Supervisor vs. Manager: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Managers and supervisors both have leadership positions in organisations, but their roles and day-to-day responsibilities can differ. The two professionals often have different levels of authority, work towards different goals and have other differences. If you want to take a leadership role at your job, it's helpful to understand both types of positions and how they compare and contrast so you can set your career goals. In this article, we explain the roles of supervisors and managers, and we provide a list of several major differences between the two positions.

What is a supervisor?

A supervisor is a professional who oversees a department or a group of employees. They are responsible for making sure employees complete their work correctly and work towards goals set by managers. Supervisors usually develop strong relationships with their employees and communicate frequently with them to offer them feedback and teach them how to perform tasks. Supervisors are often the first point of contact if a problem occurs with employees or customers. They decide if conflicts need the manager's attention or if they affect the completion of their goals.

Supervisors can work in many industries, as most companies need them in their organisational hierarchy. Typically, in order to become a supervisor, employees get promoted from their previous roles with the company. The job requirements of a supervisor can vary across different companies and industries.

Related: How To Be a Good Supervisor (With Steps and Tips)

What is a manager?

A manager is a professional who takes a high-level position at a company and makes important decisions affecting company operations. Managers act as leaders, so they frequently use skills in communication and delegation to do their jobs effectively. Managers also set goals for their employees to achieve that align with major company goals. They can also create company budgets and identify strategies to complete tasks. Typically, managers oversee both supervisors and other employees, and they usually report to company directors.

Managers don't always need specific education requirements, but many managers pursue bachelor's degrees and master's degrees to advance their careers. Earning degrees in areas like business administration and business management can be especially helpful if you want to become a manager. You can work up to being a manager by setting career goals and moving up in the same company, or you can get hired externally.

Related: Management Skills: Definitions and Examples

Supervisor vs. manager

Although supervisors and managers sound similar, there are key differences between the two types of leadership positions. Some of the major differences between supervisors and managers are:

Level of authority

One difference between supervisors and managers is their levels of authority. Managers usually have higher company ranks than supervisors. A manager reports directly to upper management, such as a department's director, vice president or a board of directors. However, supervisors report directly to the manager. They keep the manager informed on developments related to products, services and employees working under their direction. A company might have several supervisors reporting to a manager, depending on its size. Employees can also get promoted to become supervisors if they excel in their current roles, while managers are often hired externally.

Supervisor job duties

The job duties of supervisors and managers can also differ. Usually, supervisors focus more on the day-to-day tasks of their department, while managers pay more attention to overarching strategies. Some of the job responsibilities of supervisors include:

  • Setting goals and deadlines for their employees based on broader company goals

  • Giving employees constructive feedback to help them improve at their jobs

  • Communicating directly with employees to answer their questions and teach them how to perform tasks

  • Communicating with customers and addressing complaints

  • Creating and monitoring employees' schedules and other records

  • Using motivational techniques to enhance employee engagement

  • Assisting in training new employees

  • Reporting employee performance results to the manager

Manager job duties

Some typical job duties of managers include:

  • Setting goals and creating strategies for their employees to meet them

  • Working with the human resources department to interview candidates and hire new employees

  • Offering promotions to top-performing employees

  • Coordinating employee training and company-wide professional development events

  • Delegating tasks to the right employees

  • Completing performance reviews and using a performance management system

  • Terminating employees when necessary

  • Hosting team meetings and communicating important information throughout the company

  • Overseeing employees, supervisors and other people in their company hierarchy

Related: General Manager: Skills, Qualifications and Average Salary

Manager goals

The two professionals also often work towards different goals. Supervisors usually focus on internal goals and work with their employees to help them achieve them. However, managers' goals are usually more external, as they're accountable for the company's performance outside of one department. An external focus allows them to understand the progress of their department without getting involved with the completion of individual tasks. They set aside time to design a strategy to achieve long-term profits and sustainability for the company. Some example goals for managers include:

  • Create a new company budget by the end of the quarter

  • Set new goals for each department by the end of the week

  • Complete the next quarter's strategy by the end of the month

  • Assign new projects to all supervisors within two weeks

Supervisor goals

Some example goals that supervisors might set include:

  • Increase department productivity by 15% next month

  • Increase the amount of new leads in the sales department by 10% in the next quarter

  • Increase employee retention by 20% by the end of the year

  • Train two new employees and provide performance reviews

Related: How To Write SMART Goals For Your Career (With Examples)

Salary

The salaries of the two positions can also differ. Often, employees with managerial job titles can have higher salaries than supervisors at the same company. Managers typically have more responsibilities than supervisors, so they earn higher wages for their work.

However, supervisors have a more specialised role with an organisation since they work exclusively with employees within their department, but they still earn higher salaries than front-line employees due to their enhanced responsibilities. It's important to note that the salaries of both professionals can vary based on their specific companies, locations or years of experience.

Supervisor skills

Although the skill sets of supervisors and managers can overlap, they also use some different skills in their day-to-day jobs. Some typical supervisor skills are:

  • Organisation: Supervisors usually need to organise different projects and the tasks associated with them, so they need organisational skills.

  • Conflict resolution: Supervisors can also be responsible for resolving conflicts between their employees.

  • Prioritisation: Supervisors usually juggle many different tasks associated with their projects, and they need to know how to prioritise tasks for employees to make sure projects get done correctly.

Manager skills

Some important skills for managers include:

  • Strategic thinking: Managers are usually responsible for creating strategies to achieve key results, so they need to be skilled in strategic thinking.

  • Budgeting: Managers also make company budgets, so they usually need budgeting skills.

  • Goal-setting: Managers can also be responsible for setting goals for departments to achieve, so they need strong skills in goal-setting.

  • Decision-making: Decision-making is another integral part of management, and managers need to be able to make strong decisions for their companies.

Hiring vs. training

Another difference between the two positions is whether they hire or train employees. Managers usually have the authority to hire employees and they may work with the human resources department to do this. After a manager hires an employee, the supervisor is usually responsible for training them to complete specific tasks for their department. This is because supervisors are usually more connected with the internal activities of their department.

Similarities between supervisors and managers

Supervisors and managers have many differences, but there are also similarities between the two positions, including:

Leadership skills

Supervisors and managers both need leadership skills to do their jobs effectively. Both professionals take leadership positions at their companies, so they need skills like communication and confidence to be great leaders. Supervisors need to lead their employees and managers need to lead supervisors and other employees.

Oversight responsibilities

Supervisors and managers are also both responsible for overseeing employees and departments. They both work to make sure employees complete important tasks. Furthermore, both are responsible for making sure their company meets its goals.

Giving feedback and completing performance reviews

Both supervisors and managers also give employees feedback and complete performance reviews. This means that both roles typically have strong oral and written communication skills. Both also know how to give constructive feedback.

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