The Most Important Supervisor Skills
If you were to put together as list of supervisor skills it would of course vary from job to job and company from company, but there is still a large number of generic skills a supervisor needs to have to work at in order to be successful.
All too often, needed supervisor skills are not taken fully in to account when promoting someone into a supervisory position. Past performance is usually the basis, which is not bad, but good or even excellent performance in a non-supervisory position in no way guarantees the person chosen will perform well in a supervisory capacity. In some businesses and institutions, promotions are all too often based upon nepotism or favoritism. In a family-owned business this may work, but in most cases it does not work well.
Leadership Is Number One - Topping any list of supervisor skills is usually leadership ability. Supervisors essentially have to see that the necessary work to be done is accomplished through the efforts of others. A good supervisor, and one who has the respect of those reporting to him (or her) can get the workers in the organization to walk through walls, walk through fire, and do the most onerous of tasks, without quitting or throwing in the towel, simply by employing effective leadership skills.
Communications Skills - Next on the list is often communications skills. A supervisor needs to be able to clearly communicate and explain the nature of the tasks to be done. It doesn't hurt to tell why they need to be done either. The phrase "because I say so" seldom comes from the mouth of a good supervisor. A supervisor in most cases may not even know how to do a task, and can't step in and finish the job if the worker falters, but the supervisor does have to know enough to understand what the expected result will be.
There's much more to communication than simply telling the workers what needs to be done. Supervisor skills include the ability to communicate what is expected in terms of workplace behavior, to explain how workers' performance will be monitored and measured, and explain corporate cultural initiatives and policies over a wide range of topics from sexual harassment, to continuous quality improvement, to goal setting.
Delegating - Supervisor skills include the ability to delegate responsibility and with it the ability to trust the workers. Very often the person promoted to supervisor is the person in the group who is the most skilled worker. This is often the case in technical organizations. If the person promoted is unable to delegate responsibility, the promotion may backfire as the new supervisor will attempt to do all of the more difficult technical tasks in the belief that no one else can handle them.
Far, But Not Too Far - A supervisor does not have to be "one of the gang". Some are more successful at being so than others, but a supervisor must place himself or herself at a certain distance from the workers, at least in the workplace. Some carry this too far to the point where they rarely talk to their employees. Some supervisors go months or even years without holding a staff meeting, and some rely on lead employees to assign and monitor work, often to the point of making the supervisory position itself nearly inconsequential.
A supervisor needs to have good presentation skills and be a bit of a salesperson as well. At performance reviews when salary adjustments are made and promotions may be considered as well, the supervisor has to fight for the well-being of his or her people.
Barely Under Control - Some supervisors head up organizations which are totally out of control. Others, the authoritarian types (some would say dictatorial), keep the workers on a short, tight leash. One who has a good set of supervisor skills is often seen at the head of an organization which appears to be barely under control, but under control nevertheless. The workers are trusted, empowered, and have a healthy dose of self-esteem. They are good at what they do, and through their efforts make their supervisor look good as well, without even thinking about it.