Improve supervisor performance by eliminating these 5 barriers

May 13, 2015

SupervisorWSPS consultant Gord Leffley identifies five barriers to effective supervision and how to eliminate them so that you can better protect workers and improve your business. "In a well supervised workplace," says Leffley, "you get the performance you want, but you also get better and continually improving performance. Suggestions for making improvements move quickly up the organization, and the responses also move down quickly, engaging workers and encouraging innovation."

Who is a supervisor, and what the duties are

Under Ontario's , having charge of a workplace or authority over a worker is enough for a person to be considered a supervisor. According to the act, supervisors have these specific duties:

  • make sure that workers work in compliance with the act and its regulations
  • make sure that workers use any equipment, protective devices or clothing the employer requires
  • tell workers about any workplace health and safety hazards that the supervisor is aware of
  • give workers written instructions on measures and procedures to be followed for their own protection, if prescribed by regulation
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers.

5 barriers erected by employers

According to Gord Leffley, these five barriers may endanger workers, compromise organizational performance, and put the employer and supervisor at risk of prosecution if something goes wrong:

  • Failing to designate someone as a supervisor even though you expect the person to fulfil the role. This robs the person of any authority to enforce company standards. For instance, what authority does this person actually have, how do they use it, and will they be backed up by the employer if they do?
  • Failing to give supervisors the skill sets and tools to do the job. "When I was in my 20s, I was promoted to supervisor because I was good at cleaning things in a food plant," says Leffley. "Well, none of that how-you-clean stuff helped me to manage others. It was a completely different skill set."
  • Providing inconsistent training and education among supervisors. If their health and safety training and education vary, they may not understand and interpret the job requirements in the same way. Supervisors also need to be comfortable exchanging this information across the organization.
  • Communicating only one way. Supervisors must be both the employer's face to the workers and the workers' face to the employer. If you're not responding to concerns coming up through your supervisors, concerns going down may not be responded to either.
  • Ignoring diversity in the workplace (e.g., culture, ethnicity, gender, age, and physical abilities). Supervisors who don't know how to manage a diverse workforce may reinforce stereotypes and fuel conflict. Working positively with diversity engages everybody.

Overcoming barriers

Gord Leffley offers these suggestions:

  • Accept that there will always be challenges. Training and coaching is an ongoing process, so deal with challenges as best you can.
  • Recognize the supervisors' scope of responsibility, and ensure they are able to fulfil them. One of the biggest problems for supervisors is time. Supervisors have to prioritize carefully and apply resources where they will produce the most benefit.
  • Pay attention to the messages you send to supervisors. Ask why messages did or didn’t work out, and learn from it.
  • Send consistent messages. If you're sending conflicting messages, which one will the supervisor act on?
  • Ensure supervisors know what tools they have at their disposal and how to use them. For example, don't just say there is a disciplinary procedure. Show supervisors how it works and explain the pitfalls of not following it properly.
  • Train supervisors, then mentor and coach them (see "How we can help" section below).

How we can help