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Supervising Staff – Volunteers and Employees

By Tom Linley, Florida Association For Volunteer Resource Management

Effectively supervising staff brings great rewards for any organization, staff and its supervisors. Supervising and guiding staff in their work is essential to serving your clients and your community. Volunteers who are integrated into your organization and work side-by-side with employees should be supervised equally. Volunteers should be asked and expected to serve with the same quality and character as paid employees.  Their interest and desire to serve your organization in a volunteer capacity is a good foundation you can build on.

The important first step in supervising anyone is getting to know them. Take time to understand who they are and what motivates them. Everyone is motivated by something different; some are motivated by recognition, others appreciation, and others by the complexity and challenge of the work.  Knowing this helps you maximize the impact and contribution each person makes. This can be as easy as talking to them and asking what motivates them and what kind of supervision they work best under.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you should change who you are as a supervisor, rather it provides awareness of adjustments you might choose to make.

Strategies for effective supervision

  • Set Expectations: Sometimes when a person doesn’t fulfill expectations, it can be traced back to a lack of understanding and clarity in the beginning. 
  • Give Instructions: For new volunteers or new tasks, it is important to provide detailed instructions on the task. 
  • Provide Feedback: Once the task is underway, provide feedback on how the volunteer is doing.  This can be a great time to make any adjustments in how the task is being accomplished.
  • Use Correction: Sometimes a correction needs to be made and taking the time to guide and provide support will ensure the volunteer is heading in the right direction.
  • Allow Freedom:  Wow!  Does this mean you give the volunteer the freedom to do the task? In some cases, yes!  Define the objective and get out of the way.  Each volunteer brings a distinct set of experience and skills.  Getting out of the way often produces better results than expected.
  • Encourage Initiative: Sometimes the volunteer will see something that will improve the work outcome and you may not have seen it. Give them the opportunity to move beyond the assignment.  They are likely to exceed your expectations.

Your organization’s mission is accomplished through your most valuable resource, your staff. Perhaps utilizing these strategies will bring rewards for your organization and your staff and make for a seamless difference between your paid employees and volunteers. 

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