The Single Most Important Leadership Trait for Supervisor Success

The Single Most Important Leadership Trait for Supervisor Success

Supervisors are ideally positioned within the organization. Since they interface between management, the workforce, and valued clients, they are at the epicenter of important activities. That positioning alone, however, doesn't drive results. Upper management often finds itself asking: "What is the single most important leadership trait for supervisor success?"

Supervisors are often dependent upon others. Their success is related to communication skills and the ability to influence others to achieve critical performance outcomes. Unfortunately, most supervisors lack the skills needed to succeed. Where that void exists, a simple understanding of what matters most is the first step. 


The single most important leadership trait for supervisor success: social intelligence

Social intelligence, fundamentally, is common sense or tact in dealing with others. In practice, it's the ability to gain alignment, build teams, and achieve performance outcomes where various personalities and differences exist.

Through hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of individual assessments conducted during deliveries of our AEU LEAD Supervisor Skills Workshop, one thing has become abundantly clear. Supervisors struggle with rapport and find it difficult to develop working relations with those around them. Roughly 70% of those having gone through the workshops feel this way and select it as the skill they most need to develop. These findings are strongly supported by research and have a direct bearing on what matters most to supervisors. 


What makes social intelligence so important for supervisor success?

Social intelligence is inherently related to rapport, relationships, and one's ability to interact with others effectively. It involves basic people skills and is the foundation of respect – an essential prerequisite to influence. To succeed, supervisors must have the ability to get results through others. Knowing stakeholders individually and on a personal level makes this much easier. Here are some suggestions that will help.


Find common ground

To build rapport with those you don't know, start by finding things you share in common. What are their hobbies, interests, or favorite pastimes? Do they have children, grandchildren, or pets? What do they value most? While our differences can (and often do) divide us, it's those things we share in common that can unite us. As difficult as it may seem, commonalities do exist. Find them, and you're well on your way to creating a valued asset.


Discover and create shared experiences

Relationships form over time through shared experiences. As a supervisor, this is an important consideration and something you should try to do. Talk to employees about things important to them. To get to know them better, get below the surface. Relive a concert or discussing favorite fishing lures. If you have little in common, look for opportunities to create a positive experience for which you are both involved. Above all else, show genuine, authentic, and sincere interest.


Demonstrate care and concern

"It's the little things in life that matter most," as the common saying goes. Demonstrating care or concern is an essential part of building relations. To make a lasting impression, focus on the things most important to those around you. Routinely ask about the well-being of family members or loved ones. Expressing condolences for losses and acknowledging special occasions requires little effort but means a lot. Respecting individuality, views, and beliefs counter to your own, while not always easy, is something you should strive to do. (Our article on listening with intent and purpose gives some tips on this.)


Focus on progress over perfection

The hardest step in any given journey is always the first. For supervisors looking for opportunities to grow or improve, there are few things more important than developing the skills needed to work with others more effectively. While the single most important leadership trait for supervisor success is social intelligence, it's the ability to translate that to action that matters most. Find a way to get started on your journey. Don't worry about those things you can't control, focus instead on what you can do and make it happen. Everything else will fall into place.


This article originally appeared in the AEU LEAD blog on December 21, 2020.
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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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How to Prepare for and Lead a Group Presentation | SOS Podcast

Defining, Developing, and Demonstrating Social Intelligence | SOS Podcast

Don’t Trip Over What’s Behind You: 5 Recommendations for Dealing With the Past | SOS Podcast

Soft Skills for Supervisors: Why it Matters

Why Your Employees Should Adopt the Ownership Mindset