Roles and Responsibilities of a Supervisor

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business and Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

(This document is referenced from Basic Overview of Supervision. Note that the overview also describes typical responsibilities of a supervisor.)

Sections of This Topic Include

Roles of Supervisors

Advocate for Organization
Advocate for Employee

Responsibilities of Supervisors

Before Reviewing Responsibilities, There are Two Considerations
Personnel Policies and Procedures
Employee Training and Development
Employee Performance Management (goals, delegating, feedback, performance reviews, etc.)

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A good supervisor places a high priority on coaching employees. Good coaching involves working with employees to establish suitable goals, action plans and time lines. The supervisor delegates and also provides ongoing guidance and support to the employee as they complete their action plans. Rarely can job goals be established without considering other aspects of an employee's life, e.g., time available for training, career preferences, personal strengths and weaknesses, etc. A supervisor is sometimes confronted with walking a fine line between being a supervisor and the employee's confidant.


Usually the supervisor understands the organization and the employee's profession better than the employee. Consequently, the supervisor is in a unique position to give ongoing advice to the employee about job and career. The employee can look to the supervisor as a model for direction and development. An effective mentor-mentee relationship requires the supervisor to accept the responsibility of mentorship. A good supervisor can be a priceless addition to the career of an employee.

Advocate for Organization

Often, the supervisor is the first person to tell employees about new policies and programs from management. It's not uncommon that employees are confused or frustrated by these new actions, and need further clarification and support from supervisors. In the rapidly changing world of today's organizations, it can be a major challenge to present new programs to employees without their being frustrated or even cynical. The supervisor must be authentic, yet tactful.

Advocate for Employee

The supervisor is often responsible to represent the employee's requests and to management, along with also representing the employee's case for deserving a reward. For example, if an employee deserves a promotion, the supervisor often must justify the case for promotion to the supervisor's supervisor, as well. If the employee has a rather unique personal situation that warrants special consideration by the rest of management, the supervisor must explain this situation and how it can be handled. It's not unusual for employees to sometimes see the supervisor as part of "management" while at other times seeing the supervisor as a personal friend.

Return to Basic Overview of Supervision


Before Reviewing Responsibilities, There Are Two Considerations

Often, Supervisors Hold Two Jobs

Note that in some types of organizations, e.g., a matrix organization, the supervisor attends solely to the responsibilities of the supervisoral role. However, in many organizations, the supervisor is responsible not only for supervisoral responsibilities, but also for product-line responsibilities, that is, to get a product or service out the door. Products and services generate revenue. Consequently, the role of supervision sometimes takes a "background" role to the product-line role.

Support of Human Resources Department

Note that if the organization is large enough, the supervisor is fortunate to have a staff department, e.g., Human Resources (HR) Department, that directs or supports many of the activities carried out by supervisors. The supervisor still carries out the supervisory responsibilities, but HR is a tremendous help. For example, HR guides and supports activities in staffing, development and management of personnel policies and records, training and development, performance appraisals and performance problems, career counseling, organization development, etc. HR provides this help and ensures that all activities conform to current rules and regulations.

Personnel Policies and Procedures

The supervisor is usually responsible to ensure that employees follow the organization's policies and procedures, e.g., for sick time, personal leave, overtime, contact with the media or press, confidentiality about organization information, etc. Concurrently, the supervisor must follow policies and procedures for carrying out supervisory responsibilities, e.g., policies and procedures for hiring, firing, promotions, etc. (See Personnel Policies, Handbooks and Records.)


Supervisors regularly review the needs of their employees. Consequently, they're often the first to notice the need for a new position in the organization. In this case, the supervisor opens a new role by getting authorization from upper management. This often requires communication and justification for funds to fill the new position. The supervisor reviews advertisements for job candidates, reviews resumes and conducts interviews. The supervisor recommends who should be hired from among job candidates and ensures a job offer is made to the most suitable candidate. There's usually a great deal of paperwork, e.g., a job application, starting a personnel file, providing an employee manual, salary and tax forms, etc. Finally, the supervisor must ensure the new employee has adequate facilities, e.g., desk, computer, office supplies, etc. (See Staffing.)

Employee Training and Development

Supervisors ensure new employees are oriented to the organization, its policies, facilities, etc. They develop training plans with employees to ensure employees have the necessary expertise to carry out their jobs. They provide ongoing guidance to employees, often in the forms of ongoing coaching and counseling. Supervisors often provide career counseling, as well, to help employees develop and advance in their careers. (Note that there's a trend that employees are being help responsible for their own career planning, while supervisors provide career counseling to help the employee in their effort.) (See Training Basics for Supervisors and Learners.)

Employee Performance Management

Supervisors ensure that job descriptions accurately record the primary responsibilities, qualifications and terms for each job role in their group. They set performance standards for tasks, jobs and roles of their employees. They ensure employees have appropriate and realistic job goals. They provide ongoing feedback about the employee's performance. They conduct performance appraisals on a regular basis, including assessing how the employee has performed and what they can do to improve in their jobs. They develop performance improvement plans if an employee's performance is not adequate. In addition, supervisors provide rewards for employee accomplishments. (See Employee Performance Management.)

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