manager and supervisor working together

Managers and supervisors are often lumped together as the same role. While the responsibilities of supervisors and managers can see some overlap, they are often performing different duties and need to be supported in unique ways. Today, we’re going to explore the differences between a supervisor vs manager and discuss how to support both positions with training and development resources.  

The Role of a Supervisor 

What is the role of a supervisor? A supervisor may also be known as a team leader. Supervisors are common in industries that work primarily on-location with fast-paced and physical work environments. Examples include manufacturing, fast food, warehousing, construction, and more. This is because one of the primary responsibilities of a supervisor involves, well – supervising. A supervisor deals with the day-to-day tasks and operations of a team, and often works directly with individual contributors performing related work.  

Here are examples of responsibilities that might occur in the role of a supervisor:  

  • Equip new employees with the skills they need through training 
  • Enforce company policies to ensure a safe and productive work environment 
  • Develop efficient schedules to optimize workflow 
  • Maintain quality standards through regular checks 
  • Provide staff with the necessary materials and equipment for success 
  • Escalate complex issues to management for further action 

A supervisor is a leadership role on the floor but may not have the authority that a manager or more senior leadership role would have. Supervisors work directly with their team and are ultimately responsible for their teams’ performance. This can create a lot of pressure on supervisors for their teams to perform well and can cause friction between a supervisor and their team. It’s important for supervisors to be well trained in leadership skills so that they can adequately manage the pressures of their position while supporting their team and overall function. The role of a good supervisor can be a delicate balance between completing their own work and also empowering and motivating their team.  

Good supervisors often go on to become excellent managers – but it’s important that leadership skills are planted ahead of time, so that when your existing leaders move on, there’s a new generation of leadership to take their place.  

The Role of a Manager 

The role of a manager takes the responsibilities of a supervisor one step further. A supervisor might focus on the how of a team’s day-to-day operations while a manager makes the decision of what should be done. Managers do not typically work on the floor with individual contributors, whereas supervisors do. This will vary by industry, which explains how these terms can often be confused for each other.  

The common responsibilities of a manager include:  

  • Overseeing team performance and establishing team culture 
  • Analyzing problems and developing solutions 
  • Creating and managing financial plans 
  • Executing company-wide initiatives within the team 
  • Conducting performance evaluations and providing feedback 
  • Recruiting, promoting, and managing staff 
  • Reporting to superiors and keeping them informed 
  • Mediating and resolving conflicts within the team 

One of the big differentiators of a manager vs supervisor is that managers handle the large-scale vision of an organization or team structure and supervisors do not. Managers decide prioritization of tasks and create the goals and responsibilities for a supervisor. The leap from supervisor to manager can impact everyone differently, so it’s important to provide new managers with plenty of training on how their role will change.  

Training Managers and Supervisors 

Managers and supervisors are both leadership positions even though they lead in different capacities. Individuals who are good supervisors can go on to become excellent managers. Excellent managers are great candidates for C-Suite positions. By the time an individual makes it to the C-Suite, it’s important that they are familiar with the qualities and practices that create effective leaders.  

Individuals that are on their way to becoming supervisors would benefit from training on: 

  • Time management
  • Analytical problem solving 
  • Job-specific training so that they can better assist their team 
  • Workplace safety 
  • Communication skills 

Supervisors who are seeking to make their way into management should continue to build on their current leadership skill set and add topics such as: 

  • Strategic thinking 
  • Conflict resolution and mediation 
  • Emotional intelligence 
  • Delegation and empowerment 
  • Diversity and inclusion 
  • Coaching 

And more! Learn more in our toolkit for training new managers.  

Techniques for Training Managers vs Supervisors 

Although the roles of managers and supervisors can have some overlap, where they differ most might be how you can reach them. Supervisors work on the floor, so training might look something like structured development meetings or lunch and learns.  

Managers may benefit more from coaching lessons or mentor programs. Role play can also be a method that managers use to practice real-life scenarios before they need to use those skills with a real direct report. 

Both managers and supervisors can benefit from microlearning, a quick and simple learning and development theory that allows employees to learn at their own pace. Microlearning takes complex topics and breaks them down into easily digestible learning modules that promote information retention.  

We know that at times, it can be difficult to distinguish the tasks and responsibilities of a supervisor vs manager, but when you’re dealing with a workplace that draws a distinction, it’s important to support each role separately.