What Are the Most Critical Skills & Competencies That Supervisors Need to Lead People?

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While there’s no universally accepted ranking of the top skills supervisors needs to manage employees, leadership experts agree on several traits successful managers possess. Understanding the common skills successful leaders use and how you can develop them will may help you be more successful as a project, department, committee or company leader.

Leadership Style

There are three broad leadership styles managers employ to work with subordinates. First, the command style is an approach that directs workers, giving them little or no say in how approach their work or project. Secondly, a passive leader sets a goal and takes a more hands-off approach with staff members. Typically the passive leader feels the staff or team members are able to complete a project successfully without interference. Lastly, cooperative leaders use a more Socratic method, discussing problems or goals with subordinates, asking for suggestions, and then giving the final direction as to how employees will pursue the work. However, not adhering to one leadership style may maximize your managerial effectiveness in the long run.


Communication is key. Successful leadership revolves around the power to communicate efficiently and effectively. If your written or verbal directions are unclear, your staff may produce sub-par work or miss deadlines as a result of weak communication. Body language, eye contact and tone of voice can help alleviate fear, add emphasis, communicate sincerity or displeasure and otherwise send messages you may or may not want to impart. Books, seminars and online articles written by credible sources can help you improve your leadership communication skills.


Great leaders don’t just tell subordinates to do something, they get their staff members to want to perform the task. This means explaining why a task is important, asking subordinates for their input and praising employees when they succeed. Keep your staff informed with weekly department meetings, email updates and recognize successful subordinates.


Lack of planning can lead to your employees seeing you as unprepared, unprofessional or unqualified, decreasing their faith in your ability to lead them. Make project planning, time management and project monitoring key skills to improve your leadership abilities. If you set rules for your employees or your company has specific workplace policies, follow them closely to show you are committed to the professional standards you want your employees to attain. Update your knowledge in your skill area to generate confidence among subordinates that they are following an expert.