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How to Develop Better Supervisors

A Q&A with Joseph F. Duffy

Being a supervisor 10 0 - a handbook for the new appointing and experienced supervisor.

Where should a first-time supervisor start? This is the question Joseph F. Duffy sets out to answer in his book Being a Supervisor 1.0 (Business Books, 2018). After 45 years as an executive with Catholic Charities, Duffy knew there needed to be one resource—a "cookbook," as he calls it—that provides all the basics of supervising, from decision making to conflict resolution to strategizing. Heralded for his insights into the nonprofit world and extensive work in supervisor-training, Duffy recently discussed with us how his book will change the way supervisors approach their roles by shaping them into "better listeners, better communicators, and better delegators."

How does your book cater to both new, young supervisors as well as older, more experienced ones?

With regard to the younger or less experienced supervisors, I intended for it to be a stand-alone "cookbook"—a how-to for handling conflict resolution, decision making, etc. For the more experienced supervisors, it's still a cookbook, they're just looking at it through the lens of someone who has already been doing those things. They get the opportunity to question how this book may suggest a recipe different from theirs, and from there they can evaluate their processes and alternatives. It might even stimulate some thinking as to even more ways to do the job.

Was there a moment or aspect of your career that inspired you to write this book?

It was growing over the years. I've always been committed to developing the people I hire and work with. Many times, I was frustrated because I really wanted to give them one source that they could use to get started. Then, once I retired, I had a little more time on my hands. Over the years, I was good at keeping files and records on those specific topics—conflict resolution, decision making, positive work environment—so I had a lot of resources to turn to when I started writing.

The rate of change in leadership across all business organizations is rapidly increasing. How does your book respond to this development?

I think it prepares the supervisor to deal better with change. That's very much a phenomenon we've seen—there's a tremendous amount of turnover. So if the supervisor and employees are well-prepared, they'll be better able to communicate with each other, they will have strategies, they will trust new people when they come on.

How do you think the role of the supervisor is different between nonprofit and for-profit organizations?

I think it's the same and different. Nonprofits, since the very beginning and by legislation, are held in trust for the communities they serve. That's a mission statement right in your paperwork—"This is our purpose." That mission has to drive everything you do for the betterment of the community. If it's a good nonprofit, it really stresses that everybody needs to know what the mission is [and] needs to be committed to it, and that needs to drive your decisions as a supervisor.

For-profits, going back a couple of decades now at least, have been getting more into the idea of a mission statement—but it's still not tied to that sacred trust to care for the community that nonprofits have. The underlying basis of a mission for for-profits is to have a return on investment—they have to make money. It's not that nonprofits don't make money—because if you don't have a margin, you won't have any mission—but the underlying purpose that's driving what nonprofit supervisors do is coming from a different place than the for-profits.

But, increasingly, over the past three or four decades, nonprofits have also been shifting to operating under business-like principles. Nonprofits learn from the for-profits more about how to be a business without losing sight of their mission. If nonprofits don't have a margin, they won't have a mission because they won't be able to serve people. So nonprofit supervisors also have to be business-minded in all their decision making.

How can HR professionals help aid the supervisors within their company?

HR has become much more professionalized over the years, and there's a tremendous amount of knowledge that HR professionals have to have in order to do their job well. They should be a resource for all the employees in the company. One of the chapters [in my book] has to do with the dynamic learning environment—being an organization that commits to ongoing education and training employees. That's an action through which the HR department could be a tremendous resource.

Sometimes management is suspicious of HR because HR is there to protect the employees. HR folks have a fine line to walk—they are there to support management but they're also there to make sure employees are treated fairly, and sometimes those two butt heads. So it's important for the HR professionals not to wait to be called on by the supervisor, but instead to get out there and show the supervisor and management staff "This is what we can do to help make your job easier."

Katie Wattendorf is a former editorial intern at SHRM.



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