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The Art of Getting Someone to Want to Do Something

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Anna Marie Schuh
April 12, 2024

Government hiring has significantly increased in the last year for an assortment of reasons, e.g., deferred hiring because of the economy and COVID, replacement of hollowed out government, growing retirement from the baby boom generation. With this increase in hiring comes managerial responsibility for developing new, and strengthening current, first line supervisors since first line supervision is one of the most important factors in retaining new employees.

We often ignore the importance of the supervisors who deal with new recruits. These supervisors have some of the most difficult jobs in an organization because they are the bridge between the worker and management. They need to convey information to both groups which typically have different perspectives of the organization. New employees take their cues about their new organization from their supervisor. So, first line supervisors need specific skills to make sure new employees connect positively with the new organization. This article will focus on a few of the most important skills which include positivity, clear communication, adaptability, appropriate employee treatment, interpersonal skills and conflict management.

Positive supervisors maintain high morale and enthusiasm in their organizations. They focus on problem solving and the future rather than blame and the past. They encourage continual improvement in the context of accountability and success. New employees take their cues about the organization from those around them in the organization. The first line supervisor is a critical actor in this group and their positivity about the work, management and the organization will help develop a positive perspective in the new employee. In this context, one of my most rewarding moments as a supervisor was when an employee thanked me for going into problem solving mode, rather than blaming mode, when a serious difficulty arose.

Clear communication, another aspect of good first line supervision, involves several aspects. The most important of these are honesty and transparency. These behaviors encourage both trust and good working relationships. First line supervisors need to communicate regularly, specifically and with everyone. These actions ensure that first line supervisors have necessary information and provide early problem alerts to upper management. First line supervisors transform upper management goals into employee activities. They also ensure that subordinate employees have critical information and feel included. Feeling included and informed makes employees more comfortable providing feedback to the supervisor. Finally, good first line supervisors are approachable. Supervisors who are willing to share time with their employees are more likely to be informed early about situations that could become serious problems in the future. In short, communication  is important because first line supervisors play the role of intermediary between upper management and line employees. First line supervisors persuade management to adjust goals when necessary and convince line employees about the need to complete goals.

Strong first line supervisors are adaptable, open to learning, action-oriented and resilient. They can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously enabling their successful movement between management and line employees. They are comfortable with transition, complaints and conflict. They have the ability to see a situation and what might happen in the future. This makes them able to work with both management and line employees to avoid negative consequences from actions taken by either group.

First line supervisors lead their units the way they want to be led. This style includes using authority positively, speaking the way they want to be spoken to and having self-awareness. It also involves fostering a diverse and inclusive culture. Overall, it involves respect for everyone no matter where they fit in the organization. Such leadership serves as an example for other employees and demonstrates acceptable behavior in the organization. For example, when my unit had an unexpectedly large workload, I decided to be part of the group that processed the work. While I only did this one time in a unit that I supervised for five years, the respect I earned from the employees for doing necessary work that was not part of my job description lasted throughout my tenure in that group.

Interpersonal skills involve openness and demeanor. First line supervisory attitude either invites or discourages employees to communicate their concerns. Strong supervisors demonstrate their interpersonal skills by displaying both professionalism and amicability. These supervisors become aware of problems early because employees are comfortable raising issues. Early problem awareness allows early problem solving that helps diminish negative outcomes.

Conflict management is another ability essential to being a skilled first line supervisor. Employees disagree with each other. Customers disagree with organization actions. Line employees disagree with upper management. Strong first line supervisors are able to discern the underlying concern of each side and find a solution that satisfies all sides of the conflict.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” Exceptional first line supervisors use positivity, clear communication, adaptability, appropriate employee treatment, interpersonal skills and conflict management to create a culture in which their subordinates want to complete the tasks that support the mission. Such supervision is the key to successful organizations.

Author: Anna Marie Schuh is currently an Associate Professor and the MPA Program Director at Roosevelt University in Chicago where she teaches political science and public administration. She retired from the federal government after 36 years. Her last federal assignment involved management of the Office of Personnel Management national oversight program. Email: [email protected]; X: profschuh.

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