What Are the Differences Between a Supervisor & HR Specialists?

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HR specialists at work
HR specialists at work (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Supervisors and specialists have different focuses of skills and abilities. A supervisor has general management and administration skills. Supervisors use these skills to manage and control a department, while specialists focus their skills primarily in one aspect of overall Human Resource Management. The differences between a specialist and supervisor can be profound in terms of control and responsibility.

HR Supervisor

The very term of supervisor means supervision. The supervisor has the responsibility to oversee the actions and work of the specialist. He or she monitors the overall actions of the specialists and ensures they are meeting departmental objectives. Supervisors often have between 5-10 years of general knowledge and abilities. HR supervisors use their general knowledge for departmental administration.

HR Specialist

An HR specialist is strong in one area of HRM but is not necessarily skillful in other areas. For example, he or she may understand FMLA administration but doesn’t have a meaningful understanding of workers compensation or payroll. Their limited focus allows for more depth and efficiency on the particular function they work. Specialists can range in experience from a few years to over a decade depending on their function.

Control and Responsibility

HR supervisors have control over the HR department or a number of functions within that department while HR specialists work on a particular function. The HR supervisor has the ability to manage how work is processes and what happens to that work when it is completed. They synthesize this information to make overall adjustments to organizational goal attainment. The specialist is much more likely to process specific information and make limited judgments about this information.

Types of Specialists

There are a number of different specialists that match the main functions of HRM. For example, a person could be a specialist in FMLA administration, benefits, compensation, workers compensation, labor relations, EEO compliance, training, or ADA. Each of these functions are present in many organizations and under the watchful eye of the supervisor.

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