Navigating the transition from peer to supervisor

Egan-Vicky-174-4By Vicky Egan, RCDA Senior Consultant

I think most of us would agree that promoting internal staff to management positions is a powerful best practice in driving career development and increasing morale for those who wish to advance. But moving from a frontline position to entry-level management is a huge step, and managers can do more to help prepare new supervisors for the transition.

A newly promoted supervisor has new and unique challenges as they cross over the bridge to being a manager. One day they are peers to their colleagues with the same title, same work assignments and status. The next day they are managing their peers. Here are some tips to share in a coaching or mentoring session with your new leader:

  • Stay warm and friendly, but slowly put a little bit of distance between you and your former peers. You cannot be a pal anymore – at least not in the same way you used to be a pal – and be a supervisor at the same time.
  • Don’t give special treatment to anyone who used to be your peer. If you play favorites, you will be in trouble. Once you start playing favorites, it is almost impossible to stop.
  • Don’t act as if your promotion made you the expert on everything. Your brain didn’t receive the Vulcan mind meld overnight – and your staff knows it. There are probably some former peers who know more about certain topics than you. Your responsibility is to see that problems are solved, but you will be in a stronger position to get results through your staff if you develop the people who work for you into a problem-solving resource.
  • Do what you can to make everyone’s job a little better than it was before you became supervisor. Pay special attention to any problems that you used to gripe about. You do not want people to feel that you thought something was out of whack before, but everyone should put up with it now that you are the supervisor.
  • Give everyone recognition for good work – especially staff members who used to work side-by-side with you.

New supervisors may also have to deal with hard feelings from peers who didn’t get the job. Maybe not everyone is 100-percent thrilled with the promotion selection. Perhaps the first runner-up feels more qualified. If the supervisor senses resentment over the promotion, keep these ideas in mind:

  • The job is no longer up for grabs. Be the supervisor from day one. Don’t hang back just because someone disagrees – or because you think someone might disagree – with the promotion.
  • Direct everyone’s focus on the work and the results that your staff is expected to accomplish.
  • Double your efforts to listen and be visible and accessible.
  • Being a supervisor isn’t a popularity contest. It is more important to be respected than to be liked. If the respect you earn is based on results you obtain through your staff, it will generate respect and recognition for them, too.
  • Talk about the situation with your manager and ask for advice.

As a new supervisor, it is important to communicate a take-charge image. You must let everyone – the people who work for you, the person you report to, other supervisors and others you work with – know that they can count on you and your staff for first-rate performance.

RCDA can help ensure your leaders are successful with the leadership development components in our embedded support, supported rollouts and customized Quality Conversation programs.