Is Being a Supervisor Right for You?


Tis the season for professional development. Fiscal Year 2016 is winding down and it is an opportune time to be trained! Last week, I completed a training sponsored by my agency’s learning institute entitled So You Want To Be A Supervisor.

When I registered for the course, I was reminded of the popular TV show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” where contestants answer a series of multiple-choice trivia questions for a chance to win lots of money. You may recall from having watched the game show that going for the big bucks carries tremendous risk of losing a grand prize. Stakes for fearless contestants are high and they often rely on “lifelines” to answer difficult questions in their quest to the top, much like supervisors or bosses.

Early in the training, the facilitator presented the first ice breaker. She asked us to write two words that describe our interest in supervisory work on an index card. Following, we were instructed to connect with other participants and engage in conversation about our two words. Mine were “inspire” and “motivate.” This “flash networking” exercise provided great insight for me as to my own aspirations for a future supervisory role.

Throughout the day, I came to realize the full scope and requirements for federal supervisory positions as defined by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Taking the training made me appreciate my past and current supervisor(s) even more.

In our careers, we’ve all had great bosses and not-so-great bosses. However, we can all learn from our supervisors. For me, I have certainly expanded my knowledge and increased my skill-set from very diverse leadership styles. Whether or not a past supervisor resembled Miranda Priestly, an icy editor-in-chief for a fashion magazine who used bizarre and humiliating tactics to manage staff in the film “The Devil Wears Prada,” I worked my tail off to get the job done and make my leader and the full team shine.

It’s very easy to criticize or disagree with decisions made by leaders; however, we are not fully aware, many times, of the immense pressure they face on a daily basis. Being a federal supervisor is a tremendous responsibility. According to OPM, there are 10 competencies most important for supervisory work:

  1. Accountability
  2. Customer service
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Flexibility
  5. Integrity/honesty
  6. Interpersonal skills
  7. Oral communication
  8. Problem solving
  9. Resilience
  10. Written communication

Additionally, OPM identifies a number of leadership competencies that include but are not limited to: conflict management, developing others, external awareness, influencing/negotiating, strategic thinking, team building, and vision. These competencies resonate with me most; particularly, the developing others and team building aspects.

I am an introvert. I enjoy observing others and while I prefer working independently, I have learned through the years how to work well in team-based settings. I know my strengths and am also aware of the areas that may benefit from strengthening.

One of the things I appreciate most about my current leadership is their ability to rally the troops. On a quarterly basis, we celebrate one another and let our hair down during a late afternoon retreat at a local restaurant. This gives us the opportunity to bond and catch up over light refreshments during our personal time. As teams grow or shrink, it is important that we check in with one another. This call to action by my leaders convinces me that they truly care about us as individuals and that we are not defined by the spreadsheets we maintain.

If you have not yet considered whether or not you are supervisory material, reflect inward. Ask yourself why or why not. Challenge yourself to grow. If you decide that the path to supervisory work is not for you, that is okay too. Perhaps it may not be your time. Just do the best you can. Only you can be the expert of your portfolio. Own it and take pride in the work you accomplish daily. The American public is depending on you!

Disclaimer: The opinions, references, and views expressed in this post are those of the guest blogger and do not reflect the official policy or position of the agency where she is currently employed.

Yesenia Flores Díaz is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

Over the years, I’ve learned that not only is knowledge power, but power is knowledge. In other words, those who supervise and manage us often have privileged access to information that the rest of us don’t. As a consequence, we can often overestimate the skills required for supervision/managing, because their strategies and plans are based on more information than the rest of us have. It’s a bit like having thumbtacks, a spoon, and masking tape, and admiring the handiwork of someone with a full set of power tools and thinking “I could never build what they do”. Of course not; THEY have the tools needed. That’s not a statement of resentment. Rather, people rise to occasions and opportunities when provided with the appropriate resources; and those resources tend to come with the role. So don’t sweat it.

A second area warranting consideration is people-management. And a big part of that is assigning work to people in a manner that leverages their interests and strengths. Assuming one has not hired badly, so-called “poor performers” should never occur. Most times they are meticulously created by supervisors that have not assigned work in a fashion that engages employees. It doesn’t have to be bliss every single day, but there needs to be sufficiently frequent opportunities to feel justified in one’s efforts so as to sustain motivation. Which means you need to know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses, interests, how long it has been since those were tapped, and how to fill in the gaps whenever doldrums are encountered and there is nothing especially compelling to do.

Ironically, one will never see in virtually any list of leadership competencies the two characteristics just about any employee desires from those they report to: wisdom and courage. Employees appreciate having a supervisor that feels like their champion, rather than merely their boss. It’s easier and more comforting to work for someone who seems like they would always do the right thing and make the right choice.

Personally, I have studiously avoided the supervisor/management path. A close friend, and former class-mate of similar reasoning, who was president of a large university and now heads up an educational think-tank, once asked me, “Mark, don’t you think they could *use* someone like yourself in those positions?”. A good question, and one which deserves serious consideration. At this point, it’s a bit too late, career-wise, to answer it differently than I have. But it may still be early enough in the game for others to ask themselves that question, and come to a suitable answer.

Yesenia Diaz

Excellent points that are appreciated and well taken, Mark. Thank you for taking the time to read my piece and reflect in such a thoughtful manner.

Alberto Principe

Congratulations on your promotion Yesenia and welcome to management. May your future be bright and may you continue setting the example for others to follow.

Yesenia Diaz

Thank you for reading and responding to my work, Alberto. I appreciate your congratulatory wishes but they are premature. Currently, I am in the crossroads deciding which direction to take. However, which way I turn, my internal compass will keep me balanced and grounded. I wish your present and future has the same success.