The employees have spoken. See the Best Places to Work 2023!

Career Development Tips

Supervisor vs. Manager: Key Differences

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

What is a supervisor?What is a manager?How supervisors and managers differ

Guide Overview

An introduction to supervisor vs. manager

While supervisors and managers perform authoritative roles in company operations, the two positions differ from each other. If being promoted to either position is one of your short-term or long-term goals, it's important to know how these occupations differ. You can use this information to identify the necessary skills you need to develop for each job. Read on for the supervisor vs. manager facts you need to know. 

Learn more: Use These Positive Feedback Examples to Boost Employee Morale

What is a supervisor?

A supervisor is part of a company’s management. This professional works closely with a team of subordinates and collaborates with the manager to achieve business goals. Major job duties include:

  • Implementing the decisions of managers by communicating them to team members and addressing the logistics of the implementation.
  • Overseeing employee performance of job duties by keeping track of tasks and worker schedules.
  • Ensuring projects are on track to meet targets by regularly assessing their progress and taking remedial action when necessary.
  • Identifying workers with areas for improvement and high-performing employees.
  • Analyzing relevant aspects of operations and the work environment that impact team performance and giving the manager regular reports on issues and progress.
  • Developing performance reports for team members and delivering them to the manager.
  • Using project and business goals to set short-term milestones for each worker.
  • Focusing on underperforming employees and using communication skills to address problems that impact their performance.
  • Tracking employee schedules, availability, and achievements and developing personnel records on each employee.
  • Identifying workers to recommend for internal promotions, bonuses, and commendations from senior management.
  • Assisting the departmental head during onboarding and training programs for new workplace technologies.
  • Handling customer and employee complaints and inquiries.
  • Using communication and conflict resolution skills to address employee conflicts.
  • Educating workers on corporate policies and protocols, assessing worker compliance, identifying instances of noncompliance, and reporting such instances to the manager.
  • Identifying complex workplace issues that require the manager’s attention and forwarding them to the manager.
  • Collaborating with the team and senior management to achieve project and business goals competently.

Learn more: Team Worker Skills: Definition and Examples

What is a manager?

A manager is part of a company’s executive level. This professional focuses on the big picture, which includes all the contextual factors that impact employee performance and business goals. The key job duties of a manager include:

  • Collaborating with senior management and setting goals for projects and the department.
  • Planning projects to meet business goals by identifying the resources needed to achieve targets and breaking requirements down into tasks.
  • Preparing a budget for each project, collaborating with senior management to finalize it, and applying funds to achieve objectives.
  • Delegating responsibilities in monitoring the daily performance of subordinates to the supervisor.
  • Overseeing worker performance using performance reports and personal observation.
  • Ensuring employees have a suitable work environment with regard to factors such as equipment, administrative support services, and workspaces.
  • Assessing corporate needs for new employees, working with human resources to develop recruiting materials, advertising for open positions, and conducting the recruitment process as the hiring manager.
  • Overseeing the support systems that enable employee performance in one’s department.
  • Identifying training needs in the workforce, developing training programs, and implementing them.
  • Developing new company policies and protocols that are in line with corporate values and interests.
  • Evaluating employee compliance to company policies and procedures, identifying patterns in noncompliance, taking remedial actions to motivate workers to comply, implementing disciplinary actions against repeat offenders, and improving compliance.
  • Identifying problems in company processes that negatively impact workers, developing solutions, working with senior management to obtain approval for process changes, and implementing them within the organization.
  • Maintaining successful project outcomes and smooth company operations.

Learn more: What Is Management?

How supervisors and managers differ

You can differentiate managers from supervisors and vice versa in several ways, including:

  • Focus: While a supervisor pays attention to how employees do things, a manager focuses on what they produce. Essentially, while supervisors monitor the techniques through which employees perform tasks, managers are more interested in employee outputs.
  • Objectives: Managers set goals for each project and each department. In contrast, supervisors set short-term milestones based on these targets to keep employees and projects on track to reach them.
  • Task delegation: Managers allocate tasks based on their understanding of each employee’s qualifications, while supervisors manage the logistics of these decisions.
  • Communication: Supervisors communicate more frequently with work teams than managers. This is because supervisors work directly with teams, while managers oversee output.
  • Point of contact: Usually, the supervisor is the first point of contact for their subordinates and clients who wish to speak to a company representative. The supervisor evaluates their interactions with team members and customers, identifies issues that require the manager’s authority and expertise, and forwards relevant concerns to the manager.
  • Leadership: Leadership skills are essential for both supervisors and managers, but each occupation has different leadership requirements. For example, while a supervisor resolves conflicts between workers, motivates them, and directs them on tasks, a manager sets policies for workplace behavior, develops employee engagement initiatives, and creates communication protocols. Consequently, the latter professional plays a bigger leadership role in developing the company’s culture and work environment.
  • Planning: A supervisor plans short-term activities, such as daily shift duties, based on the manager’s long-term plans. In other words, a manager’s plans guide the supervisor’s plans.
  • Performance reviews: A supervisor develops the materials, such as performance reviews, that managers use to evaluate and make decisions about staff performance.
  • Corporate hierarchy: While both the supervisor and the manager occupy positions in the upper level of a company, supervisors have less authority in all aspects of work than managers. Essentially, the manager directs the supervisor, assesses their performance, and provides support.
  • Company policies and procedures: The manager develops company policies and protocols with their superiors’ input, while the supervisor helps the manager implement company regulations.
  • Work processes: A manager assesses work processes and makes necessary changes to them. In contrast, the supervisor informs employees about core operational processes, observes process efficacy, identifies process-based problems, and informs the managers about them.
  • Discipline: A senior manager’s values direct the company’s disciplinary measures. A supervisor bases their disciplinary actions on the norms set by the manager.
  • Morale: A supervisor works directly with employees, using their leadership abilities to build morale within teams. In contrast, a manager works in the background, assessing employee morale, setting targets for improving morale, and making changes to maintain harmony and enthusiasm in the workforce.
  • Teamwork: A supervisor is often a team leader who guides the team to achieve goals. A manager builds, directs, and maintains a team without being directly involved in its members’ performance.
  • Worker recruitment: Managers recruit new workers, and the hiring manager makes all the final hiring decisions. A supervisor typically contributes to the hiring process by attending a panel interview to assess candidate compatibility and recommending the ideal applicant to the manager.
  • Worker training: While a manager develops the targets and programs for employee training, the supervisor implements those training initiatives. For example, consider a scenario where the manager of a finance department decides to train employees on a new accounting software. In this situation, the supervisor conducts the activities needed to carry out the training smoothly, ensuring the workers understand the software and can use it effectively within the training deadline set by the manager.
  • Employee rewards: A supervisor identifies high-performing employees and recommends them to the manager for rewards. In contrast, a manager develops company policies and protocols for rewarding quality workers, assesses supervisor recommendations in this area, and makes the final decisions on providing rewards.
  • Employee engagement: While both the manager and the supervisor work toward maintaining or improving employee engagement, the former builds the policies and programs needed to achieve this, while the latter implements these decisions.
  • Experience: While being hired for a manager position typically requires industry experience working as a supervisor, job seekers for supervisor positions do not require previous experience in a job-specific leadership role.
  • Benefits: Because a manager has more responsibilities and more authority than a supervisor, their average job benefits, which include salary and items such as severance pay, are likely to be significantly better than what the supervisor receives.

Learn more Understanding Pay Scales to Get What You Deserve As discussed, the position of a manager differs from that of a supervisor. However, both professionals are essential in a company to manage teams and optimize operations. Leverage what you have gained from this article to identify the skills you need for the position you prefer. Then start preparing for your next promotion. Looking for a new job? Start here 

Related Career Guides