5 Tips for Managing a Change in Supervisors

The author shares some tips he learned from his experience as an acting supervisor helping to transition another person into the role.

If you work in the federal government, you have more than likely been through a change in supervisors, if not many. Although this can have such a profound effect on productivity, morale, workplace satisfaction, and overall happiness, few of us plan strategically for this adjustment and transition.

If you have been filling an acting supervisory role, the challenge can be magnified because now you are not only responsible for preparing personally but you are responsible for your team and office.

During a recent leadership transition in my position, I tried to plan deliberately and thoughtfully for every possible scenario and contingency, ultimately with mixed results.

Here are five things I tried and learned: 

Set a positive and “stable” tone with your employees

I hosted an office retreat prior to the arrival of my new supervisor. It allowed us a chance to reflect, team build, and document where we were, where we are, and where we wanted to go. This was important because it provided calm and positive reassurance, and additionally, the new supervisor appreciated having a good sense of the team dynamics early on.

Select the most pressing priorities for immediate handover

I assumed that he would take on responsibilities and complete tasks sooner than he was ready. Be careful about setting unfair expectations. Remember we all learn at our own speed and pace, plus we do not know all the issues or concerns that a new boss may be facing. 

Consider when someone moves into a new position or role, “it’s like drinking from a firehose.”

I developed a staggered introduction plan whereby the most critical introductions took place in the first days and weeks and others took place as needed over the following weeks and even as long as a month after assuming the position.

Be adaptive and attentive to the style, preferences and approach of the new supervisor

Be prepared with as many methods of information-sharing as possible, and ultimately adapt to their style for a better chance at success. For example, don’t assume that a PowerPoint is the best way to share information as the new supervisor may prefer written documents to be read and reviewed at his or her own pace.

Remember that the transition is not immediate

Immediately after he arrived, I was still the de facto supervisor in many ways since I knew the people, the processes, and had historical context. I had meetings with my new boss to discuss this, plus consulted with mentors and colleagues. I learned to let things go, positively reflect on my attributes and skills, and do meaningful work.


In conclusion, I learned to be patient with myself, the transition, and the new supervisor. We share in the success of our teams and leaders, so stay positive, remember what value you bring to your organization, and forgive and learn from your mistakes. In the words of author and speaker John C. Maxwell, “change is inevitable; growth is optional.”

Kent Benson is an experienced public sector professional in the fields of human resources, contracting in the federal government, information technology, supervision and leadership. The views expressed are the author’s own and not those of the U.S. Government.