Manager vs. Supervisor: Key Differences and Duties

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 2, 2022

Published August 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many companies and organisations have managers and supervisors who provide guidance and direction to staff members. While managers and supervisors both hold leadership roles, there are some key differences between the two positions. Learning about these differences can help you make more informed career choices. In this article, we explain what managers and supervisors are, then discuss the differences between a manager vs. supervisor.

What is a manager?

A manager is a decision-maker for a specific area of a company, such as a department or division. Working below executive management, a manager shapes the overall direction of their area. For example, a manager creates the goals and objectives of the department and ensures they align with the company's overall vision. They manage the resources of their department, such as financial budgets, labour force, and materials.

Several primary duties of a manager include:

  • Creating and monitoring department goals and objectives through key performance indicators (KPIs)

  • Organising workflow structure and communication within their area of the company

  • Managing budgetary responsibilities

  • Working with human resources to identify gaps in staffing and creating a recruitment plan

  • Collaborating with human resources to interview and hire new employees

  • Conferring with executive management to provide updates on key projects and department objectives

  • Evaluating employee performance using a performance management system and setting goals with employees

  • Delegating tasks to employees and providing regular feedback

  • Organising and taking part in professional development opportunities

  • Providing clear communication with department employees through meetings and one-on-one conversations

Related: Top Management Skills Every Manager Needs

What is a supervisor?

A supervisor is a leader who directly oversees employees and follows a manager's directions. They work alongside team members, helping them complete basic duties and responsibilities. A supervisor is in charge of the daily tasks and productivity of the group and ensures that the team completes the goals and objectives set out by the manager.

The supervisor is also the first line of contact for employees who have questions or concerns. It's up to the supervisor to determine if they can escalate an issue to the manager for direction or a decision. Companies may prefer these tiers of communication so that supervisors can resolve more minor issues without needing to consult with management.

Some of the primary duties of a supervisor include:

  • Assigning tasks to employees and overseeing workflow of the department to reach productivity goals

  • Answering questions from employees and providing hands-on direction and guidance

  • Training new employees on company procedures

  • Coaching existing employees on new tasks and responsibilities

  • Creating and monitoring performance goals and deadlines that align with the company's objectives

  • Monitoring employee work tasks and reassigning duties as required

  • Addressing questions or complaints from customers

  • Keeping track of employee's schedules, time off requests, sick days, and vacation requests

  • Maintaining employee personnel records

  • Gathering information and submitting performance reports to the department manager

  • Providing feedback to the department manager about employees eligible for promotions or bonuses

  • Informing the department manager about any disciplinary issues with employees that need to be addressed

Read more: What Are the Responsibilities of a Supervisor?

Manager vs. supervisor

There are several key differences between managers and supervisors that include compensation, authority, responsibilities, and position objectives. A manager is typically a higher-level employee who focuses on strategic planning and department goal setting. A supervisor generally is more hands-on and usually works alongside team members. Here are some in-depth differences between managers vs. supervisors:

Compensation

One of the primary differences between managers and supervisors is the level and type of compensation related to their position. A manager is usually a salaried position, meaning that they receive a set amount of money during the payroll cycle, regardless of time off, holidays, or overtime. A supervisor, in contrast, may have a salaried or hourly paid position, depending on the structure of the company. For example, if the company pays a supervisor hourly, they must pay all overtime and statutory holidays under provincial or territorial regulations.

The other difference regarding compensation is the amount paid to a manager versus a supervisor. Because a manager is higher within a company's organisational structure, the business typically pays them a higher wage than a supervisor. This is because of the level of authority and responsibility a manager has. Regardless of the pay difference, a company may offer both supervisors and managers bonus programs or profit-sharing options.

Here is a comparison of the compensation difference between an accounting manager and an accounting supervisor:

  • National average salary for an accounting manager: $75,218 per year

  • National average salary for an accounting supervisor: $67,153 per year

Authority

The second significant difference between a manager and a supervisor is their level of authority. Companies that operate on a top-down basis have managers communicate directions to supervisors and then supervisors communicate these to staff. Because a manager is higher within a company's organizational structure, they have the authority to make decisions that affect time, money, and resources. For example, they often have the power to hire new employees, let go of staff, and make changes within their department. In addition, they often have budgetary authority to approve expenses up to a certain level.

A supervisor, in contrast, typically reports directly to the manager of the department or division. While they may have the authority to make certain decisions, such as resolving customer complaints, a supervisor usually needs a manager's approval for higher-level decisions. A supervisor's authority often extends to daily operations decisions, such as determining team priorities, delegating critical tasks to team members, and deciding the more effective and productive way to achieve department goals. They focus their authority on handling daily decisions that affect the productivity of the team and customer-facing issues.

Related: Understanding a Matrix Organizational Structure

Responsibility

The level of responsibility between a manager and supervisor also sets the two positions apart. A manager handles the overall profitability and productivity of their department or division. They ensure that the work completed in their department meets the company's overall goals and objectives. A manager usually meets with executives or upper-level management to confirm that they've delegated work tasks and organised projects.

A supervisor, in contrast, focuses on the day-to-day operations and workflow of the department. While often performing their own daily tasks, they act as a guide to ensure all employees know what they need to do. In addition, they're the first contact for employees who have questions regarding their individual tasks. A supervisor then communicates with the manager to adjust the team's performance and ensures they meet any deadlines.

Objectives

The objectives of managers and supervisors also differ regarding the goals they set . A manager looks at high-level objectives, focusing on their department or division's overall productivity and profitability. They set broad objectives based on the company's comprehensive strategic plan without looking at the individual tasks required to meet their goal. Once a manager has created objectives for their department, they often have the plan approved by the executive management to ensure it aligns with the company's goals. They can then share it with their supervisors for implementation by the department employees.

A supervisor focuses on the daily details, taking the larger objectives of the manager and turning them into smaller goals for the employees. They focus on training their employees and making sure they have the necessary tools and knowledge to do their jobs effectively. A supervisor's objectives directly relate to the manager's goals for the department.

Here are some example objectives for a manager:

  • Adjust the department's budget and resubmit it to executive management for approval

  • Complete next year's strategic plan, broken out by quarters, by the end of next month

  • Assign two special department projects to supervisors by the end of the week

  • Determine which team members they can promote to supervisor level

  • Meet with upper executives to discuss goals for the new fiscal year

Here are some example goals a supervisor may need to meet:

  • Train three employees on a new workflow procedure

  • Increase employee productivity by 10% next month, using a key performance indicator (KPI) as an evaluation tool

  • Complete performance evaluations on four employees this quarter

  • Assist managers in making a hiring decision for a new team member

  • Communicate daily goals to team members that align with the company's overall goals

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing.

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