The Top 5 Tips New Supervisors Need to Know

A correctional supervisor position is only for the strong-willed. Why? Serving in this specific role means taking on substantial responsibility, stretching your knowledge, and testing your limits. Are you ready for it? Learn more in the 5 tips below that all new correctional supervisors need to be aware of when starting this role.
Kenzie Koch
Kenzie Koch
Chris Riedmueller | Product Trainer
Jeff Kovar | Strategic Account Executive

Taking on a “supervisor” role in any profession is an impressive advancement, but is the “Supervisor Status” worth the hype? What are you expected to supervise, exactly? Will there be a crossfire of demands? How do you oversee performance? How do you delegate tasks? The list goes on. If you’ve ever thought about what it’s like working as a supervisor in corrections, this is the blog for you. Let’s walk through the top five things that all new correctional supervisors should know. 

1 Don’t Be a Micromanager

Like any profession, you will most likely run into a manager or supervisor who likes things done a certain way. For example, your boss gives you an assignment but then breathes over your shoulder the entire time you work on it. In other words, your boss doesn’t grant you the freedom of finishing your assignment on your terms because the boss will want it done their specific way. Thus, there is inevitable frustration when you are being micromanaged. Not only will you be frustrated with your boss, but you will likely question if you’re capable of your job or if you’re just incompetent. In fact, studies from psychology experts have shown how detrimental micromanagement can be in the workplace. Employees who feel micromanaged don’t perform at their highest potential because their growth is stunted. When employees are so used to having their boss approve their work before moving on to the next project, they become dependent on that approval before making another move. They don’t have the initiative to work on anything else without the green light from their superiors. Not only does this hurt the physical work being completed in the office, but it damages the mental capacity of the employee. When an employee’s developmental tools are cut short, they max out on their current level of critical thinking and creativity. Feeling like you always need to meet expectations or satisfy your boss in order to keep working is an extremely toxic work environment (aside from the fact that the boss needs to have constant control). 

However, just because you experienced complete burnout from the person above you doesn’t mean this is how you should treat the individuals beneath you. Leaders need to empower their people instead of disenfranchising them. When allowing others to make their own decisions, you have to expect a few mistakes (we are only human after all). Not every single decision made by a team member needs to be the right decision, because we, as humans, learn from failures. Of course, bouncing back from a failure can be a steep learning curve, but there is one thing worse than failing: reliance. If you micromanage your team enough, they will become reliant on you and won’t figure out how to make decisions for themselves. Simply put, micromanagement impedes growth. Working as a CO is a job that simply cannot depend on others' decisions. People who work in corrections need to grow. So, the next time you have to train and show the ropes to the rookies, think about how you were treated, and how you would’ve wanted to be treated. Good leaders encourage, recognize, and cultivate people to be future leaders. Who knows? The rookie you’re training may be a supervisor one day.   

2 Serve as a Leader

Once you’ve climbed higher on the totem pole and you’re no longer the fresh blood, a new rookie will step in. You have two choices: look at the new boots as a burden or take them under your wing. Think about when you first started this job and the emotions you were feeling. Would you have liked it if an experienced officer introduced themselves and showed you the ropes? The new folks are likely feeling the same way. The new boots that come into this field have the same sense of belonging that you felt at one point. They associate this profession with the people they look up to. So, instead of viewing the rookies as a burden and ignoring them, embrace their presence and show them that they are valued and needed, and inspire them to stay and perform at their best. 

The phrase “becoming a leader” can sound intimidating to some. And those “some” probably are not best suited to be a leader. If you’re fit to be a leader, then it shouldn’t come as an intimidating duty. That doesn’t mean that leaders don’t face obstacles like the rest of us, because they absolutely do. In fact, individuals in a leadership position face more challenges than we realize. Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you get to make the rules and everyone follows them point blank. Oh no. As a matter of fact, one of the largest roles of leadership is being able to shut up and listen. Don’t like the sound of that? Well, then you probably wouldn’t make an outstanding leader. If you want to earn the trust of your front line, you have to intentionally and attentively listen to them. As a leader, your front line has to trust you because you’re making decisions that affect their safety and well-being. To earn their trust, ask them how you can serve them as their leader.  

Don’t take the pedestal and constantly have the mic. If you’re a leader, your growth is dependent on giving the mic to someone else and hearing their concerns and understanding their perspectives. If you’re not growing, your team isn’t growing.
Anthony Gangi
Host of Tier Talk

3 Move Intentionally

Starting a new supervisor position is very honorable and exciting. One of your first goals is to get the staff to respect you. Thus, you most likely have a long mental list of items you want to address and change right away. You’re determined to modify your staff’s workflow to make their jobs easier. That’ll get your staff to like you, right? Let’s back up for a second. Unfortunately, this plan of action can do more harm than help. A common pitfall of any new supervisor is to drastically change operations. Why? Let’s think about it. Leaders need to respect past operations (as their staff was a big part of it!) and have realistic expectations about the future. Being a leader means to lead, they shouldn’t bash the previous way things were managed or blame others for the failures that took place. When starting in a supervisory role, you have a raw perspective and a fresh start so there’s no need to look back at how operations were previously managed with a negative view. Instead, this is an opportunity to take into account the items that staff like/dislike and navigate the different routes of improving their operations with minimal alteration. 

So, what happens when you know there’s a crucial change that needs to be made, but you don’t want to overwhelm or scare off your staff? Attack the problem at hand with intention. Even when a change is for the benefit of the staff or organization, implementing the change too quickly or too often can decrease staff trust and morale. As an individual in power, it’s important to communicate not only what the change is going to be and the reason for it. It sounds trivial, but when you engage staff in the process of change, they can understand better and get behind it. Sometimes the inclusion of a well-articulated email, or even an open forum discussion, can exponentially increase the implementation time as it highlights the stumbling blocks you don’t anticipate. As a leader, sometimes you can get stuck focusing only on the end goal and forget about moving with purpose. Leaders need to be intentional with every move in their position: how they hold themselves, answer questions, take initiative, make decisions, treat others, etc. Every step they made should be made with the idea that a thousand eyes are watching them. To be a leader means to also be a role model for others.  

Being a great leader is all about having a genuine willingness and a true commitment to lead others to achieve a common vision and goals through positive influence.
John C. Maxwell

4 Effective Discipline 

Like any supervisor position, there are challenges that come with the territory. When you first start your role, you will quickly realize that you are now responsible for the actions of other employees. Although this may initially seem unfair, you learn to accept it as that’s what leaders do. Leaders should be seen as mentors that empower their subordinates to learn and grow. As we all know, making a mistake can be viewed as a weakness. However, leaders use mistakes as tools for learning. In fact, discipline can be used as a growth opportunity. Let’s be clear that helping staff improve their work can come in all different shapes and sizes. For instance, some staff only learn from a mistake by seeing more hands-on examples while others only respond to disciplinary actions. In order to have a positive result come out of a disciplinary action, leaders need to know how to effectively discipline. (Yes, there is a “right” way to lay down the law.) When it comes to coaching individuals in a disciplinary manner, it’s important to keep one thing in mind (and it’s what you were taught as a five-year-old!). Think about what your parents warned you about growing up: “If you didn’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Hopefully, this sounds familiar because this quote definitely applies to this job, especially when trying to teach a lesson. For example, imagine that you see something happening on the floor that upsets you; you see one of your line staff leaning back in their chair with their feet kicked up on their desk. What’s your first step? First and foremost, bite your tongue. When you see something on the floor that frustrates you, your first step should be to think about a plan of action. Ideally, you choose to secure the situation and then call your officer into a private setting to take disciplinary action. You never want to discipline an employee where an inmate or another employee can see or hear. Why? Not only is it incredibly rude and unprofessional to publicly embarrass someone, but what if an inmate overhears and uses it as a manipulation tool to try and convince the officer to retaliate against the supervisor? The only feedback you should ever give employees in the earshot of others is positive reinforcement. 

5 Don’t Forget Your Roots

When you are first handed your supervisor reins, you are simultaneously accepting new responsibilities. Of course, you are going to want to be a superb supervisor, but the reality is that it won’t happen overnight. In fact, the whole onboarding process will most likely be overwhelming and difficult to absorb all the new information at once. Nevertheless, remember that you were chosen to be a supervisor because you have demonstrated that you are capable of fulfilling the position. It’s more than likely that you proved your worth while you were working on the front lines. Think about how often you worked alongside your supervisor while you were a CO. Were they engaged with your work? Did they provide positive feedback when you finished your shift? How did they impact your time on the front lines? Whether you had a positive or negative experience with your personal supervisor, you need to think about your role as a supervisor and how you can now help those working the front lines. You can easily stay engaged with your crew by simply ensuring that they have all of the equipment and supplies they need (perhaps you can give them a chance to go on break or use the restroom!). It’s these small gestures that let your crew know that you didn’t just “forget where you came from” and still care for those doing the work that you used to do. It’s perfectly OK if it takes some time to become a good supervisor but having the support of your team can make it so much easier.

Hopefully, this blog has attested why a correctional supervisor position is only for the strong-willed, and how the five tips above can help the next applicable individual thrive in this role. Serving as a supervisor and carrying out tasks such as overseeing performance, delegating tasks, and balancing a crossfire of demands, will lead your patience to be stretched thin. However, that’s part of the job. You will still be expected to serve as the leader you are. At the end of the day, your main goal is to get your team home safely. And if you can say you accomplished that task, you’re in the right place.