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Transitioning From IT Expert to IT Supervisor: Part I

“Congratulations! You’ve just been promoted to Supervisor.” These are the words that many people long to hear because it typically means more money. However, it also means more responsibility and a change in the kinds of things you are expected to do on a daily basis. Excitement and challenges await you, but are you prepared to EXCEL as a first-time IT supervisor?

This article is not meant to be all-inclusive, but it will cover the highlights. Let’s start with leading a team of people when you’ve been promoted over them.

Promotion Over Peers

You are an IT expert who has been promoted over your peers and now you have to lead them.  They may resent the fact that you were selected for the job instead of them.  Or, they may feel that now that you’re the boss that you will no longer be their friend.  Start by meeting with your staff immediately and discuss what’s happened.  Here are some ideas to help you get started.

• Acknowledge the fact that some of them also applied for the job and were qualified.

• Tell them how much you are looking forward to working with them in a new capacity. In a positive and friendly manner, discuss how your role has changed.

• Help them to understand that you haven’t changed; only your role has changed.

• Because your role has changed, your relationship with them has changed.

• Tell them how much their friendship and support means to you.

• Let them know that one of your goals is to be fair and impartial toward everyone.

• In return for your support of them, you are asking for their cooperation and willingness to do a good job for you.

Establish Your Authority

Whether you’ve been promoted to management from within or are joining the business as a new IT supervisor from outside, don’t think that your employees will automatically respect you. You will have to earn it—one employee at a time. Establishing your authority is critical to your success. It’s something you must do quickly. Consider the following.

1. Get to know your staff if you don’t already know them. To effectively manage them, you need to become familiar with their strengths, shortcomings, and what makes them want to put forth their best effort. You can do this by meeting with your employees as a team and then follow up with one-on-one discussions. This is also the first time and best time to share your background, expectations, and goals for the team.

2. Resist the urge that many new supervisors have to make lots of changes shortly after moving into management unless you’ve specifically been hired to do so. Give yourself time to establish your authority and gain the respect of your employees before making major changes of any kind. Ignoring this advice can lead to disaster.

3. Express confidence in your team’s ability to meet or exceed expectations. Let them know that you will do whatever it takes to help the team reach its goals. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you will become successful by helping others become successful.

4. Gradually give directives. One of the first and biggest mistakes first-time supervisors make is ordering people around. After all, you’re the boss, right? Wrong. You may be the new supervisor, but you need to build credibility. You can do this by first giving instructions that they are accustomed to receiving and then gradually move to new and more challenging directives.

5. Be confident in yourself. It’s normal to be apprehensive, especially when you’ve been promoted to supervisor. However, if your lack of confidence is apparent, it will be difficult for your team to accept you and your authority. On the other hand, don’t let your confidence be perceived as cockiness. If that happens, you’ve lost them, oftentimes for good.

Make a Habit of Consistently Communicating

Frequent and meaningful communication is essential if you want to quickly excel as a first-time supervisor. It starts with being a good listener and includes, but is not limited to the following.

1. Listen for understanding. Some supervisors spend more time talking than listening. In reality, it should be just the opposite. Good listening requires concentration and a sincere interest in hearing what others have to say. It’s a skill that requires some effort, but it will reap rewards for years to come if you are truly interested in listening to others.

2. Make sure your communication is crystal clear. Don’t assume anything. Keep in mind that you can never over-communicate. Most employees believe that their supervisors don’t give them enough information on a regular basis.

3. Be aware of your body language. How we act speaks louder than what we say. Non-verbal communication is about eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body posture. Inconsistency in your verbal and non-verbal communication sends mixed messages, something you definitely want to avoid. Your goal is to motivate a change in behavior and/or performance.

4. Learn how to give feedback without causing defensiveness. This is another skill that deserves attention. Practice and a desire to learn how to give critical feedback without alienating the receiver is an important job that falls on the shoulders of every supervisor. Coaching someone to complete the task they’ve been assigned in a quality manner should be a goal for which you strive. Get off to a good start by learning how to do this well from the beginning of your career as an IT supervisor.

5. Delivering critical feedback is only one side of the coin. Provide plenty of positive feedback. Research shows that most employees feel that they don’t get enough positive feedback from their supervisor. Yet, we also know that a few encouraging words on a regular basis is often more meaningful than a monetary reward.

6. Make a commitment to manage by walking around. Be visible and approachable.  Don’t fall into the trap of being “too busy” to interact with your team on a daily basis. If you’re not comfortable with talking to people you are in trouble. Your interaction with your employees is extremely important if you hope to excel in your new position.

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