Health and safety culture – Supervision
Effective supervision has a significant positive impact on a range of human and organisational factors such as compliance with procedures, training and competence, safety-critical communication, staffing and workload, and fatigue and risk assessment.
Supervision plays a key role in safety. Effective supervision incudes being able to identify hazards and risks in the work area and taking appropriate action. This is crucial to ensuring work tasks are carried out safely.
What does it mean to be an effective supervisor?
Effective supervisors play a vital role in providing leadership, reinforcing standards and expectations for personnel behaviours and countering deficiencies in management systems.
Supervisors benefit from being able to assess their team strengths and weaknesses and adjust their own role in a task accordingly. This may be required in a dynamic situation such as an emergency or if staff are new or inexperienced.
Importance of technical and interpersonal skills in supervision
Having sufficient technical skills is a core part of being an effective supervisor. For example, if it became clear that certain team members are unable to cope, the supervisor should rapidly reassign their tasks or carry them out themselves. Such interventions require the supervisor to have sufficient technical skills to recognise and manage the problem.
Organisations should recognise that supervisors are unlikely to have the full range of technical skills and knowledge of the multi-disciplinary or third-party teams they supervise. A key supervisory skill is to understand the team members work sufficiently to ensure it is performed to the required technical and safety standards.
The supervisor and their manager should also recognise any gaps in their understanding and ensure that support is always available to assist with tasks or situations that are unfamiliar.
Lack of interpersonal skills in supervisors can increase human error, and therefore the likelihood of incidents or accidents, because supervisors may fail to:
- encourage teams to report problems
- set a good example and encourage their teams to adhere to safe work practices
- present themselves as open, caring and approachable
- spend sufficient quality time with teams, gaining trust, noticing and resolving workforce fatigue, stress and other problems.
Defining a supervisor’s role
The supervisor role should not be allowed to expand in an uncontrolled way, particularly with non-health and safety administrative tasks dominating the work day or small and informal adjustments to the role over time changing it beyond recognition.
Management should ensure that they have in place:
- a clear and comprehensive job description for supervisor roles
- a process able to identify suitable supervisors against that job description, which should be based on:
- technical and non-technical skills
- personality, including being able to motivate others, being risk aware and being flexible and adaptable to changing situations
- potential to be coached and trained in the role
- consultation with workers regarding specific skills and knowledge required for a supervisor in their work area
- suitable means for establishing and enhancing supervisor competence via mentoring, supervised practical experience in the role and formal training
- systems and processes for ensuring supervisor competence is monitored and evolves to meet new or altered demands
- sufficiently competent personnel to stand in for absent supervisors, noting that temporary supervisors may need to be carefully monitored and the limits of their duties clearly acknowledged and defined.
This webpage by DMIRS describes the responsibilities of supervisors, why their role is important and how to achieve effective supervision.