Difference between leadership and supervision

The Distinction Between Leadership and Supervision

Discover the differences between leadership and supervising. 

The terms supervision and leadership often get used interchangeably, but they are two unique activities engaged in to achieve specific outcomes.

Supervision is the activity carried out by supervisors to oversee the productivity and progress of employees who report directly to them. Supervision is a management activity, and supervisors have a management role in the organization.i

Leadership is the ability to effectively and responsibly engage with people, processes, and programs, to achieve organizational, team, or individual goals.

Within both definitions, there is a desire for a specific outcome, typically task completion. There is also an implicit desire for the task to be completed meeting stated or desired guidelines, specifications, and expectations of the organization, department, unit, client, etc.

Many supervision models focus on task completion and results and use leadership as one technique to reach goals or objectives. I believe there should be a focus on LEADERSHIP as the primary process to meet organizational needs and objectives.

The core or fundamental skills of supervision can also be attributes of leadership when applied appropriately.

We are addressing supervision from a leadership perspective which moves from MANAGEMENT, which often focuses solely on the results, to LEADERSHIP, which focuses as much on the people and the process as it does on the outcome.

Our leadership/supervision framework focuses on creating personal connections to meet individual and organizational goals.

Why focus on leading instead of supervising?

People sitting around wooden table in an office environment.

A leader is interpreted as someone who sets the direction to influence people to follow their course.

Effective leaders set direction by developing a clear vision and mission and conducting planning that determines the goals needed to achieve the vision and mission.

They motivate by using a variety of methods, including facilitation, coaching, mentoring, directing, delegating, etc.ii

One of the critical functions of management is leading along with planning, organizing and controlling.

Leaders carry out their roles in a wide variety of styles, e.g., autocratic, democratic, participatory, laissez-faire (hands-off), etc.

Often, the leadership style depends on the situation, including the life cycle of the organization.iii

Regardless of style, good leaders and good supervisors should cultivate the skills represented in the C.A.R.E.S. Model.

1. Communication – Open, honest, direct, and appropriate communication is critical for successful interactions. Providing opportunities for input and feedback, sharing ideas, discussing goals, and demonstrating a willingness to listen, contributes to the creation of a community where great ideas are brought forward to support individual and organizational success.

  • Supervisors/leaders must set clear expectations as to what effective communication means for them and their teams.

2. Accountability – Taking personal responsibility for your actions, being accessible and present in your interactions, and being approachable to your colleagues and clients.

  • Supervisors/leaders must ensure that their employees/staff have the necessary skills to complete the tasks.

3. Responsibility – Recognizing that you have the power to impact others – positively or negatively. Each person serves as the face of their team or organization, and their individual actions support or undermine the values of the organization. Responsibility means demonstrating courage and making the choice to do what is right.

  • Supervisors/leaders must provide appropriate information, including incentives and consequences, to help staff succeed. This requires an understanding of the motivations of the members of your team(s).

4. Engagement – Connecting appropriately with individuals and teams to foster positive relationships. Commit to understanding the history, organizational culture, values, challenges, needs, wants, etc., necessary to create a positive environment.

  • Supervisors/leaders must interact constructively with colleagues and staff at all levels and demonstrate a willingness to be helpful.

5. Service – Willingly providing your time and talents for the success of the organization. Regardless of position or title, we all can serve as leaders. Collaborative action for good is the essence of real leadership.

  • Participate fully to support the success of your teams, colleagues, and the organization.

Focusing solely on outcomes or task completion does not make a person an effective supervisor or an effective leader. The C.A.R.E.S. Model highlights the importance of positive interpersonal behaviors to meet organizational and team needs.

Leaders MUST Demonstrate C.A.R.I.(ng) ®

The CARI(ng)® Process supplements the C.A.R.E.S. Model with practical techniques that are person-centred and unambiguous. The CARI(ng)® Process promotes Clear Expectations, Appropriate Skill, Reward, and Incentives.

  1. Clear expectations – Set clear expectations and provide consistent direction. Ensure that organizational, departmental, supervisory, and task completion expectations are clear.
  2. Appropriate skill – Ensure that your team members have the skills needed to complete the assigned tasks. Ensure that you have the skills needed to provide for your team. Take the opportunities presented to participate in life-long learning and commit to personal and professional development.
  3. Reward – Provide the appropriate rewards to support the needs of the members of your team continuously. Rewards are either financial or relational and are most effective when you understand what the individual needs to succeed as well as what you and the organization can and will provide to support that success.
  4. Incentives – Provide appropriate incentive to help your team succeed. This morale-boosting effort requires an understanding of the motivations of the members of your organisation as well as an understanding of the objectives and expectations of the task, project, or position. Be clear about the goals, expectations, and consequences. A consequence is different from a threat; it is merely an outcome resulting from an action. Communicating the potential positive and negative outcomes is critical to establishing understanding or acceptance.

There are many pathways to gaining skills as a supervisor, but CARI(ng)® about others is crucial to leadership development.

As with any model, there are additional skills, tools, and nuances necessary for successful execution, e.g., caring for the individual, caring for the team, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, honestly and consistently evaluating your performance and growth, knowledge of what is needed to inspire, connect with and understand others, etc.

But to be most effective using the C.A.R.I.(ng)® Process, one must develop the 5-Core Skills Of Exceptional Leaders, discussed later in this chapter.

Honing these skills will enhance your leadership ability and create a pathway to successful engagement with your teams.


iiiLeading Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow, Unit I: Personal Leadership Skills; 3. Understanding Your Leadership Style, p. 2 http://extension.psu.edu/publications/ua416, The Pennsylvania State University, 328 Boucke Building, University Park, PA 16802-5901. Produced by Information and Communication Technologies in the College of Agricultural Sciences © The Pennsylvania State University 2005 CAT UA416, 3M10/05ps4719

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