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Supervisor vs. Manager: How to Know Which One to Hire - HRDQ

Supervisor vs. Manager: How to Know Which One to Hire

While managers and supervisors are both essential leadership positions in businesses, they aren't synonymous terms, and there are many notable differences between them.

If you're looking to hire a new leader in your company, it's useful to understand the responsibilities taken on by supervisors and managers so that your business can operate seamlessly.

The short story is that managers are typically higher up on the chain of command than supervisors and take a broader view of business operations than supervisors. On the other hand, supervisors are highly involved with individual employees' day-to-day performance.

Let's take a deeper dive into the difference between managers and supervisors to help you determine which leadership role is needed at your company.

What Is a Supervisor?

Supervisors work alongside employees to ensure that their performance aligns with the goals set by management. The decisions that supervisors make are commonly approved by managers.

These professionals are usually the first point of contact if there is ever an issue involving customers or employees. When a problem occurs that goes beyond the scope of the supervisor's decision-making authority, they can choose to report it to the manager.

Supervisor Working With a Team

Some of the duties that supervisors typically take on include:

  • Regularly assessing the progress of projects to ensure that they are on track to meet targets and, when necessary, taking remedial action.
  • Identifying high-performing workers or employees who have weak points that need improvement.
  • Overseeing the performance and completion of employee duties by managing schedules and tasks.
  • Communicating the decisions of management to workers and outlining the details of how these decisions will be implemented.
  • Creating performance reports for each employee under their supervision and sharing them with the manager.
  • Reporting regularly to the manager about issues and progress relevant to the work environment and operations.
  • Addressing problems that arise with employees that have a negative impact on performance and identifying workers that are underperforming.
  • Identifying employees that are high performing in order to recommend them for bonuses, internal promotions, and other rewards.
  • Tracking the availability and schedules of workers while also creating and maintaining records for each employee.
  • Dealing with employee and customer inquiries and complaints.
  • Setting short-term milestones for each employee using the business and project goals set by the manager.
  • Identifying which issues need to be brought to the manager's attention.
  • Communication protocols and policies to employees, identifying noncompliance issues, assessing compliance, and communicating about issues of noncompliance to the manager.

To learn more about what it takes to excel as a supervisor, check out our post about the 15 essential leadership qualities of supervisors.

What Is a Manager?

A manager is a professional at the executive level that makes key decisions that impact business operations. They are responsible for viewing operations from a big-picture perspective and identifying the employees and duties necessary to meet the organization's goals.

A Business Manager

Some of the duties that a manager might be responsible for include:

  • Setting goals for projects and the department they oversee in collaboration with senior management.
  • Creating a budget for each project, finalizing this budget with senior management, and appropriately applying funds to meet business goals.
  • Planning out projects that align with the goals and purposes of the organization, identifying necessary resources to complete these projects, and organizing the larger project into smaller tasks.
  • Using personal observation and performance reports to oversee the performance of workers.
  • Delegating tasks and responsibilities to the supervisor in the monitoring of daily employee performance.
  • Assessing the need for new employees, developing recruiting materials in collaboration with human resources, and participating in the hiring process.
  • Identifying areas where the workforce needs additional training, developing programs to meet these ends, and implementing the training programs.
  • Ensuring that employees have the workspaces, equipment, administrative support services, and other elements of the work environment that they need to complete their tasks.
  • Using corporate interests and values to develop new organizational policies and protocols when necessary.
  • Coming up with solutions to issues in the company that have a negative impact on employees, collaborating with senior management to create plans to make changes, and implementing these solutions.
  • Generally maintaining smooth organizational operations and project outcomes.
  • Evaluating compliance and noncompliance of employees in regard to company policies and taking actions when necessary.

Have you always been curious to know the difference between leadership and management? This guide goes over where these two terms overlap and diverge.

Supervisor Vs. Manager: The Key Differences

Supervisors and managers are positions in an organization's upper levels; managers have more authority than supervisors.

Manager and Supervisor

In short, the supervisor reports to the manager, and the manager assesses their performance, directs them, and offers support.

Position in Corporate Hierarchy

The most notable difference between supervisors and managers is their level of authority. Managers tend to be higher-ranking employees that report to a department's director, board of directors, or vice president, while supervisors usually report to managers.

A Corporate Meeting

A common model is for there to be several supervisors that report to one manager. However, the structure can differ depending on the size of the company.


Supervisors work closely with employees and are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day tasks of workers. They know each employee's duties, how far they are from reaching different milestones, and their performance individually and as a team. In some organizations, the manager might ask supervisors to put together performance reviews on each worker.

Supervisor Working With Employees

On the other hand, managers take a bigger picture perspective than supervisors. Supervisors inform them of the employees' and department's performance, while managers also review the performance of the supervisors working under them.

Another essential responsibility of managers is to meet with the senior leadership team and oversee their department's budget.


Managers direct their attention toward the output of employees, while supervisors are more focused on the day-to-day actions and tasks of employees.

A Focussed Team

By having supervisors closely monitor the way that workers perform their work, managers can turn their attention to what employees produce.


Another difference worth noting is the types of goals each of these professionals set for their team or department. Supervisors tend to focus on setting short-term goals with the aim of keeping projects on track.

Manager Focussing on Objectives

Since supervisors are taking care of these smaller milestones, managers can focus on setting longer-term goals for each department and each project within departments.

Task Delegation

Commonly, managers will delegate tasks using the qualifications of each employee to make their decision.

Tasks Being Delegated

Once these decisions are made, supervisors are the ones that manage the logistics.

Salary and Benefits

Managers typically have higher salaries than supervisors, as they have more responsibilities. Similarly, supervisors earn higher salaries than the employees that they work with.

The benefits attached to each position can differ as well. A manager at a company might receive a more substantial severance package if they are let go, for example, than a supervisor at the same company.

Before we look at the average salaries for managers, it's important to note that there are many different kinds of managers and that salaries can vary depending on the industry, location, and other factors.

Employee Being Paid

On average, a store manager in the U.S. makes $46,423 per year, while a general manager receives a salary of $53,511. Operations and project managers make an average of $65,970 and $77,077, respectively. The average annual salary for managers as a blanket category in the U.S. is $55,342.

In contrast, the average salary of supervisors in the United States is $48,189 annually. The amount a supervisor makes annually also varies depending on location and industry. For example, a warehouse supervisor makes, on average, $52,687 in the U.S., while an operations supervisor receives a salary of $63,686 on average.

Point of Contact

If clients or employees are looking to talk to a representative from the organization, the supervisor is usually the first point of contact. If the issue or question is able to be resolved at the level of the supervisor, then there is no need for it to be brought to the attention of management.

Employees Talking to a Supervisor

However, supervisors might find that specific queries or problems require the expertise and authority of the manager and can therefore move the situation up the chain of command.

Employee Rewards

Because supervisors have an on-the-ground perspective of their employees, they are in a great position to identify those workers that are going above and beyond when it comes to performance. They can then recommend these employees to the manager.

Manager Rewarding Employee

Managers take on the responsibility of creating the policies and regulations surrounding employee rewards and making final determinations about rewarding specific workers for their performance.


Usually, the hiring manager makes all final hiring decisions, and managers help recruit new employees. That being said, supervisors aren't entirely left out of the hiring process.

Managers Interviewing an Applicant

It's common for supervisors to assess applicants' compatibility and make recommendations regarding the ideal candidate for a position they oversee.

Company Policies

In collaboration with higher-ups in the organization, managers help to build company policies and protocols.

Manager Building Policies

Supervisors then work to implement existing and new regulations as dictated by the manager.


Supervisors use their leadership skills and frequent interactions with employees to help build morale and positive company culture.

High Morale Workplace

Managers are similarly concerned with worker morale but take more of a background approach. Rather than communicating directly with employees regularly, for example, they help to assess morale and set targets to boost it.


The disciplinary actions that a supervisor has the authority to take are typically set by the manager.

Leadership Taking Disciplinary Actions

Managers, on the other hand, help to direct the disciplinary measures of the company using the values, policies, and procedures as a guide.


The supervisor is responsible for implementing training initiatives that are outlined by the manager.

Supervisor Training a Team

For example, the manager might develop the training program and set a deadline for its completion, while the supervisor is the one that actually carries out the training.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is something that both supervisors and managers are concerned with.

Engaged Team of Employees

However, managers focus on creating the programs and policies that boost employee engagement, while supervisors are the ones that carry out those programs and policies.


Managers often have experience working in a supervisory role in the same industry. On the other hand, supervisors might not need experience in a job-specific leadership role to get the job.

An Experienced Manager

It's not uncommon for supervisors to have previous experience working as an employee in the same company, as their knowledge of the day-to-day tasks of workers aids in their ability to oversee the team.

How to Know Whether to Hire a Supervisor or a Manager

Whether you should hire a manager or a supervisor depends on what responsibilities you are looking for a new employee to take on. Are you looking to hire someone that can oversee the daily tasks of employees and make sure that important project deadlines are met? Or do you need someone to assess the operations and production of a department from a broader, more administrative perspective?

It can be useful to write out what tasks and responsibilities you are looking to hand over to a new hire, as this will help you determine which job title better fits your company's needs.

Business Leaders Making Hiring Decision

Let's say you run a small coffee shop in your town with five employees. You are interested in taking care of the more managerial tasks like setting budgets, creating long-term goals, and keeping an eye on the direction and future of the company. What you do need, though, is someone to be more involved with the day-to-day employee management that is essential to smooth operations.

In this instance, a supervisor would be the right choice.

On the other hand, maybe you are hoping to hire someone to take over the tasks outlined in the above example so you can focus your attention elsewhere. At the same time, you feel comfortable with the track record of your employees and don't feel they need constant supervision. If this is the case, creating a job posting for an open position as a manager would be more appropriate.

Manager Vs. Supervisor: Which Will You Hire?

Now that you understand the distinction between managers and supervisors, you should be well-equipped to decide which position you want to fill at your organization. Regardless of whether you're looking for someone to take on a supervisory or managerial role, it's important to remember that your team can always be improving and developing their leadership skills.

A Team Leader

If your company is in need of a new supervisor or it's time to engage in some training for your team of supervisors, you can use our Supervisory Skills training materials to help improve the performance of existing supervisors and get new supervisors quickly up to speed.

For new or existing managers, you might consider using the leadership style assessment, management development tool, and training workshop What's My Leadership Style. A part of our best-selling HRDQ Style Suite, this is an excellent tool to help managers gain awareness of their behavioral patterns and hone the necessary skills to be the most effective leaders they can be.

How are you making the distinction when hiring for manager or supervisor positions in your organization? Let us know in the comments below!
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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.