A Handbook for Staffing Practices in Student Affairs

"Within the context of student affairs practice, supervision and managing staff is viewed as an essential helping process, which is designed to support staff as they seek to promote the goals of the organization and to advance their professional development."

Winston & Creamer, 1997

Topics on this Page

Rationale for Policy

Policy Statement

Using Staffing Model


Diversity in Supervision





Rationale for Policy on Supervision and Managing Staff

Supervision can be viewed as a process of managing functions intended to promote the achievement of institutional goals and to enhance the personal and professional capabilities of staff. Supervision interprets the institutional mission and focuses human and fiscal resources on the promotion of individual and organizational competence.

Supervision attends to the accomplishment of the institution and unit's goals and to the personal and professional welfare of the staff. An effective supervisor provides by assistance to staff members in meeting their personal and professional goals within the context of the division and the institution. Supervision policy should, then, be directed toward the following objectives:

  • Model practice focused on student learning and education of the whole person.
  • Accomplish the unit and institution's goals and mission.
  • Fulfill the institutional functions assigned to the unit.
  • Coordinate the recruitment and selection process of new staff members.
  • Coordinate the orientation and training of new hired staff members.
  • Consider the personal and professional welfare of the staff members.
  • Establish good communication between members of the unit and division.
  • Conduct and coordinate the performance appraisal of staff members.
  • Address needs of departing and remaining staff members when employee separation occurs.


Supervision Policy Statement

All staff members are entitled to quality supervision. Supervision is ongoing and includes two-way communication to achieve the dual purposes of institutional and staff member development. Supervision will focus on competence with the supervisor responsible for leadership toward the accomplishment of meeting institutional and staff needs. Staff members should be given clear guidance regarding expectations about their role in the unit.


Using The Staffing Model In Supervision

The integrated staffing model operates on the principle of all components of the model being interrelated and strongly influenced by supervision. Therefore, it is important to mention the five other dimensions of the model: , orientation, staff development, performance appraisal, and separation. Supervision, as the linchpin of the model, permeates each of these dimensions. Consequently, supervision principles as discussed here should not be considered in isolation, rather, should be applied to each dimension of the model.

Functions of Supervision - Supervision is not always easy. A supervisor is often called upon to make decisions based upon the knowledge and skills which have been acquired through the years of professional involvement. A supervisor must serve many functions. Among these are:

  • Articulating and achieving the unit's missions and needs
  • Monitoring and managing the climate of the unit
  • Fostering individual development
  • Developing teamwork capabilities and group resources
  • Coordinating work activities
  • Promoting active problem solving

Approaches to Supervision - The process of supervision can take on one or a combination of styles, and one particular style may not be appropriate for every supervisory situation. It is important that a supervisor is aware of his or her predominate approach to supervision so that the style may be adapted as the situation or the staff member requires. Winston and Creamer (1994) provide an instrument to identify supervisory approaches (click here for an example) . The four approaches included in the instrument are:

  • Authoritarian - based on the belief that staff members require constant attention
  • Laissez Faire - based on the desire to allow staff members freedom in accomplishing job responsibilities
  • Companionable - based on a friendship-like relationship
  • Synergistic - a cooperative effort between the supervisor and the staff member

Synergistic Supervision

Synergistic supervision has been described as having the greatest utility for working with student affairs professionals. Its cooperative nature allows joint effects to exceed the combination of individual efforts. Important characteristics of synergistic supervision include:

Dual Focus - Staff members need to feel that they have a significant influence on selecting and defining the goals of the unit and in devising strategies to accomplish them. If staff members perceive goals as being imposed on them, they may not make a personal investment in trying to achieve the goals of the unit. For example, it is a given that a successful Residence Life operation has a process for assigning rooms and roommates to new students. However, the individual staff members can play a large part in defining how that process will most effectively work.

Joint Effort - Supervision is not something done to staff but rather a cooperative activity in which each party has an important contribution to make. Plans for accomplishing tasks such as determining unit priorities, scheduling and distributing work, and coordinating the efforts of the division are worked out jointly between the supervisor and the staff member.

Two-way Communication - In the synergistic model of staffing practices, supervision is dependent upon a high level of trust between staff members and supervisors. Staff members must be willing to allow supervisors to learn personal information about them. Staff members must also feel free to give their supervisors honest, direct feedback. Communication is key in developing this trust.

Focus on Competence - Supervision should concentrate on four areas of staff competence:

Knowledge and information - Staff members must understand how to effectively perform the duties of their job. This includes, but is not limited to understanding college student development theory, current laws and other legal parameters of practice, standards of professional practices, ethical standards, and institutional rules and policies.

Work-related skills - Supervisors must ensure that staff members stay current on developing trends within the field of student development and that they are trained in a wide range of skills related to their job description, such as interpersonal communication, goal setting, and computer skills. For student affairs professionals to remain effective, these skills have to be refreshed regularly. This is especially true for skills that are not used on a regular basis. Supervisors must also provide the means for staff members to develop and acquire new skills.

Personal skills - The synergistic style emphasizes a holistic approach to supervision. Just as attention must be paid to development of a staff member's work-related skills, so too must personal skills be developed. To function successfully as a professional, individuals must acquire skills in areas such as time management, anger control, diet and exercise, and retirement planning.

Attitudes - Supervisors must maintain a positive attitude among their staff members. Positive attitudes can motivate individuals to apply knowledge or skills to strive toward personal, unit, and division goals.

Student affairs professionals are involved in a people business. Therefore, their attitude toward people, especially students, must be appropriate. Whether a staff member approaches tasks with an attitude of enthusiasm or sarcasm often determines that staff member's success.

Growth Orientation - An important responsibility of supervision is career development of staff. Supervisors should provide assistance to staff as they pursue work that is meaningful and personally satisfying. This manual suggests using Schein's Model of Career Anchors (Table 1) to help clarify a person's occupational self-concept. If a supervisor can understand a staff member's career anchors, it may be much easier to help that person climb the career ladder and find work assignments that are congruent with their interests and abilities.

Table 1 - Model of Career Anchors

Technical and Functional Competence

The self-image of people who have this anchor is tied to their feelings of competence in the particular areas they are in, and consequently they are not interested in management, though they will accept management responsibilities within their technical or functional area of competence.

Managerial Competence

The self-image of people in this group involves management per se as the ultimate goal.
Specific technical functional jobs are seen only as necessary interim stages on the way to
the higher, general administrative levels.

Security and Stability

People anchored in security tend to do what is required of them by their employers to
maintain job security, a decent income, and a stable future in the form of a good retirement
program, benefits, and the like.


These people seem to have an overarching need to build or create something that is
entirely their own product. Self-extension through the creation of a product or process is
the key to these people's career anchor; however, they lose interest once the programs
are up and running successfully.

Basic Identity

These people tend to see their title, uniform, and other trapping of office as a fundamental
basis for their self-definition.

Service to Others

These people are in occupations such as counseling, social work etc. The interpersonal
competence and helping are ends in themselves rather than means to an end.

Adapted from Winston, R. B., Jr. & Creamer, D. G. (1997). Improving staffing practices in student affairs (pp. 201-203). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

It is important that supervisors have a clear understanding of adult development theory to best relate to and help develop staff members at different life stages. The entry level individual has needs, personal and professional, that are far different than the individual that has been in the field for several years. Two individuals such as these should never be supervised in the same manner.

Winston and Creamer (1997), using the work of Schein (1978), developed a "life cycle tasks" table (Table 2) in which they applied general life issues and tasks to work in student affairs. This table provides an excellent guide to supervisors, especially those who supervise individuals at varying stages of life development. Marsh (2001) advocates using adult development theory as a framework to understand staff's personal and professional needs. Her work overlaps with and extends Winston and Creamer's (1997) developmental foundations of synergistic supervision.

Table 2 - Life Cycle Tasks

Approx. Age

General Issues
Life Tasks To Be Faced
Career or Professional Tasks
Making provisional commitments to a range of adult roles
Developing a sense of self, thereby achieving a capacity for intimacy with spouse or partner and close circle of friends
Becoming more discriminating in one's relationships
Solidifying lifestyle choices
Test career choices
Establish "home" separate from family of origin
Seek a spouse or partner
Learn to get along with (perhaps live with) significant other, spouse, or partner
Solidify a lifestyle
Further develop sense of integrity by humanizing values, showing social responsibility and congruence between values and behavior
Start to have children (for some)
Women explore (make) choices about whether to pursue career or family, or career and family
Find entry-level position in student affairs
Try application of knowledge and skills acquired in graduate school (read and watch others to learn about student affairs work if no professional preparation)
Accept partial responsibility
Accept subordinate role and learn how to get along with peers and supervisor
Develop initiative and realistic level of aggressiveness within the norms of the institutional culture
Develop sense of professional confidence
Deal with feelings of success or failure in first job
Find a sponsor (maybe a mentor)
Reassess decision to enter student affairs profession in terms of talents, values, and career opportunities and constraint
Build network of colleagues outside the employing institution
Attend professional conferences and present show-and-tell programs
Consider and make decision about doctoral study
Make move from entry-level position
Becoming one's own person - widening, deepening, and stabilizing one's commitments
Coming to terms with the fact that time is limited and finite
Growing out of one's illusions or unrealistic expectations
Making decisions about completion of the family
Coming to terms with aging by recognizing first signs of bodily decline
Beginning to recognize one's own mortality
Put down roots
Come to terms with one's marriage or other relationship (substituting a realistic assessment for the idealized vision of one's 20's)
Manage conflict between family and career
Child rearing (for some)
Begin to evaluate the efficacy of one's dream
Decide whether to make sacrifices in order to "make it" in a career of to settle for security
Decide whether to become a specialist in a functional area or to pursue a general administrative position in student affairs (such as VP)
Establish a clear identity within the profession and within an institutional category (such as community college; research university; private liberal arts college)
Develop long-range career plans in terms of ambitions, types of progress sought, targets against which to measure progress
Become fully aware of career anchors
Making extended reassessment of one's dream
Redefining family relationships (children leaving home; reestablish relationship with spouse or partner or divorce)
Establish a more stable integration and life structure of prior role models or conformity pressures
Reopening oneself to the world after a period of being closed
Gain sense of autonomy and voluntary commitment - a sense that one is making one's own choices
Accept uniqueness of one's own life
Deal with empty nest syndrome - helping spouse adjust to loss of parental role and transition to some other role
Cope with independence or death of one's parents
Make greater civic contributions
Establish niche in professional association(s) in which one can make contributions
Making decision about seeking senior administrative positions (such as VP)
Recommit to student affairs career, move into academic administration, or leave the field
Become a mentor
Cope with fear of loss of competence and competition from younger people "on the way up"
Dealing with concern about "running out of time"
Mellowing, warming up, and valuing spouse or partner, children and friends
Reviewing one's life work and contributions to the world
Growing concern with broader issues of society and community, loss of specialization and growth of wisdom
Anticipating retirement and different lifestyle
Adjusting to declining health and strength
Ensure that one stays in contact with one's friends, because of loss of interest in making new contacts and friendships
Establish adult relationships with one's children
Learn to be a grandparent
Make concrete plans for retirement, including different living arrangements and reduced income
Find new sources of satisfaction in hobbies, family, social and community activities, and so on
Learn how to handle high-level political situations both inside and outside the institution
Learn how to handle higher levels of responsibility and power without becoming paralyzed or emotionally upset
Prepare to disengage fromcareer
Winston, R. B., Jr. & Creamer, D. G. (1997). Improving staffing practices in student affairs (pp. 204-207). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Proactivity - Synergistic supervision focuses on identifying potential problems early rather than reacting to problems that have been building over time. In this style supervision emphasizes early identification and development of strategies by the supervisor and staff member jointly to prevent or lessen their effects.

Asking for assistance or advice from a supervisor is not a sign of weakness. For staff members to present problems to a supervisor does not mean that the problems are being transferred to the supervisor for a solution. Nor does it imply that the supervisor will or should encroach on the staff member's autonomy to attack the problem.

Supervisors should create sessions that permit staff to bring issues and problems they are facing to the table. However, supervisors must provide feedback, or offer advice on problems that staff members may not be able to handle independently.

Goal Based - Synergistic supervision requires the supervisor and staff member to have clear expectations of one another. Goals and expectations should be developed between them and a commitment made to review and adjust those goals on a regular basis. It is recommended that supervisors meet with their individual staff members on a biannual basis to set and evaluate goals and on a bimonthly basis to monitor progress of those goals.

Systematic and Ongoing Process - Supervisory sessions should be held on a regular, proactive basis and not as a response to crises or inadequate job performance. The newer and less experienced the staff member, the more frequent the sessions should be held. Both good and poor performance should be addressed. Topics to be addressed at the meetings range from work attitudes of the employee to values of the profession of student affairs.

Holism - People and their attitudes and beliefs cannot be separated from their professional positions. Synergistic supervision concentrates on helping staff develop both in their professional and personal lives and offers support as they prepare to advance in their career.

Arminio and Creamer (2001) conducted a study of "superior" supervisors in an attempt to identify what made them "excellent" in the eyes of those they had supervised. The found that the following behaviors were closely associated with "quality supervision."

  • Aligning staff in the same overall direction through staff development and team work, then reinforcing through high expectations;
  • Leading by example;
  • Being clear about values, ethics, and principles of fairness;
  • Interpreting and building the culture of the institution; and
  • Having a vision of where the institution is going (Arminio & Creamer, 2001, p. 39)

Participants in Arminio and Creamer's study were asked to identify the processes associated with excellent supervision. These processes included:

  • Hold regular meetings with individuals and groups;
  • Involve staff members in planning;
  • Utilize a great deal of face-to-face contact;
  • Communicate consistently, thoroughly and often; and
  • Introduce challenge to staff members in timely portions (that is, not all at once). (2001, p. 40)


Recommendations for Improving Supervision

Individual staff members need and will profit from tailored supervisory treatment. The level of supervision will depend on the length of time and experience in the field and the personality and developmental level of the employee. However, all staff members, no matter their circumstances, deserve regular, competent supervision.

Supervising Experienced, Competent Professionals - These staff members generally do not need assistance in determining what tasks need to be performed, instruction about commonly accepted practices, or explanation about administrative structure. The types of supervision that experienced, competent professional require include:

  • Frank appraisals of the contributions of their units
  • A sounding board for strategies for dealing with difficult issues or personnel
  • Candid feedback about how they and their units are perceived within the institution
  • Care and involvement in the establishment and evaluation of personal performance objectives
  • Someone to keep difficult issues on the table
  • Advanced warnings about impending changes
  • An understanding ear for personal issues
  • Honest assessment and suggestions for improvement
  • Praise and encouragement for a job well done

Supervising Ineffective Middle Managers - Supervision of the unenthusiastic, unchallenged employee is much more difficult. When the staff member is not motivated to improve, the supervisor may use tactics such as:

  • Discuss with the employee perceived behavior and attitudinal deficiencies.
  • Identify, with the staff member, ideas for improvement.
  • Agree upon a plan to ensure changes in the staff member's performance.
  • Monitor the plan often.
  • Offer short-term job rotation options to the employee.
  • Assign the employee a challenging short term project.
  • Make sure that the institutional performance appraisal system does not reward behavior or attitudes that are nonproductive.

Recommendations for Practice

To improve supervision in student affairs, Winston and Creamer (1997) recommend that supervision be dealt with in an open and explicit manner and be systematic and ongoing. A collection of supervision ideas (Table 3) is available in a table which includes recommendations for supervisory behaviors to use and to avoid.

Table 3 - Supervision Ideas

Openly discuss the goals and process of supervision with each staff member Treat supervision as a routine administrative task
Include advancement of staff member's personal and professional goals in the supervisory process Establish supervisory structure without genuine input from supervisor
Show concern and interest in staff member's personal concerns Attempt to become a staff member's therapist
Work at establishing friendly relationships with staff Allow romantic or "special" caring to develop with persons supervised
Treat staff members equitably Show or appear to show favor to some staff members
Confront problems and issues when first realized Confuse the value of the person with his or her behaviors
Support the decisions of superiors with subordinate staff and students Hide disagreement from supervisor during decision making process
Publicly admit when wrong or mistaken Criticize (correct) staff members publicly
Deal with staff members face to face Discuss a staff member's problem behavior with another subordinate or coequal staff member
Keep confidences Hesitate to consult with supervisors or other professionals
Be direct, open, and honest Try to send indirect message or message thorough a third party to a staff member about his or her conduct
Keep records of supervisory contacts Rely on memory for details of supervisory sessions
Establish specific performance objectives or program outcomes periodically (at least biannually) Fail to follow up on accomplishment of objectives periodically
Recognize and reward achievement Assume that a "good job" is the norm and does not require acknowledgment
Make realistic assignments based on a knowledge of the staff member's experience and skill level, personal maturity, and current life situation Assume that everyone on a staff or in an office should do the same thing at the same time
Make explicit connection between supervision and staff development activities Assume that staff members can always identify the areas in which they need to develop skills or acquire knowledge
Listen and learn from staff supervised Assume final knowledge about supervision or about a supervisory relationship



Diversity Issues in Supervision

This section provides general information regarding supervision and management of minorities as staff members.  For the purpose of this document, ethnicity will be considered part of the overall “diversity section”.  Because there were some areas where research was more readily available (Religion, Gender, and LGBT), specific information and tips for these populations will follow.  This document does not claim to be exhaustive but is an overview of things to consider.


Overall Diversity Issues

The following tips can provide supervisors with ideas on how to address diversity within supervisory functions:

  • Have staff members work on projects with other staff members who aredifferent. 
  • Role model open and accepting behavior
  • Pay attention to negative stereotypes and challenge them consistently. 
  • Provide advice, coaching and support for women and non-white employees when the larger organization does not support a diverse work environment.
  • Be familiar with the communication styles of the culture groups represented by those with which they work and supervise (Certo, 1994).
  • Avoid making generalizations and assumptions about a specific group of people. 
  • Be aware of the assumptions we make.  Knowing our assumptions can prevent communication barriers caused by perceptions and prejudices (Certo, 1994).  There are commercially developed instruments available to be used to assess staff needs.  They can be used to develop staff and meet various needs.  The Organizational Diversity Inventory (ODI) is an instrument with a battery of statements dealing with various aspects of diversity in the workplace. (Hegarty, W.H. & Dalton, D.R., 1995).


Diversity Management

The concept of diversity management is one to consider when creating and managing a diverse workforce.  Diversity management “is a process in which each worker’s unique contributions are valued and used to achieve an organization’s goals.  It is a one shot program but an ongoing commitment to acknowledge explicitly employees’ and the firm’s cultural roots…Diversity management accepts and celebrates differences in race, gender and other qualities” (Karsten, 1994, p. 73).

The appealing aspect and paradoxical nature of multi-cultural management is that it is supervision with an acute awareness of the characteristics common to a culture, race, gender, age, or sexual preference while recognizing, and embracing the individual characteristics each employee possesses (Karsten, 1994). 

Multicultural management represents and capitalizes on differences.  It also supports those individuals who are part of an organization but may be the only one of “their kind” (Karsten, 1994). The process enhances creativity and innovation and provides new perspectives to organizational problems while bringing a marketing edge to the office (Karsten, 1994).   


Religion and Supervision

  • Staff development is important in creating a positive work environment. 
  • There can be considerations for discussing religious practices, customs, in general to benefit all staff members. 
  • It may also be helpful for supervisors to have a listing of religious holidays.  A better understanding of religion in the workplace can make for positive environments. 
  • It is also important to take religious holidays into account when planning staff or division wide events. 


Gender Issues In Supervision

  • Be attentive to the health and safety of women who may be pregnant.  Do not ask them to lift or carry items that may cause them to strain and harm the baby (Certo, 1994). 
  • Be conscious of same gender communication and opposite gender communication patterns.  These can be the source of difficulties.
  • Mentor relationships need to be carefully examined.  Understand the dynamics of same gender mentor relationships as well as opposite sex mentor relationships (Karsten, 1994).
  • Do not stereotype new mothers as individuals not interested in career advancement, or interested in their current positions (Karsten, 1994).
  • In the case of working mothers, devise a plan for how the two of you will handle a child being sick.  It is advisable that this be done as soon after their employment as possible (Karsten, 1994). 


LGBT Issues in Supervision

The following information is taken from Blank & Slipp (1994):   When supervising individuals who are not of the majority or represent different groups, supervisors should consider the following in order to ensure the working environment is conducive to creating a positive and healthy experience for employees.  

  • Approach every employee as an individuallthough members of different groups may be diverse in appearance, speech, values, beliefs, and behavior, they have many commonalties therefore assumptions based on group identity should not be made.
  • Understand that the cultural tendencies such as language, mannerisms, and communication patterns are not necessary indicators of a workers performance and capabilities.  Within each group there is a range of people from those qualified to those who are not.  Supervisors must understand cultural differences and not allow them to cloud their judgment as it relates to competence and motivation.
  • Recognize and confront the issue of discomfort when dealing with a diverse workforce.  Be a role model of acceptance by including all workers in social situations, using inclusive language, structuring work teams for projects, coaching all staff on the work norms of the organization, and making clear that equal opportunity exists for everyone.
  • Appreciate and utilize different perspectives and styles of diverse workers and view them as assets.
  • Openly support the competencies and contributions of workers from all groups because many times it is only the members of the dominant culture who receive recognition.
  • Know the federal, state, and municipal legislation that ensures equal opportunity in employment such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in employment Act of 1967, and The Family Medical and leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) which grants employees in companies with fifty or more workers the right to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child or the illness of a family member.
  • Be aware of subtle and systematic institutional discrimination that pigeonholes and limits opportunity for members of groups other than those in the dominant culture.
  • Confront all discriminatory and stereotypic behavior.
  • Become comfortable asking questions about preferred terminology or interactions, which could potentially have a negative impact on the employee.
  • Assume responsibility not only for the behavior and attitudes of employees but also for trying to influence change in the organization.

Evans, Reason, and Briodio (2001) examined the experiences of GLB students in residence halls and the effects of having a GLB resident assistant. They bound GLB residents expected RAs to "address issues facing LGB students on their floors. The students believed that RAs should be open and accepting, personally supportive, and work to create a welcoming environment" (p. 85). They also found that LGB residents thought it essential that there be openly LBG RAs on the staff who could serve as confidants and liks to other LBG students. Evans et al. also concluded that issues of sexual orientation should be openly and thoroughly discussed during RA training sessions and during supervision sessions throughout the academic year.


Supervision Resources on the Web


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Updated 2008