Supervisor vs. Manager: Key differences in leadership roles

The importance of strong leadership in an organization is clear. However, how different roles and leadership positions take form throughout the many levels of an organization is less clear.

A better grasp of different types of leadership roles ensures that every level of the organization is properly led and tailored to your business needs. The more well-defined leadership roles, the better organized the workforce as leaders shape the organization’s direction.

Take job titles like supervisors and managers, for example. Both are essential leadership positions within an organization, but the role and responsibilities of a manager differ from those of a supervisor.

Get caught up on the critical differences between supervisor and manager positions to ensure these leadership positions keep the business organized and functional.

What is a supervisor?

Supervisors lead workers in a hands-on way. Supervisory positions focus on people. Because supervisors have such a direct relationship with their workforce, so they are typically the first leadership rank in many workplaces.

Wherever groups of workers are committed to a common goal, a supervisor will likely be on-site to provide them with the necessary support to promote their best work. Strong supervisors need delegation and conflict-resolution skills to help them achieve results, which are extremely important in a team’s day-to-day objectives.

Supervisors provide workers the guidance and direction to improve employee performance. They are an integral part of a productive workforce. Leaders possess a wide perspective on productivity objectives for the whole team and a focused view of the individual team members.

Responsibilities and duties of supervisors

A supervisor’s role is clear: to monitor and improve performance within their supervised workforce. But how do they fulfill that role?

Supervisory roles may adapt to the specific needs of their subordinate workers. However, no matter the workforce or workplace environment, core principles define the supervisor’s duties.

Here are some notable responsibilities of a supervisor that define the role.

1. Overseeing workflow and tracking tasks
No one has a better perspective on workflow than supervisors. It’s a supervisor’s job to keep
an eye on their subordinates. That means their frontline perspective provides a clear, actionable view of the team’s objectives.

Supervisors get a close-up view of worker productivity, tracking the task progress of an individual worker to the team level.

2. Setting performance goals and deadlines
Leveraging comprehensive workforce performance data gathered through compensation management software, supervisors obtain a holistic view of their team.

This crucial insight facilitates setting precise performance goals and deadlines, establishing the best pace for peak performance. The data-driven approach of compensation solutions supports the implementation of fair and motivating performance metrics.

3. Analyzing team performance and submitting reports to department managers
Supervisors act as a vital link in the organizational chain of command. Their frontline leadership role generates key data through compensation software and services that inform department-wide strategies.

This unique perspective on workforce productivity enables them to conduct insightful performance reviews. Consequently, upper management makes data-backed, organization-wide decisions, effectively tying compensation strategies to performance outcomes.

4. Coaching and training employees to improve performance
Supervisors build close relationships with employees under their supervision by working hands-on with the workforce. Their proximity makes them the ideal candidates to lead training programs for new employees and coaching modules for motivating performance.

5. Identifying workplace issues and improvement opportunities
Supervisory roles are on the lookout for areas of improvement in their purview, from the workforce to the work environment. Supervisors oversee the day-to-day operations that drive workplace productivity. For that reason, supervisors are the first point of contact with workplace hiccups or opportunities for improvement in their work environment.

6. Recommending employees eligible for bonuses and promotions
A proven way to boost productivity is through incentives. Supervisors are the first to see stand-out workers. That’s why they are the ones to make recommendations on employees who should be rewarded for their hard work. Supervisors are the ones who let upper management know who deserves a raise, a bonus, or a promotion.

What is a manager?

Managers are leadership positions defined by their broad organizational or structural decisions. While the leadership purview of a supervisor pertains to the people under their supervision, a manager’s leadership extends to the workforce at large.

In other words, managers make the systemic decisions that inform a supervisor’s decisions; managers make decisions that affect entire departments if not the whole organization.

Their systemic impact means that managers must operate with higher levels of accountability and strategic thinking. Management sets organization policies based on the needs of the board, and they help align organization goals. They are the decision-making nexus of the organization, and they are integral in facilitating communication between shareholders and the workforce.

Main responsibilities of managers

Because of their prominent role in the organizational hierarchy, managers have many consequential responsibilities in their job description.

How these responsibilities manifest depends on the exact position of a manager within the upper management hierarchy. Still, by their position within the upper management hierarchy, any manager role will be defined by primary responsibilities like these:

1. Organizing the company’s management structure for smooth operations
Managers need to implement a robust management structure because it is the very apparatus that empowers their decisions. The first step in a managerial role is to ensure that the chain of command is clear and effective. When management delegations flow smoothly, organizational leadership shapes operations for success.

2. Planning projects and budgets to accomplish business goals
Managers, with their strategic position within the organization, are primed to achieve business goals. Their close connection with shareholders equips them to craft sustainable salary budgeting and project plans aligned with organizational objectives.

Leveraging these insights, managers delineate wider business operations goals, entrusting subordinate leadership to implement them within their respective spheres of authority effectively.

3. Collaborating with senior management to set roadmaps for department goals
Managers report to the very top of leadership. It’s easy for department heads to lose perspective on areas outside their field.

For that reason, collaboration amongst senior management gives crucial direction at the level that needs it most. The clearer a manager’s roadmap, the easier it is to implement throughout the workforce.

4. Overseeing employee performance through performance management systems
Supervisors play a crucial role in evaluating employee performance. But the final decision to act on those evaluations lies with managers; they are in the position to make structural adjustments in the workforce.

Managers must trust their performance management systems to encourage employees who do well and empower those who need improvement.

5. Delegating monitoring responsibilities to supervisors
Managers aren’t everywhere at once. Their position within the organization hierarchy means they don’t have a hands-on perspective at the workforce level.

That’s why managers must ensure proper performance monitoring is accomplished through supervisory roles. Doing so allows them to access necessary, actionable information about an organization’s operations at the ground floor level.

6. Communicating department information to teams
The strength of an organization’s structure depends on its communicative ability. Managers are responsible for distributing department-wide information to the teams that need it. Ensuring that the entire department is on the same page means that every team works together toward a common goal.

7. Identifying problems in the organization and developing solutions
Managers are equipped to identify problems organizational problems for two reasons:

  • First, they have the perspective to see how and where problems arise in an organizational context
  • Second, they have actionable information on ground-floor mechanics from subordinate, supervisory roles

Because of their position and the information they have at their disposal, they are the best equipped to solve problems that impact an organization’s goals.

What is the difference between a supervisor and a manager?

Managers and supervisors are both leadership positions, but their similarities end here. Managers and supervisors operate on different levels of the business.

Supervisors are closer to the workforce; they focus on the internal administration of team objectives and tasks. They are direct reports to managers.

Managers are amongst the chief decision-makers of the organization; they play strategic roles, directing entire departments or the whole organization towards stronger outputs and generating impact. Managers answer to the most senior management level and potentially the board of directors.

To better illustrate their differences, let’s examine how supervisors and managers differ based on distinctive contexts:

Level of authority

Managers supersede supervisors in the level of authority. Supervisors have limited authority over their supervisees, mostly day-to-day operational factors. As subordinates to the manager, supervisors answer to managers; managers make the final decisions on the supervisor’s team.


Managerial roles are far more intensive than supervisors; their decisions affect hundreds, potentially thousands of people. Considering their impact, managers are more experienced leaders than supervisors.

Success in supervisory positions leads to higher managerial roles, but candidates ascending the organization hierarchy must first have demonstrable experience suited for the position.


Managers have far more responsibilities than supervisors. Supervisors are responsible for the people under their supervision and the team’s goals. Even then, managers also undertake those responsibilities. Supervisors are subordinate to managers; as such, their responsibilities fall under the scope of their direct manager.


Teamwork is a common factor between managers and supervisors; both will direct teamwork to accomplish objectives. However, the teamwork they lead differs by order of magnitude. Supervisors direct the internal teamwork of their subordinate workers; managers direct the structural function of the entire workforce.


The explicit objectives of a manager and a supervisor differ in scale. Supervisors are assigned team-centric objectives; their primary job is to ensure the team’s goals are accomplished. Manager objectives focus on the big picture.

For one, they assign supervisors their objectives. The manager is tasked with accomplishing organization-wide objectives: profitability and operational functionality, for example.

Role in work processes

The supervisor’s role in work processes extends to data collection. Their job is to monitor workflow, performance, and other KPIs, which are compiled so that managers make informed decisions. Supervisors provide managers with the materials to make necessary adjustments to work processes.

Employee interfacing

Supervisors have a hands-on role with the workforce, implementing training procedures, identifying exemplary employees, recommending bonuses, and promoting employee engagement.

Managers do not interface with employees but provide supervisors with the guidelines they use to engage with the workforce.


Managers take on far more responsibilities than supervisors. Furthermore, their leadership role impacts the workforce an order of magnitude higher than supervisors. For that reason, managers are paid a higher salary than supervisory roles.

Similarities in leadership roles

While managers and supervisors differ in many distinct ways, the similarities they share demonstrate the core function any leadership role has within an organizational hierarchy.

Leadership roles at every level serve to direct groups of employees toward a common goal: building a better organization.

Whether they come from the top-down decisions made by management or the hands-on instructions from supervisors, every leadership position in an organization acts to make a better, more productive workplace.

Why leadership roles have higher salaries

The correlation between salary and leadership role is determined by the position’s impact within the organization’s hierarchy. Salary variance increases when leadership roles increase in impact. Simply put, the more weight your decisions have, the higher your salary.

General managers often expect to make $58,364 on average per year, while a human resources manager’s average salary is closer to $71,612. While a manager’s salary varies greatly based on their specific role and industry, the average manager in the U.S. earned $92,144 per year on average with an $11,000 cash bonus.

Meanwhile, operations supervisors make $62,204 per year on average, while roles like customer service supervisors make an average of $16.59 per hour, equating to $34,507 a year. Like its managerial counterpart, your supervisor’s salary will depend on the specific role, organization, and industry.

Your business is only as strong as the people within it. So, the chain of command doesn’t exist just to delegate from the top down but to identify and elevate people with leadership skills into higher positions. Exemplary supervisors move up into managerial roles. In turn, exemplary managers prove their capability and stand to advance higher in the company.

Incentivizing hard work, gaining experience, and improving performance build stronger foundations for a business’s organizational hierarchy. Team leaders who exhibit these qualities at any level boost their positions and salaries.