Being a Proactive Supervisor Doesn’t Mean Shooting from the Hip

by Shaun Kieran

As a new supervisor in today’s workplace, you certainly don’t need to sprint toward your people with fire in your eyes and a club in your hand to convince them you mean business.

But it is also true that supervisors, especially line supervisors, really are the equivalent of early responders. They’re the ones whose early response to problems and opportunities, good and bad, can deeply affect what happens at work – in the near term obviously – but those ripples can travel a long way down the road.

The best managers have an ability to anticipate the problems most likely to occur – from both hard-won experience and the accumulated knowledge of how their workplace works.

How did they develop that “proactive” capacity? They wanted to,  and knew they needed to. They saw right away the obvious benefits of prevention. They walked around and asked, they listened, then followed up with more questions – they conveyed to everyone they were serious about the work, and getting it right. Ironically, they’ve also figured out, (if they didn’t know already,) that sometimes “I don’t know” is exactly the right answer.

What can sometimes make it hard is that a manager also needs to avoid becoming a control freak. Some managers have learned the wrong lessons, and go from feeling responsible (which is good) into over-emphasizing their direct responsibility for the work product, and end up taking the path of controlling things early and often. Way too early, and way too often.

Great managers want to know that you (the employee) know what’s going on, which means that manager will be coming around to check in, stay on top of things, and be helpful when possible.

Getting it right also means that, working with actual humans, mistakes will occur – which is also where too many workplaces go wrong. Instead of having everything that happens be an experiment toward figuring out what does work, unhealthy workplaces succumb to turning mistakes and miscues into crises and scapegoating opportunities.

So, being proactive doesn’t mean you never have to say you’re sorry, but it certainly minimizes the number of times anyone might have to. Many problems simply get headed off at the pass.

Otherwise, those problems that do occur get taken up – sooner rather than later – before they metastasize and generate more dire consequences.

A proactive manager discourages passivity, avoidance, kicking the can down the road, etc. The habit of being proactive becomes contagious within the workgroup. The workplace culture is energized and less risk averse.

By the way, this all gets easier and easier once it gets rolling. You won’t go back.

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