Supervision Tips for Lay Leaders

By Jan Gartner, Renee Ruchotzke

Two people in silouette in an office having a conversation.

One of the duties of the board is to ensure that staff are adequately supervised and that all staff are clearly assigned a supervisor. When your congregation has staff but no staff member is in a supervisory role, you will need to find a volunteer lay leader to fill that role.

Your Personnel Committee can be helpful in providing an up-to-date personnel manual, staff assessment tools, and UUA Compensation Standards.

Choosing a Supervisor

Because supervision requires a specific set of skills and qualities, it is best for the board to appoint someone rather than entrust the responsibility of supervision to a particular role. The person could be a member of the board or of the personnel committee. Or you might have another member in good standing that has interest and expertise in supervising. Alternatively, you may identify a staff member who could step into the role.

Other considerations include:

  • Need to be trusted individuals with the time and empathy to commit
  • Able to give and receive feedback
  • Willing to learn best practices
  • Familiarity with the congregation’s personnel manual
  • Familiarity with the congregation’s grievance, conflict, and other policies

Supervision Basics

Supervision helps the staff member fulfill the expectations of the employer, in this case, the congregation. Mindful supervision is a way to make our UU values manifest in the world.

Start with clear expectations, in the form of the job description, and create agreed-upon goals (based on the goals of the congregation as a whole). Individual goals may be suggested by the staff person and approved by the supervisor.

Support staff members by having regular meetings if there are multiple staff, plus one-on-one meetings between the staff and supervisor. Help them develop clarity about their work priorities, as well as boundaries (i.e., what isn’t their responsibility). If the nature of the work changes (as it did when the 2020 pandemic happened), work together to update job descriptions. (Hint: make job descriptions general enough that modest changes in goals and responsibilities do not require a re-write.) If there are performance or attendance issues, address them quickly using the personnel policy manual.

Annual evaluations/assessments should be based on the job descriptions and goals and should come from the supervisor. Help the rest of the congregation understand that feedback needs to come from you, not from random members of the community. There should be no surprises in the annual evaluation; it should be a reflection of what you have been discussing during the supervision sessions throughout the year. The supervisor also helps to manage scheduling including approving time off.

In their book When Moses Meets Aaron, authors Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont make clear that supervision is NOT:

  • Direction or control
  • Shared work
  • A chance to improve or fix the staff person
  • Therapy or pastoral care
  • Judgment of the worth of the person

Instead, you are helping the staff person understand expectations, seeing that they have the resources that they need to do their job, and acknowledging and appreciating the good work they are doing.

Addressing Systems of Oppression

In Widening the Circle of Concern, the Commission on Institutional change called on congregations to “Refine and use consistent hiring and firing processes for UUA staff and promote models to recommend them to congregations seeking to hire religious professionals of color.” The UUA Office of Church Staff Finances offers resources under Staffing for Diversit y. In the article Supervision and Cultural Differences, church consultant Susan Beaumont addresses cross-cultural supervision and performance management with practices that apply to any supervisory relationship.

Resources for Supervisors

Human Resources: Supervising for Success (Webinar, 1:06:46)

When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont

About the Authors

Jan Gartner

Jan is passionate about helping congregations live out their values within their walls!...

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .