Top 5 Challenges for First-Time Supervisors

This week we focus on the challenges often faced by those stepping into first line management roles. Never an easy thing to do, but it is important for everyone involved to make the transition smooth. Get it wrong and these might be some of the consequences:

  • Reduced self confidence/self esteem of your newly promoted supervisor as they struggle with the responsibilities of the role.
  • Supervisor finds transition so tough they subsequently resign.
  • Day to day supervision and management of staff is disrupted or neglected resulting in increased absence costs, reduced productivity etc.
  • Increase in grievances and grumbles by employees who are struggling to adjust to a new supervisor. An unsettled environment often creates conflict.
  • Reduced staff morale due to badly managed changes. This can in turn lead to reduced quality and customer care.
  • Others might in future reject offers of promotion to first line manager role having seen what can go wrong. This will mess up your succession planning and also might increase your recruitment costs.

So if those are some of the possible consequences, what are the challenges and of course, our ideas for solutions?

Challenge  1 – I don’t know if I can do it

Just because you are great at meeting and greeting visitors does not mean you will be great at supervising the reception team. It’s a different skill set entirely. This is seldom discussed though when an employee is offered a supervisory job. Perhaps the employer just assumes the employee fully understands how different the role will be.

New supervisors are unproven. Not just to you, the employer, but to themselves as well. This creates the first challenge: I don’t know if I can do it.

When supporting new managers, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that many will have huge self doubt about whether they will be successful in this new role.


Your Time. Take time to regularly boost their confidence, provide moral support, reassure them of your support, provide daily coaching as they begin to develop their skills.

Acknowledge. Talk to them about their fears. Let them know it is normal and even big, bold CEOs in their first few months in a new role will often speak to their business coaches about ‘what if people find out I’m not up to it?’.

Guidance. Get them to watch the Amy Cuddy TED talk on ‘your body language shapes who you are’. Watch it here.

Challenge 2 – I don’t know how to do it

Responding to instructions is a different skill set to assessing requirements and then giving instructions! Not everyone knows where the fine line is between assertiveness and aggression and in our desire to assert our authority in a new role many of us can step over the line at times.

Not everyone understands how they come across to others. Not everyone is self aware.

Most of us are not great listeners and haven’t yet been told this is a critical skill we need to learn.

Head talk revolves around: How can we support our staff with their problems, whilst retaining our distance to maintain authority? How do you get your staff to respect you?

Also, how do new supervisors come to terms with the fact they might not always be liked? Tough talking and tough decisions will be needed sometimes. Being told you are no longer one of the inner team is tough to take.


Training. Soft skills training across the first 12 months of being a supervisor on questioning and listening skills, confident communication, motivating and engaging staff, confident delegation, self presentation, leading a team.

Ongoing Support. Daily coaching from their manager to ensure everything that is being learnt in the formal training sessions is being put into practice day in day out.

Mentoring or Buddying. Appointing a mentor to learn from and share challenges with or otherwise setting up a buddying scheme.

Challenge 3 – I don’t know what to do

A new employee is given an induction, shown where everything is and told what is required. When you are promoted to a new role, people seldom have formal inductions meaning that often they are left not knowing.

Conducting performance reviews, interviewing, doing a return to work interview after a period of absence, managing discipline, filling in the HR and payroll paperwork, these are all things that new supervisors often struggle with. They need to be taught what to do and what is required as understanding processes and developing the necessary knowledge seldom happens by osmosis.


Guidance. Provide clear guidance on where to find all the relevant paperwork, documents, management guides and employment policies.

Induction. Don’t neglect the induction just because they are not new into the business.

Removal of Assumptions. Don’t just assume they have the skill level you think they have, the computer literacy you expect, the ability to problem solve, the self motivation. Talk to them about all these things and make sure you identify any basics that need to be covered off before progressing further with their development.

Training. 1. On what is in the policies (e.g. absence, holidays, sickness, appraisals, grievances, social media), why it is in there, its relevance and importance and how they need to manage staff in line with those policies. 2. On the soft skills needed to manage in line with these policies (e.g. questioning, listening, assertiveness, problem solving, conflict management.)

Review and Support. Constantly review how they are doing and what is working well and not so well. Don’t leave it until their first performance review in 12 months time to hear from them that they are really struggling or for you to berate them for failing to achieve targets.

Challenge 4 – It’s hard jumping the fence

Learning how to be in a group, but maintain sufficient distance from the group to be able to supervise the group members is really hard and a constant learning curve.

What newly promoted supervisors sometimes feel they have lost is the camaraderie.

Any significant job change can result in feelings of losing something, as well as venturing into the unknown.

Your supervisor has jumped from familiar territory into unfamiliar territory. They may well be terrified of what that might mean in the long term, whilst outwardly excited at the opportunity presented.


Understanding Motivation. Take a look at Maslow’s pyramid to remind yourself about people’s self esteem needs. Most people want and need to feel part of a group. Promoting them to supervisor can take them out of the group which in turn can affect their motivation. Find ways to ensure their self esteem needs are met during this transition.

Emotional Responses to Change. Take a look at the Change Curve if you want to see what their emotional responses might be to losing what they had. However odd it may sound, you may need to help them deal with the bereavement ‘bit’ as well as the self confidence ‘bit’.

Buddying. Nothing is ever as hard if you have someone working with you than when you are working on your own so buddying could well help solve this challenge.

Challenge 5 – I feel isolated

When you are neither one of the team nor a fully integrated member of management, then it can be pretty isolating. You’re not one of them, but you’re not one of us either. How would that make you feel?

What happens when people feel isolated? They often become demotivated, or disengaged at work, they might even resign. Worse still they might just withdraw into themselves, get depressed or visibly stressed. They might then go off on long term sick.


Take time. Time to make sure they don’t feel isolated. Talk to them, listen to them, give them moral support and most if all never just leave them alone for days or weeks on end to just get on with it.

Bullying If you have managers who are bullying the new supervisor simply because they like to flex their muscles and show them who has the upper hand, then identify the bullies and stamp on them hard.

Assertiveness. New people on the block often take a while to speak up in meetings, assert themselves. During this initial period they might feel isolated as a result. So take time to invite them into discussions and involve them in decisions rather than expect them to wade straight in.

No-one is born with great supervisory or management skills. Many of the skills have to be learned and developed. Help your supervisors and managers achieve their full potential using our trained and testing training. Courses available, but also materials and train the trainer so you can maintain control and keep costs down.

Supervisory Skills Programme (4 Day)
Management Development Programme (6 days)

Plus courses and training materials (Bags of learning) designed for supervisors and managers on:

  • Managing absence
  • Managing discipline
  • Performance reviews
  • Managing performance
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Managing Change
  • Coaching Skills
  • Motivating, engaging and retaining staff
  • Developing Independent thinking Skills

Call us for details 01425 479888, or visit our store.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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