Go from Team Leader to Decision Maker by understanding the differences between the roles

At some point in your career, there could come a desire to climb the ladder to leadership. You may be curious about the rungs on that ladder. Which roles are you going to have to climb through to get to the top? It's likely that one of those stops along your career journey will be in a supervisory position. Does that mean you're a manager? Is a supervisor also a manager? The answers are fascinating, because while a supervisor isn't a manager – yet – there is some crossover. 

So, with that said, let's dive into the world of supervisor vs manager roles and explore the key differences and skills you need for each and both, starting with definitions.

What is a supervisor?

A supervisor is like a rockstar in a music group. The rockstar is the one responsible for leading the other musicians through the concert. If the star slows down or speeds up, the folks in the band have to adjust. The same can be said for a supervisor in business. The success of your team depends on you. You'll need skills in these areas:

  1. Operations: It's your job to make sure every member of your team does what they're supposed to do on a daily basis. This includes answering questions, providing guidance, and supporting the processes, policies, and procedures of the company. 

  2. Communication: You have to be able to clearly convey to your team what they need to do, how they should do it, when, and why. This makes communication and other interpersonal skills vitally important to your success as a supervisor. 

  3. Performance management: On top of giving instructions, you have to be able to provide constructive feedback to your team members. When you accomplish this feat, you can boost morale and resolve conflicts in a way that enhances productivity. 

  4. Juggling: As a supervisor, you have to be able to juggle multiple tasks and priorities, including deadlines. Not only is it your duty to ensure that your team is doing what they're supposed to do, they have to perform their tasks on time. It's your role to ensure they do so. 

  5. Change management: If there is one thing that's true in life and career, it's that things will change. When you get to a supervisor-level role, you're a master of change.

What is a manager?

Now, let's step up a rung to the role of manager. You're the person who gets the band their gigs, the driving force behind bringing things together. When you get to the level of manager, you're responsible for the big picture and your responsibilities go beyond the team level. Your main focus is on aligning outcomes with organizational goals. Your skills will include:

  1. Strategy development: You develop and implement plans that drive the organization forward. It's your job to allocate resources, budget wisely, and make decisions that shape the direction of the entire ship.

  2. Leadership: If anything can be called your superpower, leadership is it! You inspire and motivate your team members, guiding them toward greatness. Your ability to build strong relationships with stakeholders is invaluable in fostering collaboration and achieving collective goals.

  3. Out-of-the-box thinking: If leadership is your superpower, then problem-solver is your middle name. You're able to look at a challenging situation and come up with solutions that benefit the entire company - ones others wouldn't even think of.

  4. Team empowerment: You understand how to delegate tasks and can put your teams to work to accomplish things effectively. On top of that, you understand that to continue to get the best out of your teams, you have to let them shine. As a manager, nothing is all about you – it's about engaging your team in a way that benefits the company. 

  5. Executive liaison: You're often the bridge between the C-leaders - those people with the three-letter titles - and your teams. This puts you in a unique position to relay team problems as the voice of the team. It also allows you to champion their achievements. Likewise, you're charged with translating executive decisions to the team members. 

Key differences – supervisors vs. managers

Great, so supervisors lead teams and managers lead teams. That really clears things up, doesn't it? The difference is really in the hierarchy, decision-making authority, and scopes of responsibility as they relate to the overall organization. Here's the lowdown:

  • Hierarchy: When you're talking about climbing the career ladder, supervisors are basically one rung below managers. Supervisors oversee a single team of people, while managers are in charge of multiple teams or whole divisions. 

  • Decision-making authority: Supervisors can absolutely make decisions within the realm of their own team's domain, ensuring that daily tasks are completed and goals are achieved. On the other hand, managers' decision-making authorities extend beyond the immediate team and encompass strategic planning, budgeting, and stakeholder relations that affect the company as a whole. 

  • Accountability: Managers and supervisors alike are held accountable for things. However, supervisors' accountability begins and ends where it affects their individual team. Managers are held to a higher standard and are answerable for achieving key performance indicators, meeting departmental targets, and driving overall company success.

The burning question – can supervisors be managers?

The short answer to this question is, “Yes!” Just like a square is a rectangle, supervisors can be managers. Given that the line between supervisors and managers can sometimes blur, it's not uncommon for supervisors to take on managerial duties. If you draw out a supervisor vs manager Venn diagram, you will definitely see some overlap. 

This is especially true in small organizations, where people at all levels typically wear multiple hats. Not only would a supervisor in one of these environments lead a team, but they'd also take on managerial functions, sort of becoming a jack- (or jackie-) of-all-trades. This allows someone in a supervisory position to demonstrate leadership and management potential much more quickly than their counterpart in a larger organization. 

There could also be times when a supervisor would take on managerial duties for a specific project that requires higher-level decision-making. Then, a supervisor could act as an interim manager. Sometimes, the person in a supervisory position simply has more experience with a thing than the manager does, so the supervisor takes on both roles. 

No matter which situation you find yourself in, the main goal is always to demonstrate leadership potential and competence in handling larger responsibilities. Continuously develop your skills and embrace these dual-role opportunities to propel your career faster. 

How to advance from supervisor to manager

If you don't have the opportunity to act as supervisor and manager, then you'll have to climb to that next rung on the corporate ladder. Advancing to a managerial role requires strategic planning, professional development, and a sprinkle of ambition. Take these steps to progress:

  • Develop leadership skills: Find training programs, workshops, or mentorship opportunities to enhance your abilities in motivating and inspiring others. Work on effective communication, decision-making, and delegation skills to let the leaders of your company know you're ready to make the transition. 

  • Take on additional responsibilities: Yes, more work sucks! But stretching your legs and demonstrating a willingness to go the extra mile can pay you back in dividends. Look for signs of growth, new projects, or changes within your company that may create opportunities for advancement. Be proactive in expressing your interest in taking on more responsibilities.

  • Network: Build relationships with higher-level managers and leaders within your organization. Attend company events, engage in cross-functional collaborations, and express your aspirations for career advancement. By being visible and making connections, you increase your chances of being considered for future managerial openings.

Chart your course to success!

Your career isn't just about titles. Supervisor vs manager doesn't really matter as long as you're embracing new opportunities and challenges that come your way. By leveraging your unique style and working with passion, the titles will come. That is, after all, what career progression is all about – combining your personality with experience and skills to be the best for your company. 

Take the knowledge you have about the difference between supervisors and managers, let your leadership abilities shine, and make your mark on the world. Professional growth awaits. 

If you're ready to take the next step on your career journey – whether that's into a supervisor or a manager role – TopResume can provide a free resume review to make sure your most important career document is up to the challenge. Submit your resume for a free review today!

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