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Guide on Preparing to Become a First-Level State Supervisor

​Published July 8, 2010 by the HR Modernization Project

Introductory Message

An effective government is supported by talented public servants. As baby boomers prepare to retire, the State of California is about to lose many of its most experienced and expert workers. This means unprecedented opportunities will be available in leadership positions with the State of California like never before.

This guide on "Preparing to Become a State Supervisor" helps current and future supervisors in all areas of State government build the skills necessary to respond to the looming talent loss in State of California supervisory positions. This guide includes a Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool to help assess your current strengths and identify growth opportunities. This guide also identifies the competencies needed to be successful as a State supervisor and provides suggested activities you can do that will help you develop supervisory competencies. Workforce Planners can also use this Guide to help build their future workforce. Agencies and Departments can download this tool and customize it to add organizational and occupational specific competencies.

The work of a supervisor can be both challenging and rewarding. Supervisors play a key role in employee performance and the delivery of essential government services to the public. Supervisors teach and lead staff and ensure their team follows department or agency policies and procedures. Supervisors align the work of their staff to strategic mission and goals. Selecting for, training to, and assessing performance of these key competencies will ensure our cadre of supervisors has what it takes to do the job. That is our goal -- "The right people in the right jobs."

The Department of Personnel Administration (now the California Department of Human Resources, CalHR) and the HR Modernization Project team encourage current and future supervisors to use this guide to develop and maintain the skills needed to lead a high performing workforce for the State of California.

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. Encourage others to use it. Let us know what you think.

Raye Zentner, Executive Project Director

Getting Started

If you are thinking about becoming a State supervisor

This guide will help you:

  • Assess yourself
  • Identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and on-the job behaviors (competencies) needed to become a supervisor
  • Identify activities that will help develop these competencies
  • Discuss your current job performance and career development with your supervisor
  • Develop your career plan to become a supervisor
  • Prepare to take an on-line supervisory exam

How do I use this guide?

  • Meet with your supervisor/manager to discuss your interest in becoming a supervisor
  • Complete the Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool
  • Meet with your supervisor/manager to discuss the results of your assessment
  • Work with your supervisor/manager to identify activities you can undertake to prepare yourself to become a supervisor 

For Supervisors/Managers

Supervisors/managers can use this Guide to develop a career plan with the employee. Help the employee develop in ways that support your department's strategic goals. In addition, current supervisors may also find this tool useful to assess themselves and determine their own developmental activities.

Use the employee's Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool

It is important that you and your employee complete the Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool separately and then meet to discuss one another's perspectives. The assessment helps you to discuss:

  • Career development plans
  • The individual development plan and the performance appraisal summary (IDP/PAS) (STD 637) 

Tailor developmental activities to meet the employee's and organization's needs

Employees have different training needs based upon their existing skills, knowledge, attitudes, experiences, education, responsibilities, and assignments. They have different learning patterns and respond to different learning methods. No single developmental activity will be relevant to everyone preparing to become a supervisor. 

Supervisor Career Development Model

This comprehensive self-evaluation and development model was developed by the HR Modernization Project and the Department of Personnel Administration (now CalHR). It identifies the most critical competencies needed by employees preparing to become a supervisor. These competencies are based upon those identified in the State Leadership Competency Model.

The Leadership Competency Model identifies a set of "competencies" (knowledge, skills, abilities, and on-the-job behaviors) that are needed for success as a leader with the State of California. It applies to over 980 supervisory, managerial, and executive classifications with over 16,000 incumbents. The sixteen competencies are:

  • Communication
  • Conflict Management
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Team Leadership
  • Change Leadership
  • Vision and Strategic Thinking
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Customer Focus
  • Decision Making
  • Planning and Organizing
  • Thoroughness
  • Ethics and Integrity
  • Personal Credibility
  • Developing Others
  • Fostering Diversity
  • Workforce Management

Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool

The purpose of this tool is to help employees who want to prepare to become a supervisor and their supervisors/managers assess the employee against the performance requirements and competencies that will help the employee advance. The employee and supervisor/manager should complete this form separately and then meet to discuss their perspectives. The discussion should result in the development of an Individual Development Plan (IDP/PAS).

Importance to Current Job

  1. Low or no importance to job
  2. Moderate Importance to job
  3. High importance to job

Developmental Need

  1. Low or no need for training/development
  2. Moderate need for training/development
  3. High need for training/development

Using these scales, rate the importance to current job and developmental need for the following:


  • Provides and receives timely feedback on performance against stated goals
  • Asks follow-up and probing questions, reads non-verbal cues, listens attentively, and provides full attention and necessary time for discussion
  • Has frequent and ongoing communication with team members and supervisors, and ensures clear communication with other parties where appropriate
  • Demonstrates commitment to information-sharing by using accessible methods, maintaining knowledge base, and meeting with leaders
  • Prepares and ensures team documents are error-free, in proper English and department-specific writing style, for self and team members
  • Ensures written communications are clear, concise, relevant, and accurate
  • Develops documents and presentation materials that are organized, easy-to-follow, and tailored to the audience
  • Identifies and develops visual aids or graphics to support written communications

Conflict Management

  • Holds regular open discussions, encourages questions, and works toward conflict resolution solutions
  • Identifies interpersonal styles and discusses appropriate communication methods with team
  • Recognizes and defines conflicts to finalize agreement and course of action
  • Monitors behaviors after conflict resolution

Interpersonal Skills

  • Develops and applies appropriate communication style to situation
  • Perceives non-verbal communication cues and sub-messages, and applies lessons from past experiences
  • Identifies strengths and development areas in others; develops plans and tools to build strengths and close performance gaps
  • Practices active listening and creates an open communication environment

Team Leadership

  • Establishes and communicates team roles, responsibilities, goals, and deliverables
  • Facilitates internal team discussions to encourage participation and enthusiasm
  • Identifies team ground rules and creates an environment of respect for team members
  • Manages team goals effectively, monitors performance, and recognizes positive individual and group performance

Change Leadership

  • Identifies inefficient areas within unit and generates new ideas and recommendations
  • Encourages innovative solutions from team members; serves as a role model for change by striving for continuous improvement
  • Encourages, understands, and effectively communicates the reasons for change to team members

Vision and Strategic Thinking

  • Clearly describes the organization's vision, mission, strategies, and rationale
  • Maintains an environment where individual and team activities contribute to vision; references vision in major communications
  • Communicates link to vision in designing and delegating assignments; encourages team to contribute ideas that support the vision

Analytical Thinking

  • Identifies causes for problems related to processes, procedures or technical issues
  • Breaks down specific or simple tasks and problems and delegates to support staff
  • Systematically gathers and analyzes relevant information from a variety of sources and asks effective probing questions to prioritize action items at the unit level
  • Proactively identifies and addresses key actions and underlying issues and problems at the unit level 

Customer Focus

  • Communicates regularly with customers to assess their business needs; may establish and maintain customer networks
  • Establishes, maintains, and ensures compliance with processes and procedures to ensure the effective delivery of products and services
  • Resolves routine customer problems utilizing unit resources and within existing processes and procedures; identifies and informs customers of constraints and recommends alternatives or solutions
  • Monitors customer satisfaction using a variety of tools such as surveys, meetings, contact logs, informal customer feedback, etc.; compares unit performance against performance standards; recommends and implements business process improvement measures to increase customer satisfaction

Decision Making

  • Makes decisions by gathering and prioritizing facts and information
  • Keeps abreast of department policies and priorities, and of external factors that may impact department policies and priorities in order to make decisions which have minor organizational impact
  • Expresses ideas and decisions in an open and confident manner
  • Tackles reoccurring and/or tactical problems with ease

Planning and Organizing

  • Plans own workload and those of others, prioritizing key tasks and ensuring the appropriate allocation of time and effort to achieve the required results
  • Gathers information from staff and prepares course of action for recommendations at higher levels
  • Breaks down the project or program elements into manageable and achievable tasks/activities and creates a logical plan
  • Develops systematic approaches for checking and reviewing work of staff


  • Establishes processes and procedures to ensure consistency; evaluates and reviews staff's work for accuracy and completeness; monitors for compliance with laws, rules, policies and procedures
  • Sets clear expectations; provides clear assignments and due dates and follows up to ensure assignments are completed; develops and maintains an assignment tracking system; is available for questions and consultation regarding assignments

Ethics and Integrity

  • Is approachable, supportive and willing to listen; understands team member concerns
  • Admits mistakes and attempts to achieve a positive outcome
  • Follows and promotes professional standards, established procedures, and policies when taking action and making decisions
  • Identifies ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interest; takes appropriate action

Personal Credibility

  • Demonstrates honesty and promotes open communication, while respecting confidential information
  • Takes responsibility and accepts consequences of personal mistakes
  • Strives to consistently deliver agreed-upon outcomes or results
  • Values the concerns of people from all levels and does not criticize or belittle; respects concerns voiced by others

Developing Others

  • Encourages staff to reflect on their successes and failures and identify lessons learned for future application
  • Ensures that staff are aware of and have access to all the necessary tools and training to successfully complete their assignments; seeks new tools or training to improve existing processes
  • Ensures that all employees receive an orientation to the unit and the department; provides employees with clear expectations, their roles and responsibilities,​ and the organization's vision and mission
  • Evaluates staff's work formally and informally to identify development areas and career goals; identifies resources to enhance staff's skills
  • Provides staff with assignments suited to their strengths and development needs; and opportunities for career growth

Fostering Diversity

  • Proactively identifies diversity within staff; discusses appropriate methods for working together; coaches on the importance of respecting diversity
  • Ensures that all staff understand and comply with the sexual harassment prevention and anti-discrimination policies, laws, and rules; models appropriate workplace behavior; intervenes promptly if inappropriate behavior occurs

Workforce Management

  • Actively engages in the recruitment, selection, and retention of staff; develops hiring and recruitment packages for the unit; participates in workforce planning efforts
  • Offers informal and formal feedback to improve performance
  • Monitors, identifies and mitigates any observable behaviors that are not consistent with organizational or team success
  • Prepares timely Probation Reports and Individual Development Plans (IDPs); provides training opportunities within the unit 

After the Leadership Readiness Assessment Tool is completed, it's time to talk

The employee and supervisor/manager should meet and talk about the areas that have "high importance" to the employee's current job and that were rated as having a "high need" for development on the assessment. These are the immediate developmental priorities since they improve current performance, as well as help the employee prepare for a supervisory position. But also discuss how the employee could develop in other areas as well.

Work together to develop an Individual Development Plan/Performance Appraisal Summary (IDP/PAS)

Resources: Leadership Competency Model Developmental Activities

For each competency, there are many developmental activities. Options include coaching, mentoring, observing experts, reading books, using online resources, watching videos, or taking training courses.

First look at free resources. However, if a training class is being considered, look for ones that assess knowledge and skills before and after training. That kind of assessment helps ensure that the course is effective and that the skills can be put to use back on the job.

All State employees are encouraged to enhance their skill sets and career opportunities. However, time and monetary reimbursement depend on your department's operational needs and funding and on your bargaining unit contract.​

Guidance for Supervisors and Managers

How do I develop a good Individual Development Plan and Performance Appraisal Summary (IDP/PAS)?

DPA rules (now CalHR) state that employee performance appraisals will be completed years after the initial probationary period ends.

A good performance evaluation helps employees

  • improve their performance,
  • achieve their career goals, and
  • achieve organizational goals.

Gauge the amount of guidance an employee needs

Consider the employee's performance, experience, training, job description (duty statement), and career goals.

Talk with the employee

Discuss the IDP/PAS immediately after probation ends, and then at least once a year. Ask the employee about on-the-job goals and career goals and how their job contributes to the strategic plan. Talk about the training or developmental activities needed to accomplish these goals. Include these goals and activities in the IDP/PAS.

Refer to the IDP/PAS regularly

Communicate continually with the employee about plans for achieving the training or developmental objectives laid out in the IDP/PAS. Refer to the IDP/PAS during the year and make any necessary changes.

Evaluate performance every year

Evaluate overall performance on an annual basis. Talk to the employee. Don't forget to discuss career goals and how they can be achieved.

How can I help employees develop professionally?

As a supervisor/manager, you have a special role in developing your employees.

Coach and mentor employees

Develop an informal coaching and mentoring relationship with the employee. This will help you observe the employee's performance and provide useful feedback. Your feedback should be specific and focus on observable behavior.

Conduct quarterly formal check-ins with the employee to ensure the employee is meeting developmental goals and performing scheduled activities.

Provide specific, constructive feedback about performance and potential areas for development. You can base your feedback on both your observations and what others have told you.

Encourage, support, and reinforce the employee's efforts at professional development.

Ask your employee if your coaching is helping them develop.

Encourage self-development

Always encourage employees to participate in continuing self-development activities such as offered by schools and professional associations. However, time and monetary reimbursement depend on your department's operational needs and funding and on your bargaining unit contract. For specific information on your department policy, contact your Training Office.

Talk about developmental activities before and after a training course

When an employee takes a training course, meet before the course begins and after it ends. In the first meeting, discuss the course objectives and the outcomes you expect. After the course, ask the employee to discuss what he or she learned, how this new knowledge can enhance personal and organizational performance, and how the course will help the employee achieve career goals.

Be a good role model

Model the behavior you expect the employee to develop.

Build the employee's relationships

Help the employee develop relationships with others in your department or organization. Consider assigning a formal mentor to the help the employee network with others.

Resources to help you give useful performance feedback

  • Falcone, P. (2005). 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews, AMACOM, New York.
  • Max, D., & Bacal, R. (2003). Perfect Phrases for Performance Reviews. McGraw Hill, New York.
  • Neal, J. (2006). Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals: A Guide to Successful Evaluation. Neal Publications, Inc., 127 West Indiana Avenue, P.O. Box 451, Perrysburg, Ohio 43552-0451.

You can also explore many examples of how to give constructive feedback on the web. For example, check out:

Guidance for Staff

How can the IDP/PAS help me prepare to become a supervisor?

DPA rules (now CalHR) state that IDPs will be completed yearly after the initial probationary period ends.

A good IDP helps employees

  • improve their performance,
  • achieve their career goals, and
  • achieve organizational goals. 

Identify the gap

Review all the duties, knowledge, skills, and abilities required in your current job. Compare those with the competencies listed in this guide. You'll discover the gap between your current job and what's needed as a supervisor.

Set your objectives

What new skills, knowledge, and experiences would you like to acquire during the next year? Focus on improving job performance so you can meet or exceed expectations for your present job and achieve your career goals at the same time.

Make a plan

Work with your supervisor to create your plan for the next year. 

How can I achieve my objectives?

Develop yourself through training and other activities

In the IDP/PAS, under "Plans for Achieving Objectives," you and your supervisor can identify training, conferences, seminars, and other developmental opportunities offered by your department, other State departments or by outside vendors.

Remember, development doesn't just mean taking classes in a classroom. It can include:

  • cross-training
  • on-the-job training
  • assignments (rotation or training and development)
  • staff meetings
  • information dissemination
  • on-line training
  • technical assistance
  • workshops, seminars, conferences
  • self-directed studies
  • written guidelines, job aids
  • videos, books, podcasts

Use the Resource Guides to find the developmental activities that will help you development the knowledge, skills, abilities, and on-the-job behaviors you need to prepare to become a State supervisor.

Stay motivated and keep going!

You may face barriers on your path to professional development. The everyday demands of your job can take all of your energy and time-if you let them. You may not get rewarded immediately for taking time to work on your development plan.

But your long-term success depends on your professional development. So does your value to the organization. Don't let barriers prevent you from achieving your goals.

Remember, no one else will take as strong an interest in your development as you.

Take responsibility for developing your skills and stay motivated.


Exam and Classification Information

Once you have completed your developmental activities, explore what exams are available.

Are you ready to take the exam now? Questions to consider include:

  • Have you reviewed classification specification for the supervisory position you are interested in? (link to classification specs database)
  • Have you determined if you meet the minimum qualifications? (see below)
  • Is there an exam available?
  • Have you reviewed the exam bulletin (if one exists)?
  • Have you reviewed your education and experience so you can accurately capture your education and experience when applying for the exam?
  • Have you talked to experienced supervisors to learn what it takes to make the transition to being a supervisor?
  • Do you see yourself as a leader?
  • Do others see you as a leader?


Where can I find a list of supervisory classifications that the leadership competency model applies to? 

Here is a list of supervisory classifications. Keep in mind that not all the classifications are for first-level supervisory classifications.

Minimum qualifications (MQs): What do you need to know?

What are MQs?

MQs are requirements that must be met to be allowed to participate in an exam for a classification.

What is a First-Level Supervisor?

First-level Supervisor - Typically a working supervisor who performs the most difficult or sensitive work and supervises a small group or unit; provides day-to-day supervision in one or more functional areas.

There are many classifications that are considered a first-level supervisor.

The Staff Services Manager I classification is an example of a widely used first level supervisor classification. There are approximately 2050 positions at this level throughout the state of California. To determine if you meet the MQs, refer to the SSM I classification specifications.

Actively Seek Vacant Positions

Where can I find vacancies to apply for?

Once you are on an exam list, you may apply for vacant positions. If you want to locate vacant positions, use the Vacant Positions Database (VPOS).

Be sure to use E-Notify to be kept aware of vacancies that you might be interested in.

Where can I find more information on how to get a job with the State of California?

Check out the State Jobs website and these video tutorials for job seekers.

Where can I get help with resumes and interviews?

  Updated: 10/1/2015
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