Experience or People Skills – What Makes an Effective Supervisor?

Experience or People Skills – What Makes an Effective Supervisor?

I recently assessed the leadership capabilities of four supervisors who were responsible for a production line in a plant which had experienced several serious injuries over an 18-month period. The company wanted to identify development opportunities for its line managers. The results revealed a few surprises to both the employer and the supervisors.

Two of the four supervisors were highly experienced.  Both rose through the ranks and were promoted from within. Their promotions were based on technical knowledge, skills, and individual performance.  The other two were hired from outside the organization and had no prior industrial experience.  One had been in his position for four years and entered the workforce immediately after college.  The other had three years’ experience and served in the U.S. Army for four years.

As part of the assessment, I interviewed not only the supervisors but several of their direct reports as well.  The results were shocking.  One of the most experienced supervisors had the least effective people skills.  His style was abrasive, and he saw little value in what he described as “the touchy-feely.” 

Conversely, the most engaged employees and the shift with the highest morale reported to William – the supervisor who served in the Army.  William was the youngest of all four supervisors, had the least experience, and had no college education, yet his team stood out from the rest.


The one skill that will make you stand out as a manager

Despite lacking many of the typical requirements for management, William found a way to make it work. Through a series of conversations, I quickly discovered a character of humility that rose above any perceived limitations.  

Once hired, one of his first acts was to share his weaknesses with his team.  He shared with them that his success as a supervisor would depend on their performance.  While he admittedly lacked the technical skills required to perform many of his employees’ tasks, William consistently demonstrated the people skills needed to achieve high team performance. This is the ultimate measure of effective leadership.


Find strength in your weaknesses

No supervisor is an expert in all areas for which they are responsible.  Some may have strong technical skills but lack organizational skills.  Others may struggle with one-on-one conversations but excel in group settings.  Having weaknesses is okay. That’s what makes us uniquely who we are.  

Ultimately, a weakness can be a strength if you are transparent and humble. William openly shared his weaknesses with his direct reports.  Not only did he demonstrate humility, but he also showed vulnerability.  This combination was more than enough to distinguish him and his team as shining examples of what can be.

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