Last updated
A 1940s poster from the United States Any Questions About Your Work - poster.jpg
A 1940s poster from the United States

A supervisor, or also known as foreman, boss,overseer, facilitator, monitor, area coordinator, or sometimes gaffer, is the job title of a low level management position that is primarily based on authority over a worker or charge of a workplace. [1] A supervisor can also be one of the most senior in the staff at the place of work, such as a Professor who oversees a PhD dissertation. Supervision, on the other hand, can be performed by people without this formal title, for example by parents. The term supervisor itself can be used to refer to any personnel who have this task as part of their job description.

Professor academic title at universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions in most countries

Professor is an academic rank at universities and other post-secondary education and research institutions in most countries. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences, a teacher of the highest rank.

Supervision is an act or instance of directing, managing, or oversight.


An employee is a supervisor if he/she has the power and authority to do the following actions (according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour):

  1. Give instructions and/or orders to subordinates.
  2. Be held responsible for the work and actions of other employees.

If an employee cannot do the above, legally, he or she is probably not a supervisor, but in some other category, such as a work group leader or lead hand.

A supervisor is first and foremost an overseer whose main responsibility is to ensure that a group of subordinates get out the assigned amount of production, when they are supposed to do it and within acceptable levels of quality, costs and safety.

A supervisor is responsible for the productivity and actions of a small group of employees. The supervisor has several manager-like roles, responsibilities, and powers. Two of the key differences between a supervisor and a manager are (1) the supervisor does not typically have "hire and fire" authority, and (2) the supervisor does not have budget authority.

Budget balance sheet or statement of estimated receipts and expenditures

A budget is a financial plan for a defined period, often one year. It may also include planned sales volumes and revenues, resource quantities, costs and expenses, assets, liabilities and cash flows. Companies, governments, families and other organizations use it to express strategic plans of activities or events in measurable terms.

Lacking "hire and fire" authority means that a supervisor may not recruit the employees working in the supervisor's group nor does the supervisor have the authority to terminate an employee. The supervisor may participate in the hiring process as part of interviewing and assessing candidates, but the actual hiring authority rests in the hands of a Human Resource Manager. The supervisor may recommend to management that a particular employee be terminated and the supervisor may be the one who documents the behaviors leading to the recommendation but the actual firing authority rests in the hands of a manager.

Recruitment refers to the overall process of attracting, shortlisting, selecting and appointing suitable candidates for jobs within an organization. Recruitment can also refer to processes involved in choosing individuals for unpaid roles. Managers, human resource generalists and recruitment specialists may be tasked with carrying out recruitment, but in some cases public-sector employment agencies, commercial recruitment agencies, or specialist search consultancies are used to undertake parts of the process. Internet-based technologies which support all aspects of recruitment have become widespread.

Termination of employment end of employment

Termination of employment is an employee's departure from a job and the end of an employee's duration with an employer. Termination may be voluntary on the employee's part, or it may be at the hands of the employer, often in the form of dismissal (firing) or a layoff. Dismissal or firing is typically thought to be the fault of the employee, whereas a layoff is usually done for business reasons outside the employee's performance.

Lacking budget authority means that a supervisor is provided a budget developed by management within which constraints the supervisor is expected to provide a productive environment for the employees of the supervisor's work group. A supervisor will usually have the authority to make purchases within specified limits. A supervisor is also given the power to approve work hours and other payroll issues. Normally, budget affecting requests such as travel will require not only the supervisor's approval but the approval of one or more layers of management.

As a member of management, a supervisor's main job is more concerned with orchestrating and controlling work rather than performing it directly.

Role & Responsibilities

Supervisors are uniquely positioned through direct daily employee contact to respond to employee needs, problems, and satisfaction. Supervisors are the direct link between management and the work force and can be most effective in developing job training, safety attitudes, safe working methods and identifying unsafe acts


"Doing" can take up to 70% of the time - (this varies according to the type of supervisory job - the doing involves the actual work of the department as well as the planning, controlling, scheduling, organizing, leading, etc.). [2]


Supervisors often do not require any formal education on how they are to perform their duties but are most often given on-the-job training or attend company sponsored courses. Many employers have supervisor handbooks that need to be followed. Supervisors must be aware of their legal responsibilities to ensure that their employees work safely and that the workplace that they are responsible for meets government standards.


In academia, a supervisor is a senior scientist or scholar who, along with their own responsibilities, aids and guides a postdoctoral researcher, postgraduate research student or undergraduate student in their research project; offering both moral support and scientific insight and guidance. The term is used in several countries for the doctoral advisor of a graduate student.

A doctoral advisor is a member of a university faculty whose role is to guide graduate students who are candidates for a doctorate, helping them select coursework, as well as shaping, refining and directing the students' choice of sub-discipline in which they will be examined or on which they will write a dissertation. Students generally choose advisors based on their areas of interest within their discipline, their desire to work closely with particular graduate faculty, and the willingness and availability of those faculty to work with them.


In colloquial British English, "gaffer" means a foreman, and is used as a synonym for "boss". In the UK, the term also commonly refers to sports coaches (football, rugby, etc.).

British English is the standard dialect of the English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Rugby football refers to the team sports of rugby league and rugby union.

The term is also sometimes used colloquially to refer to an old man, an elderly rustic. The word is probably a shortening of "godfather", with "ga" from association with "grandfather". The female equivalent, "gammer", came to refer colloquially to an old lady or to a gossip. [3] The use of gaffer in this way can be seen, for example, in J.R.R. Tolkien's character Gaffer Gamgee.

In 16th century English a "gaffer" was a man who was the head of any organized group of labourers. In 16th and 17th century rural England, it was used as a title slightly inferior to "Master", similar to "Goodman", and was not confined to elderly men. The chorus of a famous Australian shearer's song, The Backblocks' Shearer (also known as Widgegoeera Joe), written by W. Tully at Nimidgee, NSW (c.1900), refers to a gaffer:

Hurrah, me boys, my shears are set,
I feel both fit and well;
Tomorrow you’ll find me at my pen
When the gaffer rings the bell.
With Hayden's patent thumb guards fixed
And both my blades pulled back;
Tomorrow I go with my sardine blow
For a century or the sack!

First-line supervisors

I-O psychology research on first-line supervisors suggests that supervisors with the most productive work groups have the following qualities:

See also

Related Research Articles

Film crew group of people hired by a production company for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture

A film crew is a group of people, hired by a production company, for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture. The crew is distinguished from the cast as the cast are understood to be the actors who appear in front of the camera or provide voices for characters in the film. The crew is also separate from the producers as the producers are the ones who own a portion of either the film company or the film's intellectual property rights. A film crew is divided into different departments, each of which specializes in a specific aspect of the production. Film crew positions have evolved over the years, spurred by technological change, but many traditional jobs date from the early 20th century and are common across jurisdictions and film-making cultures.

Human resources are the people who make up the workforce of an organization, business sector, or economy. "Human capital" is sometimes used synonymously with "human resources", although human capital typically refers to a narrower effect. Likewise, other terms sometimes used include manpower, talent, labour, personnel, or simply people.

<i>Quid pro quo</i> Latin phrase meaning "something for something"

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase used in English to mean an exchange of goods or services, in which one transfer is contingent upon the other; "a favour for a favour". Phrases with similar meanings include: "give and take", "tit for tat", and "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" and "one hand washes the other".

A performance appraisal, also referred to as a performance review, performance evaluation, (career) development discussion, or employee appraisal is a method by which the job performance of an employee is documented and evaluated. Performance appraisals are a part of career development and consist of regular reviews of employee performance within organizations.

In business management, micromanagement is a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls and/or reminds the work of his/her subordinates or employees.

Management by objectives (MBO), also known as management by results (MBR), was first popularized by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. Management by objectives is the process of defining specific objectives within an organization that management can convey to organisation members, then deciding how to achieve each objective in sequence. This process allows managers to take work that needs to be done one step at a time to allow for a calm, yet productive work environment. This process also helps organization members to see their accomplishments as they achieve each objective, which reinforces a positive work environment and a sense of achievement. An important part of MBO is the measurement and comparison of an employee's actual performance with the standards set. Ideally, when employees themselves have been involved with the goal-setting and choosing the course of action to be followed by them, they are more likely to fulfill their responsibilities. According to George S. Odiorne, the system of management by objectives can be described as a process whereby the superior and subordinate jointly identify common goals, define each individual's major areas of responsibility in terms of the results expected of him or her, and use these measures as guides for operating the unit and assessing the contribution of each of its members.

A general manager or GM is an executive who has overall responsibility for managing both the revenue and cost elements of a company's income statement, known as profit & loss (P&L) responsibility. A general manager usually oversees most or all of the firm's marketing and sales functions as well as the day-to-day operations of the business. Frequently, the general manager is responsible for effective planning, delegating, coordinating, staffing, organizing, and decision making to attain desirable profit making results for an organization.

Dismissal (employment) unemployment decided by employer

Dismissal is the termination of employment by an employer against the will of the employee. Though such a decision can be made by an employer for a variety of reasons, ranging from an economic downturn to performance-related problems on the part of the employee, being fired has a strong stigma in some cultures.

Span of control is the term now used more commonly in business management, particularly human resource management. Span of control refers to the number of subordinates a supervisor has.

Theory X and Theory Y theories of human motivation

Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human work motivation and management. They were created by Douglas McGregor while he was working at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1950s, and developed further in the 1960s. McGregor's work was rooted in motivation theory alongside the works of Abraham Maslow, who created the hierarchy of needs. The two theories proposed by McGregor describe contrasting models of workforce motivation applied by managers in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication and organizational development. Theory X explains the importance of heightened supervision, external rewards, and penalties, while Theory Y highlights the motivating role of job satisfaction and encourages workers to approach tasks without direct supervision. Management use of Theory X and Theory Y can affect employee motivation and productivity in different ways, and managers may choose to implement strategies from both theories into their practices.

Organizing is the establishment of effective authority relationships among selected work, persons and work places in order for the group to work together efficiently. Or it is a process of dividing work into sections and departments.

Management consists of the planning, prioritizing, and organizing work efforts to accomplish objectives within a business organization. A management style is the particular way managers go about accomplishing these objectives. It encompasses the way they make decisions, how they plan and organize work, and how they exercise authority.

A flat organization has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives. An organization's structure refers to the nature of the distribution of the units and positions within it, also to the nature of the relationships among those units and positions. Tall and flat organizations differ based on how many levels of management are present in the organization, and how much control managers are endowed with.

Competence is the set of demonstrable characteristics and skills that enable, and improve the efficiency of, performance of a job. The term "competence" first appeared in an authored by R.W. White in 1959 as a concept for performance motivation. In 1970, Craig C. Lundberg defined the concept in "Planning the Executive Development Program". The term gained traction when in 1973, David McClelland wrote a seminal entitled, "Testing for Competence Rather Than for Intelligence". It has since been popularized by Richard Boyatzis and many others, such as T.F. Gilbert (1978) who used the concept in relationship to performance improvement. Its use varies widely, which leads to considerable misunderstanding.

Office administration is a set of day-to-day activities that are related to financial planning, record keeping & billing, personnel, physical distribution and logistics, within an organization. An employee that undertakes these activities is commonly called an office administrator or office manager, and plays a key role in any organizations infrastructure, regardless of the scale. Many administrative positions require the candidate to have an advanced skill set in the software applications Microsoft Word, Excel and Access.

Onboarding onboarding

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, is management jargon first created in the 1970s that refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors in order to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Organizational conflict, or workplace conflict, is a state of discord caused by the actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests between people working together. Conflict takes many forms in organizations. There is the inevitable clash between formal authority and power and those individuals and groups affected. There are disputes over how revenues should be divided, how the work should be done, and how long and hard people should work. There are jurisdictional disagreements among individuals, departments, and between unions and management. There are subtler forms of conflict involving rivalries, jealousies, personality clashes, role definitions, and struggles for power and favor. There is also conflict within individuals – between competing needs and demands – to which individuals respond in different ways.

Likert’s management systems are management styles developed by Rensis Likert in the 1960s. He outlined four systems of management to describe the relationship, involvement, and roles of managers and subordinates in industrial settings. He based the systems on studies of highly productive supervisors and their team members of an American Insurance Company. Later, he and Jane G. Likert revised the systems to apply to educational settings. They initially intended to spell out the roles of principals, students, and teachers; eventually others such as superintendents, administrators, and parents were included. The management systems, established by Likert, include "Exploitative Authoritative, Benevolent Authoritative, Consultative, and Participative ."

A job attitude is a set of evaluations of one's job that constitute one's feelings toward, beliefs about, and attachment to one's job. Overall job attitude can be conceptualized in two ways. Either as affective job satisfaction that constitutes a general or global subjective feeling about a job, or as a composite of objective cognitive assessments of specific job facets, such as pay, conditions, opportunities and other aspects of a particular job. Employees evaluate their advancement opportunities by observing their job, their occupation, and their employer.

Managing up and managing down is studied as part of management studies, and details how a middle manager should effectively deal with his or her manager and with his or her subordinates. Additionally, managing up on its own may be a useful skill for a subordinate who in turn does not manage anyone. It is generally considered to be distinct from "sucking up" or "kissing up" to the manager and "kicking down" to subordinates as it involves benign and straightforward influencing rather than underhand manipulation.


  1. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-02-23. Retrieved 2015-02-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Who is a Supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act? (2015) Ontario Ministry of Labour. Retrieved Feb 23, 2015.
  2. Miller, Patricia (1988). Powerful Leadership Skills for Women. p. 86.
  3. The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 5th Edition, OUP 1964

Further reading

Schultz & Schultz, Duane (2010). Psychology and work today. New York: Prentice Hall. pp. 169–170. ISBN   0-205-68358-4.