New Supervisors – 4 Tips to Managing Experienced Employees

Oh no, how can I manage the work of an employee who has more experience than I do?

Often there is the hope and expectation among new supervisors that the people they are charged to manage will have equal or less experience than they do. Many new supervisors think that managing less experienced employees will be much easier than working with employees who have more or different skills.

And, then there is the fear factor, Yikes, if they are so much more skilled or credentialed than I am, how can I possibly be their supervisor? They know more than I do. What these managers are forgetting is that supervising employees requires a set of skills different than the technical or operational work being managed.

Supervising doesn’t mean you know more in your area of expertise; it means that you are tasked with ensuring the success of projects and the employees who work on those projects. Helping employees succeed isn’t easy, and even the mostly highly qualified employee respects a supervisor who can make that happen.

Supervising employees who are more experienced than you are can be an intimidating challenge at the start, but it can be a more comfortable and rewarding experience if you follow these suggestions.

4 Tips to Managing Experienced Employees


        1. Appreciate that supervisor skills are different than technical skills. Supervision is one of the most difficult and important jobs in an organization. Good supervisors help keep good employees. Learning to effectively manage a group of employees means you will need strong communication skills, you will need to know how to motivate people and handle conflict. You will need to know how to prioritize and distribute work so the job gets done well and on time. These skill sets are necessary whether one is managing high level employees or the newbie. The technical and professional skills help the supervisor get the job done, but they are not the primary elements to effective supervision.
        2. How you, as the manager, introduce and define the relationship with your employee will matter. Get things going on a good footing – even if you are a bit uncomfortable. Let me suggest that you set up a meeting with this highly skilled employee and tell her how happy you are to have her on your team. Acknowledge her expertise. Give her a sense of the projects you have on your plate, the timelines, the challenges and some idea of where you see she might fit in. Give her the bigger picture. Now, it is the time for you to get input from this employee. Ask open ended question and listen, listen, listen. Now, it’s time for your employee to talk. When you encourage dialogue with your employee, you send the message that your value her work and her skills. This is when that employee begins to respect the supervisor skills you are now showing.
        3. Determine how this highly skilled employee will be able to help the team succeed. One of the most important principles of effective supervision is helping your employees succeed. If you have a highly skilled employee, partner up to determine what will define success for her within the scope of work required by your team. Discuss opportunities that might push her beyond her expertise, such as the chance to mentor or lead other employees, work inter-departmentally to improve coordination of effort, or research methods that will improve the work of the group. This is your chance to set stretch goals that will serve the team and challenge her. This will be another supervisor skill your employee will respect.
        4. Settle on a system that will help you monitor the success of her efforts. You might not understand some of the details of her work – say you are a finance director managing an IT expert – but you and the employee should be able to establish a process that lets you know the work has been accomplished and she knows she is succeeding. Learn what she knows. Ask questions, develop a common professional language (perhaps monthly reports) that helps you follow up. Work hard to build some knowledge in her area of expertise. If you want your employees to respect your work, learn and appreciate theirs.


Supervising the work efforts of your team requires a sense of partnership between you and each employee, as well as between you and the team. You can partner up with any employee, provided there is a sense of respect and a desire for each employee to succeed. As the supervisor, you set that tone and you don’t need to be the best expert in the company to do that.

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