Advice for a New Supervisor (aka Me)

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With just one week under my belt at my new job, I am barely starting to put all the pieces together and figure out all the things I am going to need to learn and to do in the next year. Looming especially large in my thoughts is the awareness that this is my first supervisory position, and I have a lot to learn about what good supervision looks like and feels like from this end of the equation.

My dad, who spent 40 years in sales, management, and training, says, “Set clear expectations, train well, and don’t hover.”

My 16-year-old daughter says, “Don’t give pep talks.” [When I asked why, she said she’d rather be DOING her job or task than be “getting motivated” to do it.]

What do you have to share? What’s something your best bosses have in common? What’s your strongest point as a supervisor? What could you do better with better supervision? What do you wish you knew before your first supervisory job?

I’m grateful for your advice and wisdom!

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17 Responses to Advice for a New Supervisor (aka Me)

  1. Kristi says:

    One thing I learned through my years as a supervisor is to listen first, then act – at least at the beginning. I needed to know the staff I had, what they did (or didn’t) do. While there were expectations on the tasks that needed to be done, I didn’t have to do them all at once.

  2. Melissa says:

    Kristi, thanks so much–this is great advice. Since we are starting a new team the temptation is going to be VERY STRONG to try all the new exciting possibilities right away. Super reminder that even in this situation I don’t need to jump in the deep end!

  3. Lisa Mulvenna says:

    With 9 months under my belt as a supervisor, here is what I have learned:
    1. Set clear expectations.
    2. Set goals. Where do you want to be next year? What do your employees want to accomplish? Where do you want your department to be?
    3. Have a network of other managers (aka Twitter or texting) for when some totally crazy thing happens and you need to vent. They are also your sounding board.

    Okay, that is all I can think of right now. πŸ™‚

  4. Melissa says:

    Lisa, I love the reminder that we set expectations for a reason–to reach goals. The new team officially starts August 1, so I do have some elbow room to think through and prioritize first-year plans. Thank you!!! PS: Will totally be hitting everyone up for advice πŸ™‚

  5. Nancee says:


    Your dad’s advice is great! I would only add that, especially in our field, most folks are underpaid for the valuable resources they contribute to our library systems. They often contribute expertise, experience, creativity and soft skills that are hard to measure. Take the time to compliment your staff on the skills they have, point out the values the skills contribute to the department, the team and the library system, and highlight them to administration whenever possible. Written and verbal kudos (done much more frequently than at an annual performance review) go a long way to making a job rewarding!

  6. Melissa says:

    Nancee, this is such good advice because it will work both ways! In order to watch for the general and specific ways this team contributes to the library’s mission and goals so I can give them kudos, I will need to pay close attention to what’s working and what isn’t, which will help me make decisions. Great reminder, I appreciate you taking the time to comment & help me out!

  7. Anne says:

    Take things slow! Especially if you need to make changes with things, and you will need to make changes, however small or big. Take the time to observe how things run and think about how to make things go better. Let your staff get to know you before you change too much. They need time to build trust in you. Also it helps if you can go through a year or so and see how things run already. Then your changes will be more informed (this is more important when coming to a new library system like I always seem to be doing, haha.)

    And I know you will have no trouble with this at all–get to know your staff. Figure out what makes them tick. Each individual is motivated by different things. Some of us like a bunch of praise (ME! I have no problem admitting this) and others want to keep their heads down and keep plugging away without any fuss. Listen, listen, listen, and ask questions so you can understand the details.

    One of the things that I struggle the most with but am improving on is keeping everyone in the loop. Before becoming a supervisor, I only had to communicate what was going on to my boss. Now I still have to keep my boss in the loop, but also the rest of the staff in my department, and often other departments as well. It can be challenging to make sure everyone has every piece of information they need but it really does help things run so much more smoothly.

    I’m available by text or email for any consultations or ventings you may need. πŸ™‚

  8. Melissa says:

    Annie, I appreciate your advice so much! One of the plusses in this situation is that as an internal staff reorganization, almost everyone on the team will already know each other…but we will still need to get used to each other as teammates and I will look for ways we can be deliberate about that process. Communication will be huge as we will be working with all the other departments and branches district-wide! Thank you! Fortunately I know where you are when I need more help πŸ™‚

  9. I feel like you are going to be a wonderful supervisor and that much of what I’m about to say will occur to you naturally, but here are my thoughts anyway.

    Be present, but not overinvolved. I have always liked supervisors who have an open door policy, but who don’t spend their days following me around making sure I’m doing my job. I like to know I can come to my supervisor for help, but also that she trusts me to know what I’m doing and to handle my day to day work on my own.

    Have regular staff meetings. I have never had a supervisor who had staff meetings on a regular basis and it made me nuts. At one library, it got to the point where “staff meeting” was code for “someone’s in big trouble” and on the rare occasion that we had one, everyone got really nervous and uncomfortable around each other.

    Let your staff know your goals/what they can expect from you – but don’t overpromise. I think there is often a temptation on the part of enthusiastic supervisors to do all the things right away, and to make big promises. It’s better to make modest commitments to a few goals, and if you happen to exceed them, great, but you don’t let anyone down by falling short of an overly ambitious goal.

  10. Melissa says:

    Katie, I love this nudge to set expectations not just for team goals or staff competencies, but for me as well. It will make me be very thoughtful and intentional about deciding what those expectations are!!! This team will be working all over the district so establishing those team meetings will be a critical first step before schedules get too set in stone. Thanks!!!

  11. Mary K says:

    Wow – you’ve gotten some amazing advice so far and I’m going to take it to heart as well! One thing I’ll add is err on the side of OVER sharing the stuff that comes from above. One of your jobs is to be the liason between management and your staff, and everyone likes to feel like they know what’s going on. My department flat-out told me that they like to get the minutes from my boss’s meetings. I share a lot, even if I don’t think they’ll be interested. That sharing works both ways, too – you’re the one that needs to represent the needs of your staff and department, so, like Katie said, regular staff meetings are important. We have a variety of strong personalities in our department so in one of our first staff meetings we set up our “meeting norms” – things like respectful listening, not interrupting, etc. – things you think are understood but that we can all stand to be reminded of.

    PS: lunch soon to discuss!

  12. Melissa says:

    Thank you Mary! It will take some time to learn what levels of info this new team will prefer, but I agree transparency is pretty key. Especially since they will be so laterally involved with the rest of the district, and not just situated in one arm of the organization. Lunch soon indeed!

  13. Abby Johnson says:

    This is all fabulous advice from everyone! I would also add that you should deal with any staff conflicts/issues as soon as you can. Yes, make sure you hear all sides before you act, but if you notice a problem, chances are huge that your other employees notice it, too. And if you’re not dealing with it, it can really drag morale and productivity down.

    Also, document, document, document – both bad AND GOOD things that happen! You’ll need documentation of problems for noticing negative work patterns, etc. But it’s also really good to have a record of good things for when it’s time to do employee evaluations! Depending on how your library does evals, you may be asked to provide examples of, say, teamwork, attention to detail, etc. It’s much easier to keep little notes along the way than to sit there in December and try to think back over the whole year. πŸ˜‰

  14. Melissa says:

    More great advice! Thank you, Abby! I am really hoping to manipulate my schedule so I am out and about as much as possible–seeing this team in action and not just relying on reports, so I have a good context for issues & concerns when they do come up. I love Outlook recurring tasks so this is one I should put in right away–to think over the past week and make a few notes on how things are going as the year goes by. That will definitely help!

  15. Amy says:

    Like everyone has said, I know you will be a wonderful supervisor. In addition to what has been said, I’ll add: Follow through. With communication, even if the follow through is “Still no word on x….” it keeps your team from feeling like they have to “remind” you or you will forget about what they need from you to do their job. Don’t offer to help someone with something if you aren’t really going to. And if you offer help and mean it, be proactive. No matter how flat an organizational chart is or small a staff, I always assume that the person who does my performance reviews is busier than I am (whether it’s true or not). A call or email saying “it looks like I’m going to have an hour free on Tuesday, would that be a good time for me to help you with that project I said I would?” would go a long way toward making me feel like I was truly supported. I look forward to hearing about all the great work that will come out of your new venture!

  16. Kendra says:

    Wow! I’m seconding all this fabulous advice. And bookmarking this post!

    You aren’t going to need any of this advice but the stuff on communication is key, I think. If you are thinking about communication as a priority (talking to your staff, getting to know them, sharing, etc.) all the other things will fall into place. It will be easier to address an issue with a staff member if you’ve been open and communicative with them all along. Trust me, I learned that the hard way (bad advice, grumble, grumble).

    I’m so excited for you!! Like Annie, I’m also available for any venting you feel the need to do. No matter how great your staff, your boss, your library, your life, there’s always SOMETHING that just bugs the heck out of you. That’s where we all come in. Hit us with it anytime. πŸ™‚

  17. Melissa says:

    Amy, I love the “proactive follow up” plan. And again, as someone who swears by Outlook, it’s easy to set up a reminder to myself to check in at some specific point in the future–so I’m not relying on my memory or on situational cues to prompt me. Kendra–SORRY about your bad advice! I am feeling much better with all this good advice to get me started. I agree that being open is maybe harder to establish at the beginning, but pays off big in the long run. You will definitely be hearing from me! XOXO

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