What is a Supervisor?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A supervisor holds a job position that can vary tremendously from company to company. In many businesses, the supervisor’s job is to oversee the actual work the company produces, train new employees in their jobs, give performance reviews, and create work schedules. The supervisor in some settings may do some of the work, or they may merely implement management’s wishes and work on employee training and production, acting as a go-between for employees and managers, and occasionally assist with work as needed.

The position can hold a lot of responsibility or relatively little depending upon each company’s definition. Sometimes the supervisor is merely the lead person for a particular section of a company. In sales, supervisors commonly are required to sell merchandise too, and occasionally, the title supervisor is given to trustworthy personnel in retail stores who handle a few more tasks than the average sales person, like granting returns and doing the books for the night.

In larger companies, supervisors can have numerous tasks. They may need to address employee problems directly, taking disciplinary action when necessary. They’re often involved in the hiring process of new employees and may sit on a panel with managers and other supervisors to make choices about who gets hired. They implement employee safety recommendations, and naturally they give orders as requested by heads or managers of companies.


Most supervisors don’t directly get to hire or fire people. At least they don’t necessarily make the decision of who stays or goes at a company. Many do have the disagreeable task of conveying the news to employees that their services are no longer required, and may take care of any last minute details associated with terminating a person’s employment.

A supervisor also does not usually get to make decisions about employee raises, except that they may recommend an amount to managers based on employee performance. If a company decides not to give raises during a certain year, the supervisor can’t override this decision, since he or she doesn’t have control over the budget. Sometimes employees view these “overseers” as the bearer of bad messages, when a company is not doing well and workers are not given even minimum pay increases.

It is true that supervisors often have to be “the bad guy” in an organization, and have many disagreeable tasks to perform to appease upper level management. Even a good supervisor can be disliked by employees as a pawn of the management, and be at the same time, under constant pressure from the management to improve work output. It can be a disagreeable position in some cases, because it may not win you a lot of friends.

The term middle management may refer to supervisors with a lot of power, but generally, this position is just a step above the average employee. He or she fields employee complaints and tries to take legitimate issues to management, but this doesn’t mean the supervisor has any control over outcome of complaints or noted issues. It can be a hard position to have in some cases, though many enjoy the tasks of training new workers, scheduling work, and helping to groom or develop other employees for promotion. Pay is usually higher than for that of the average employee, which can provide additional incentive to take a supervisory job. The position may be viewed as the first step toward upper level management jobs.


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Discuss this Article

Post 8

can anyone tell me what the difference is between an acting supervisor and a supervisor, if there is one? acting supervisor is still doing the job and getting a supervisors pay?

Post 7

I am a supervisor myself and I tell my team all the time that I am not against them but that seems to be the case with them. They expect me to resolve all their complaints and I am not in charge of doing it. All I can do is to address my manager and always try to demonstrate the importance of resolving the issue.

Post 6

what can i do? my employer refuses to pay monies owed to me for working overtime. they have an eight month history of paying but because of the dollar figure i am now reclassified as a manager. my offer of employment clearly indicates that i am skilled service but they refuse to pay. my chief just lets it happen

Post 5

Shouldn't your supervisor know your job? Mine has no idea what I do and has to ask me how to do things all the time.

Post 4

The monthly production report requires compilation of figures as well as a summary of activities in your department. On the lines below, write a measurable, clear and attainable objective for this task. Be sure to indicate, if possible, quality, quantity, cost/value and time factors.

Post 3

assuming that you are not constrained by any temporary circumstances or company policy, list the items on your to do list that you feel ca be delegated. Mark high priority next to the one that seems to have the greatest priority

Post 2

Hi Queen,

That's a delicate question. Under certain circumstances it's imperative that you take an issue to a manager, but if you have a supervisor that is being very difficult, he/she may make your life difficult thereafter. Incidences of sexual harassment, theft, abuse, etc, should always be taken to the manager if they are being perpetuated by a supervisor.

It can be worthwhile to have a passing acquaintance with the manager, in case there is ever a problem you do wish to discuss. It also may be important to really understand how a manager will receive your complaints. But there are certain issues that you could definitely address with your supervisor's boss.

These include:

You'd like to advance in the

company, possibly becoming a supervisor yourself-- schedule a meeting with the manager

You'd like to be paid more, and the supervisor doesn't have the discretionary power to make this decision

There is an ongoing problem, abuse of power, harassment, bullying, et cetera,

that you have first tried to resolve with the supervisor and cannot.

It's always a judgment call, and only you can decide how receptive a general manager will be to your comments and complaints, or an issue in contention.

Good Luck!

Post 1

If your supervisor and you have a disagreement with each other and you say that "we should take this matter to the manager over both of you" do you think you have over stepped your boundaries?

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