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Improve supervisor performance by eliminating these 5 barriers

Improve supervisor performance by eliminating these 5 barriers

Supervising is a tough job. It’s also pivotal to establishing a safe workplace. “A good supervisor is an integral part of a healthy workplace,” says Ted Balazs, a Health and Safety Consultant with WSPS. Good supervisors engage workers, encourage innovation, and create a healthy work environment.  “They are in leadership roles and provide guidance in the workplace. For example, they are often responsible for communicating hazards, ensuring procedures are followed, and managing quality assurance. They are responsible for all kinds of things that can have a significant impact on the organization,” says Ted. 

In order for supervisors to be effective, they need the proper tools and training. They also need to be able to interact comfortably with various personalities. “Supervisors need to be skilled at building relationships,” says Ted. “Good supervisors will foster relationships with management, direct reports, MLITSD inspectors, and their counterparts in other departments.”  

Understand the supervisor’s duties under OHSA

Having charge of a workplace or authority over other workers is enough for someone to be considered a supervisor, regardless of their actual job title. Before appointing someone into a supervisory role, employers should be familiar with the duties of a supervisor as outlined in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). 

Supervisors must:

  • 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.

Tackle these 5 barriers to success

Watch out for these five barriers to effective supervision that may endanger workers, compromise organizational performance, and put the employer and supervisor at risk of prosecution if something goes wrong.

  1. Failing to designate someone as a supervisor even though you expect the person to fulfil the role. This robs the person of tools they need 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?

  2. Failing to give supervisors the skill sets and tools to do the job. People are often promoted to supervisory positions because they excel at their job. However, managing others requires a completely different skill set. In addition to the technical skills required for the job, ensure your supervisors receive training in how to manage people and communicate effectively.

  3. Providing inconsistent training and education among supervisors. If the health and safety training and education supervisors receive varies from department to department, they may not understand and interpret the job requirements in the same way. Supervisors need consistent training, so that everyone is on the same page. They also need to be comfortable exchanging this information across the organization. “If there’s a work refusal or an accident investigation, the supervisor will be involved. They need to be prepared to deal with these situations,” says Ted.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

Overcome the barriers with these expert tips

In addition to tackling the five barriers above through training, Ted offers these additional tips to develop successful supervisors.

  • Recognize supervisors’ scope of responsibility and ensure they have the capacity to fulfil it. One of the biggest problems for supervisors is time. Supervisors have to prioritize carefully and apply resources where they will produce the most benefit. Make sure your expectations are realistic.

  • Pay attention to the messages you send to supervisors. Ask why certain messages did or didn’t work well and learn from what your supervisors tell you. If you’re sending conflicting messages, your supervisors will not know which ones to act on. If different departments are receiving different messages, this could cause confusion and possibly conflicts. Consistency is key.

  • 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. It’s imperative that supervisors have a solid understanding of the hierarchy of legal roles and responsibilities in the workplace. Review sections 25-28 of the act to understand the role of the employer, supervisor, and worker. Employers should also be familiar with Regulation 297 – Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training.

How WSPS can help


Connect with a WSPS expert to learn more about how to support your supervisors. 


Ensure your supervisors have completed the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development's Supervisor health and safety awareness course. It’s required by law, and available at no cost.

Manager and Supervisor Due Diligence Training - Ontario | WSPS

Supervisor Training: In-Person & Virtual, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights & More | WSPS

Supervisor Responsibilities & Due Diligence | WSPS (eCourse)

The Effective Supervisor (classroom; in-person or virtual; 2 days)

Health and Safety for Managers and Supervisors (eCourse, 7 hours)

Office Health & Safety | WSPS (eCourse)

La santé et la sécurité au bureau | WSPS (eCourse)


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