In manager vs. supervisor, find out which differences matter

August 10, 2021 - 19 min read

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What is the difference between a supervisor and a manager?

Other leadership roles

Managers vs. supervisors: what position is right for you?

The importance of leadership within a company is indisputable.

Without proper leadership, teams can fall apart. They won’t know what direction to take or how to work together. Leaders may provide guidance, direction, and inspiration. Leaders help others focus on what is most important.

But, leadership roles come in different flavors with different titles. Depending on the  company, leaders might have uncertainty around their roles and responsibilities

  • What are my specific duties?
  • Who do I report to?
  • What are my objectives?

Two of the most common leadership roles are managers and supervisors. But how are they different?

Let’s take a closer look. From manager and supervisor job descriptions to salaries, we’ll cover it all. Learn about the distinction between a manager versus a supervisor and how they compare to other leadership roles in the organization.

What is the difference between a supervisor and a manager?

Managers and supervisors are leadership roles within a company. They both have an important part to play in a business’s day-to-day activities and the organizational ecosystem.

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The role of a manager is strategic. Managers are involved in decision-making. They oversee the success of a team or entire company.

Unlike managers, supervisors focus more on the administration and execution of tasks. They assign work to employees and keep them on track. Traditionally, they make sure that tasks are completed according to instruction and in a timely fashion.

While a supervisor pays attention to employees’ performance, someone in a managerial position focuses on increasing the effectiveness of their employees. Managers also have an eye toward developing their teams over time to meet future demands, not just current ones.

The authority of a manager vs. a supervisor

In terms of hierarchy, managers typically rank higher than supervisors.

Within most organizations, managers are regarded as middle-level management. They report to a director, someone within the C-suite, or vice president (VP). Often, they have the authority to hire, dismiss, or promote employees.

Supervisors, on the other hand, typically report to managers and usually don't have the power to dismiss or promote employees. They are, however, able to recommend changes based on an employee's performance.

Managers create plans that senior management approves. Managers then give the plan to supervisors for them to carry out. The supervisors assign various tasks and duties to employees. 

Supervisors don't have a lot of organizational power, yet they influence the experience, motivation, and performance of a vast swath of the workforce.

Employees generally use supervisors as their first point of contact. Team members should feel comfortable openly communicating with the supervisor.

If the supervisor can't help, issues escalate to the manager. And if the manager can't resolve the issue either, they’ll approach the department head or human resources officer.

While these are the typical processes, keep in mind that no two organizations are the same.

Responsibilities of managers vs. supervisors

One of the biggest differences between managers and supervisors is delegation

Supervisors delegate and oversee the day-to-day tasks of employees on their team. They make sure that employees are being compensated and recognized for their contributions. This ensures that employees know how to do their jobs and manage their time and resources to deliver quality and meet commitments to their customers, within and outside the organization. 

On the other hand, a manager’s job is to ensure employees are accomplishing the impact and outcomes that the team is responsible for and that matter to the organization's performance. This ensures their department contributes to the overall success and goals of the company. The manager must be a leader who provides overall direction and inspires supervisors and employees to achieve the group's objectives.

Competent supervisors understand the work their team members must do. They also keep track of the work that their employees complete and respond quickly to create contingency plans and fill gaps. They understand the impact their team’s performance has on the company as a whole.

Other responsibilities of a manager include:

  • Meeting with the company’s leadership team
  • Helping with budget oversight
  • Receiving feedback on the department’s performance
  • Evaluating  the performance of employees
  • Conducting performance reviews of supervisors

Other responsibilities of a supervisor include:

Put simply, managers are responsible for managing, not just employees. Money, materials, machinery, and methods in their department all fall under their control.

Supervisors are responsible for supervising employees. They make sure staff follow management directives and company policy. Through their day-to-day interactions, supervisors also provide training, motivation, connection, and belonging. Supervisors are (often overlooked) shapers of culture.

Keep in mind that not all organizations have, or require, supervisors. Industries that typically have supervisors tend to have a relatively large percentage of lower- or entry-level employees, such as production, manufacturing, and warehouse operations.

Managers are more commonplace throughout many industries, from engineering and construction to communication and marketing, where there are relatively fewer entry-level employees.

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The objectives of managers and supervisors

One of a manager’s main objectives is to develop strategies that support the larger strategies of a company.

These strategies are designed to create long-term profits and sustainability. Managers should also assess their proposed strategies and provide overviews of the benefits and risks.

A manager is accountable for the performance of their department. They make sure that the available resources are being properly used.

An example of a manager’s objective might be keeping expenditures within the department's budget. They need to make sure that a profit is being made in order for the business to survive.

Another manager objective might be to drive business development and growth within the company.

A supervisor’s objectives are more focused on clear communication with employees about their work priorities.

Supervisors train employees so that they can efficiently complete their tasks. They may assign tasks to employees in their team or department. They’ll then coordinate with them to ensure those tasks are completed accurately and on time.

Examples of supervisor objectives include increasing employee retention, minimizing unplanned absences, or completing team performance reviews. Supervisors’ objectives focus internally (within their department or team).

The salary of managers vs. supervisors

In general, managers earn more than supervisors do. This is because managers generally have more responsibility, which gives them a higher level of authority. They have more responsibilities because of their role as strategic planners for the company.

Managers in the U.S. earn an average of $55,342 per year. They also receive an average $10,000 cash bonus per year. 

Keep in mind that there are different kinds of managers with different responsibilities (and salaries vary greatly depending on location and industry). Here are the average salaries for different types of managers in the US:

  • Operations manager salary: $65,970 per year
  • General manager salary: $53,511 per year
  • Project manager salary: $77,077 per year
  • Store manager salary: $46,423 per year

Common employee benefits include a flexible schedule, employee discounts, and paid time off. Health insurance and employee stock purchase plans are popular, too.

Some managers receive flexible spending accounts, 401(k), and 401(k) matching. Dental, disability, vision, and life insurance may also form part of their compensation package.

Supervisors in the U.S. earn an average salary of $48,189 per year. Common supervisor benefits include health insurance, disability insurance, and tuition reimbursement.

Commuter assistance and employee discounts are often included as well.

As with managers, different types of supervisors have different earning potential, depending on their duties. Here are the average salaries for different types of supervisors in the US:

  • Operations supervisor salary: $63,686 per year
  • Warehouse supervisor salary: $52,687 per year
  • Production supervisor salary: $61,086 per year

Other leadership roles

Let’s take a look at other leadership roles, and what the difference is relative to managers and supervisors.

Leaders

A leader is simply someone who leads. Whether you’re a manager, supervisor, or director, every leadership role benefits from developing certain leadership skills and leadership qualities.

Managers typically report to senior management such as directors and VPs, and supervisors typically report to managers. Because a leader is more of a conceptual role than a title, leaders may report to managers or to supervisors depending on the circumstance.

In fact, for companies to be more agile and adaptable in rapid change, they need more leaders at all levels.

Managers’ and supervisors’ authority is formal. It’s based on their position within the company.

A leader’s authority is informal. It’s based on their personal qualities and track record in their department. On the other hand, managers and supervisors have administrative and other responsibilities, including setting goals, decision-making, and managing workflow.

A leader’s main responsibility is to proactively encourage and inspire others.

The objectives of leaders are to encourage fellow employees to achieve company goals.

The C-suite and other executives and senior managers should all be leaders in the company. However, other leaders may be on the same pay grade as other general employees. This means they earn less than managers and supervisors. 

A few examples of leaders in teams or departments include:

  • The employee who regularly assists a supervisor in preparing a space for a team meeting
  • The employee who proactively encourages coworkers to take part in team-building activities
  • The employee who consistently gives support and assistance to other employees

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Directors

A director is often part of a senior leadership team. Directors usually report to the owner or board of directors.

The authority of a director in a company is formal. It is based on their role within the organization.  

Directors are involved in long-term planning for the company. Their responsibilities are mostly strategic. An example is to draw up plans and policies.

Directors’ objectives are to direct the company on the most profitable route. They aim to achieve short-term and long-term goals without diverging from important guidelines.

The average director base salary in the U.S. is $86,623 per year. They also receive an average yearly cash bonus of $20,000. An average yearly profit sharing of $13,535 and various benefits are also often included.

Examples of directors include:

  • Director of operations
  • Managing director
  • Program director
  • Director of strategy
  • Executive director
  • Associate director

Assistant manager

The assistant manager reports directly to the manager. Both the assistant manager and manager report to the senior management team. The assistant manager’s authority is formal.

The main responsibility of this role is to support the manager. They need to fulfill most, if not all, of the manager’s functions when the manager is not present.

An assistant manager’s objectives might include ensuring company policy gets followed and putting processes in place for a growing team to operate more effectively. Plus, they manage employees and workflow to help ensure they can work effectively and efficiently to maintain a target level of profitability.

The average assistant manager salary in the U.S. is $13.53 per hour. Assistant managers also often receive an average yearly cash bonus of $2,300 and an average yearly commission of $6,000.

Some common benefits include paid sick time, 401(k) matching, and tuition reimbursement.

Examples include:

  • Assistant branch manager
  • Assistant restaurant manager

Coordinators

Coordinators are usually appointed by managers to coordinate specific tasks or projects. They report to the manager that hired them.

Although coordinators have formal authority, it’s limited to a project or task. They may need to report to the manager before making executive decisions.

A coordinator’s responsibilities are clearly defined. They are responsible for coordinating the various parts of a task or project.

This is in line with their objectives. These are to ensure projects get completed accurately and on time.

The average base salary for coordinators in the U.S. is $17.05 per hour. Common benefits include health insurance, dental insurance, and vision insurance. A flexible schedule and paid time off are also commonplace.

Yearly salaries can vary. The average for operations coordinators is $63,321 per year. The average for program coordinators is $46,508 per year.

Examples of coordinators include:

  • Care coordinator
  • Service coordinator
  • Administrative coordinator

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Managers vs. supervisors: What position is right for you?

Now that you know more about the manager vs. supervisor job titles, you might be wondering what the right leadership role is for you.

Some companies appoint managers from among their supervisors. This is because supervisors are familiar with procedures, policies, and company goals.

Supervisors are in a position to prove their leadership and interpersonal skills. This is usually in preparation for taking on management roles.

Depending on your qualifications, experience, and other factors, you may need to first make your mark. You need to establish yourself as a leader among your coworkers.

Work your way toward a supervisory position, and from there, work toward a managerial role.

BetterUp offers coaching that can help you bring out the best in everything you do. Learn how you can unlock your potential as a manager or supervisor. Get in touch today.

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Published August 10, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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