#185: What Supervision Skills do You Need to be Successful?

First of all, let’s understand that people are promoted from the ranks to the first level of management for one of several reasons; they demonstrate the ability to lead others, they do their current jobs very well, they demonstrate an ability to carry out the responsibilities of the supervisor’s job, they are the most senior person in the office, or they are the CEO’s nephew.


Regardless of how they got there, the issue is, “What supervision skills do you need to be successful?” The answers to this question are as varied as people themselves. Yet develop them you must if you expect to succeed.

The role of a supervisor is generally broken down into five areas: planning, staffing, organizing, directing, and controlling. Developing skills in each of these areas will provide well-balanced supervisors who add value to your organization.

Nehemiah, the Supervisor with Super-Vision

Nehemiah provides a Biblical model of an excellent supervisor. He had risen from the ranks of the captives to the king’s cup-bearer. As such, Nehemiah was frequently in the king’s presence and was a very influential man in the Persian empire.

In November 446 B.C., Nehemiah’s brother came to him to describe the situation in Jerusalem; the city walls and gates were broken down, and marauding tribes were plundering the city and assaulting the people. During all this, the leaders of the city did nothing.

Ezra had led a remnant back to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. They had begun the work of rebuilding the city but were stopped by King Artaxerxes. Under Nehemiah’s supervision, the same people were able to accomplish the work that had not been accomplished in the prior 12-years and they did it in only 52 days.

Why was Nehemiah successful when others had failed? The answer, his skills as a supervisor.


More work can be accomplished by accident by a group with a plan, than a group without a plan can accomplish on purpose.

When Nehemiah approached the king he had a complete plan prepared for what he needed from the king and the length of time it would take to complete the work. He knew that he would need timber from the king’s forest, letters for safe conduct, and soldiers from the king’s army.

After Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he did not go immediately to the city leaders and call them on the carpet. Instead, he quietly spent three days surveying the city and laying out specific plans.

When he had completed his planning he got all the leaders together to explain the situation and the need for the work that he had planned, “You see the trouble we are in; Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Neh. 2:17).

Note, Nehemiah did not say, “You go build this wall.” He said, “Come let us.” The people’s response to him was, “Let us start rebuilding” (Neh. 2:18).

In today’s parlance, he had a vision for what he wanted to do and he got “buy-in” to the vision from the leaders of the city.


Once plans for the work have been outlined the supervisor must staff the organization. In many cases, the workers are already employed but they need to be assigned their responsibilities.

Nehemiah wisely involved all of the people of Jerusalem in the rebuilding project. He had goldsmiths, priests, perfume-makers, guards, and merchants among the people working on the walls and gates. Women worked next to men. Community leaders worked next to servants.

Perhaps the most interesting strategic decision he made was to have each individual repair the area in front of their own home. These people were not experts at wall-building or gate-hanging but when faced with the work to be done in front of their own homes and businesses they took extra care and pride in completing the work quickly and with precision.


The job of directing involves much more than simply giving directions to employees. But even if this is all there was to it the plain fact is most performance related problems stem from the poor direction of the supervisor to the employee.

When Sanballat and Tobiah saw that the work on the wall was proceeding quickly they developed a plan to disrupt the work by attacking the workers.

Nehemiah heard about the plan and immediately took action; he had half of the workers standing guard and the other half working, he had each man armed, he had the man who sounded the trumpet with him at all times, he had all the people of the city stay inside the city at night, and he had guards posted day and night.


Part of a supervisor’s job is the need to administer discipline. Nehemiah had no tolerance for those who did not share the work of rebuilding the city. Nehemiah wasted no time in taking disciplinary action. He did not wait until the wall was half-done to kick Sanballat, Geshem, and Tobiah out of the city.

You do not read about Nehemiah assigning jobs and then retreating to the palace. On the contrary, Nehemiah had the man who sounded the trumpet with him at all times so he must have been outside on the wall, watching the workers. He was a very early example of MBWA, “Management by Walking Around.”

One Final Thought

Nehemiah was a man of God. From the moment he heard about the problem in Jerusalem he began praying and seeking God’s direction. When he was faced with difficult situations, he prayed. When faced with trouble from those who wanted to stop his work, he prayed. When the work was finished, he prayed. Importantly, he also led the city back to a commitment to God.

Could it be that the failure of previous leaders to rebuild the city was due to their lack of faith in God to enable them to do the work? Perhaps. But one thing is very clear. Nehemiah accomplished what he accomplished because he kept his focus on God. A man who trusted and relied on God all the time.

When we are in the crush of a deadline it is our natural inclination to exercise our might to accomplish our work, rather than taking a moment to seek God’s counsel. A really good supervisor understands that taking the time to seek God’s will is the most important supervisory skill of all.

Bonus Whitepaper

This week’s post is excerpted from a 6-page whitepaper entitled, What Supervision Skills do You Need to be Successful?

This whitepaper is a broader discussion of the skills you need to be a successful supervisor:

  • Planning.
  • Staffing
  • Organizing.
  • Directing.
  • Controlling.

You can download the free 6-page whitepaper here: What Supervision Skills do You Need to be Successful?

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Is there a supervision skill you think is most important? Why?

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Category: Skills | Structure/Organization


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