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Do Team Leaders and Supervisors Really Need Leadership Skills?


It was not that long ago that leadership was something expected at the executive level. Supervisors and team leaders were thought of as the sergeants of the workforce. Their primary job was to direct their staff and fulfill missions specified by upper management. Those duties were part of a business model which is now outdated. Supervisors and team leaders have to be more than just traffic directors. Increasingly, the job description is calling for serious leadership skills.

The Elimination of Management Levels

Multiple layers of management have difficulty responding to changes in a fast pace global economy. Communication delays can give the competition an edge. To respond better to a very fluid market place conditions, management hierarchies are being reduced and levels of management have been eliminated. The reduction in the organizational bureaucracy means that more autonomy is being given to teams and self-directed units. The skills necessary to be effective leaders are becoming mandatory parts of the job description for those in lower level authority. This can cause a challenge for supervisors who are used to planning and controlling. They must take on responsibilities for directing staff they were once not required to accept. It is not all a cumbersome burden, however. The need for leadership skills also creates certain opportunities for these people that may not have been there before.

 Leadership Skills Needed by Supervisors and Team Leaders

A number of new workplace talents must become part of the toolbox for modern-day supervisors and team leaders. Here are a few that are absolutely essential:


It is no longer sufficient to just provide instructions and relay orders from above. Supervisors and team leaders will be given the task of motivating the team forward. This means that supportive behaviors such as recognizing success and teaching others will be part of daily activity;


Many team leaders enjoy rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in the process. Although that doesn’t have to be totally discouraged, the same people must learn to delegate. The ability to hold people accountable to set objectives can put a little distance between a supervisor/team leader and subordinates but it is necessary. These lower-level leaders must rely more on subordinates doing things themselves;


This includes the ability to show empathy and resolve conflicts that may arise within the work unit. Communication skills are also extremely important. A supervisor or team leader is no longer just the expert in the area. He or she will be constantly interacting with support. Not being able to effectively communicate is going to cripple efforts to lead.


Under the old business model supervisors and team leaders executed solutions determined by higher management. Under a flatter corporate structure, both must be able to identify problems and implement solutions. This is going to add a fair amount of responsibility to a supervisor or team leaders work load. The ability to pass the buck up the line will be decreased.

Challenges Create Opportunities

The nature of the global, information centred, economy has forced supervisors to accept responsibilities that traditionally were not of any concern. This is now a fact of organizational life. Smaller units will be increasingly asked to be productive in autonomous and semi-autonomous work environments. Supervisors and team leaders will have to be effective leaders for the new paradigm to be successful.  It will take a number of them some time to develop the interpersonal skills and cognitive ability to successfully be leaders. This does not mean that the new challenges do not carry with them some very bright opportunities. Indeed, supervisors and team leaders can see their new responsibilities as very beneficial to their individual careers

What are being asked of them are qualities that are required of upper-level managers. A supervisor or team leader who has an understanding of the long-term picture can quickly see that by cultivating leadership skills on the lower level, they are going to be made ready for greater responsibility. It is therefore their best interests to actively assume roles of leadership and learn how to be the best possible.

Leadership skills will generate opportunities for advancement. Supervisors and team leaders committed to becoming better leaders will be rewarded by the organization as time progresses. While the idea of supervisor leadership roles may initially appear daunting, the same new talents can lead to executive level status with its incumbent rewards.

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