not your ego or imagination is to remember this critical truth:
If you don’t know who your team members are, what their knowledge, experience and talents are, you are missing critical information for you to do your own job. You want them to trust you, and that won’t happen if you don’t show them you are interested in them first. Ask team members questions about themselves and their lives and make a point of talking to each person about how they see their jobs, what they like or don’t like and what they would do differently if they could.
Don’t make promises or try to change things at this point, just get to know people and their jobs. Doing this will provide you with invaluable information and increase not only trust but rapport. As you get to know team members, a challenge you are likely to face is being drawn into petty issues.
Avoiding getting into the weeds of petty issues:
One way to deal with petty issues that come up from individuals is to ask “What have you already done to solve this issue?” Or “On a scale of 1-10 how important is this issue to you?” The more you can bring the issue back to the person and get that person to invest in making a change, the more you stay out of the problem. If you try to solve it, the issue will keep coming back to you.
On the other hand, if the issue continues to be unresolved, getting input from the team about how to deal with it is a great next step. Generally, keep the petty, the mundane and the logistical details within the control of the team and keep yourself out of them.
Authority generator #3: Know the systems that are already in place
Part of establishing your authority is learning the company systems, how they started or why people use or don’t use them.
If you jump into a new position and start slashing and burning, you will be immediately disliked, and people will feel you have not shown respect for them or their work. Ask about the systems for technical things, for reporting, for safety, for communication – all the systems that you may have used previously but were not in charge of enforcing. You need to know why things are done the way they are and any history that goes with the systems.
For example, a client I had was very strong in all their safety procedures. They found that new people regularly complimented them on how thoroughly they had thought through safety preparedness, dealing with incidents and making corrections – and their safety record was amazing. The history was that a past crew member died when safety procedures were less developed and less implemented across the organization, so they made it a company-wide focus until they saw sustained results. Knowing the history helps with explaining the “why” of rules and regulations.
On the other hand, you might find that people are not using a system. As you investigate, you may experience resistance from people who want to keep “dirty laundry” under cover or who think that by keeping all their knowledge close to them they will ensure their own job security. Here’s what to do when that happens:
Overcoming resistance to sharing information:
When people do not want to share information, they are afraid. Fear of loss of face, fear of retribution and fear of job loss are the key reasons information is not freely shared. Ask probing questions to find out what the fear is behind the lack of transparency. You can say something like, “It may seem like I am prying, but I am trying to find out what systems are in place here so I can be a better supervisor. Is there something you could tell me that would help?” “Is there any reason you might not want to share that information with me?” “Is there something I could do to make it feel safer for you to explain this to me?” When asked privately, typically these types of questions get to the root of the issue.
Authority generator #4: Make one small change that will make an improvement and stick to it until the change is sustained
Once you have considered who you are and what you stand for as a manager, you have gotten to know your team members and figured out the existing systems, the final authority generator is to make a change.
Authority doesn’t just come from doing things that are expected within what is known. It comes from the ability to move people, resources and ideas into a united action towards a mutually beneficial end. Click To Tweet
This change should be small, not an earth-shaking system change. The reason to start small is because it will be easier to teach others to do it, to remember what to do, and to have less things go wrong. A great example comes from an accounting manager who found out from investigating the company systems that there were over $1 million in unpaid invoices owing. She had an idea for one small change to the invoice system that would prevent this from happening in the future and asked permission to set it up. When she was able to effect that smaller change, her upper management asked if she had ideas for dealing with the unpaid invoices. She did of course, and when the payments started to come in, her authority with her upper management, her colleagues and her subordinates skyrocketed.
The secret to her success was knowing the existing system and then finding a small change that led to another – both changes very high value to the employer because they involved getting paid. One challenge you may face, (assuming you are able to stick to a small change which is the first challenge), is that others can be jealous of your success and increase in authority.
Dealing with jealousy and hard feelings:
I recently read an interesting study on envy and positive empathy in the workplace by Ganegoda and Bordia. According to the authors, people who perceived another person’s success as a threat, either felt they were at an unfair disadvantage or that the successful person was too different from them. People who experienced joy and empathy when observing the success of others, felt they belonged in some way to the “successful group”, saw themselves in positive relationship with others, and were able to take the perspective of another person more easily than people who were envious.
Envy was positive when it led to wanting to be like the person who was envied, and negative when it was a desire to bring the successful person down. The biggest determinant for envy versus empathy was seeing oneself as inferior or defective in relationship to the other person and their success. Those who had more positive empathy saw themselves as equals or peers to the successful person, and equally deserving of respect.
The remedy is to show the jealous person that you believe in them and to find ways to offer potential opportunities, explaining clearly what is needed to be able to succeed. For someone who is simply always complaining, refer back to Authority Generator #2’s section on avoiding getting involved in petty issues. Of course, some people would rather stew in their jealousy than develop themselves, so you might need to set boundaries and walk away to protect yourself and others from a malignantly jealous person – and explain the situation to a manager/HR expert to ensure you have covered your bases for sabotage.
As a final word, as you are consciously establishing your authority in a new position, remember these three important principles about the process:
#1. Expect respect and show respect.
#2. Be patient with the process and keep the team focused on the desired outcome.
#3. Show appreciation for any progress made.
If you want to find out more about being the best supervisor you can be, take a look at our Supervisory Leadership Certificate course.
Guaranteed to bring out the best in your leadership and take your management skills to the next level!
 Ganaegoda, Deshani B; Bordia, Prashant. (2019). I can be happy for you, but not all the time: A contingency model of envy and positive empathy in the workplace. American Psychological Association. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(6) 776-795.
Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!
Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:
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