Supervision Cheat Sheet

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*Recommended Resource: Trainer’s Handbook 

Being in a clinical supervisor role for an ABA program is one crazy job. 

There are so many things you must do on a regular basis that all have to occur near or at the same time. Multitasking and prioritizing must be as effortless for you as breathing, or you will definitely have some challenging days.

Supervisors have reports to write, parent meetings to schedule, data to analyze, treatment plans to create, direct staff to train and critique…. the list goes on and on. I often see staff obtain their certification and move into a supervisory role, and as much as I try to prepare them for what it’s like to oversee a program there's nothing quite like that 1st  jump into the deep end of the pool. It’s simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, and most brand new clinical supervisors have that somewhat stunned, shellshocked look on their face until they adjust to the demands of the job.
I didn’t always have the best examples of supervisors back in my direct staff days, so in my mind being a clinical supervisor was going to be a cushy office job. Well, I was very, very wrong 

Moving from the role of primarily providing 1:1 instruction to being responsible for overseeing an entire ABA program is a huge transition, and if you aren’t being properly prepared for this transition by your current supervisor then please allow me to pull back the curtain and give you some insight into how this actually works. 
Consider these tips my super-duper informative “cheat sheet” to help anyone in their role as “The Supervisor” (this information will not be applicable to every position or every company).

1.      My biggest tip is: understand that the clinical supervisor role requires honesty, and critical eyes (notice I said critical and not judgmental). You can’t be afraid to say “That was good, but I know you can do better”. Your supervisees/clients are NOT your friends, and your clinical recommendations are not optional suggestions that they can choose to ignore. It is your job to give specific feedback so that parents can learn how to apply ABA and staff can improve their skillset. If your feedback is always vague platitudes (“You guys are great, keep it up”), how exactly do people grow from that?? When I am working, I am either giving corrective feedback on what isn't right, or I am collaborating on what can be better.
2.      Expect huge demands on your time, and let go of the concept of “working hours”. Staff and parents may need to contact you with questions, concerns, or “Uh oh, we have a problem” issues in the middle of the night, on holidays, or on the weekend. Am I saying you have to be on call 24-7? Absolutely not. But, the great BCBA’s that I know are always accessible, and will make the time to stop and answer a question no matter how busy they are.
3.      Your car is going to become an office on wheels, even if you have an actual, real office. For most of us, a typical work day involves driving from client to client or school to school. When I start a work day I have several bags/totes to carry, a clipboard, data sheets, my phone, my water bottle, and my snack or lunchbox (more on that in the next tip). When you arrive to a supervision session you never know what your staff may need, so keep extra data sheets, pens, binders, & toys/fidgets in your trunk so you can quickly grab them and give to your staff.
4.      Speaking of snack/lunch, let go of the idea of a typical 8 hour work day where you get two 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch. As a busy clinical supervisor, I suggest you carry a water bottle and pack snacks that can be eaten on the go. Otherwise, you may find yourself pulling up to drive thru windows pretty frequently. Particularly during the evening hours when you are in the clients’ home late in the evening, and you can smell steaks being cooked in the kitchen……those are the nights where the Burger King down the street starts looking better and better.
5.      I hope organization and time management are strengths for you, because you will need these skills. Most of the time, you make your own schedule. This means it is up to you to put together a schedule where you meet billable hour requirements, give your staff as much of you as they need (including late evening meetings you don’t get paid for), prepare for and write up lengthy reports, conceptualize treatment, and then somewhere in there actually have a life. If you are married, in school, or have kids, organization and managing your time become even more critical or you will quickly find yourself approaching burnout.
6.      Learn the art of assertive confrontation. I had to learn this skill over time, and it was difficult for me at first. When dealing with apathetic parents or disrespectful staff, it’s natural to get annoyed, irritated, or defensive. However none of that is professional. Think assertive not aggressive. What you can do is firmly state your side, explain what you will and won’t do, and attempt to work towards mutual agreement. If the other person insists on continuing to escalate, end the conversation until it can occur in a calm manner. Sometimes the issue is something that can be resolved, and sometimes it is not. You may need to ask to be removed from a case, you may need to fire the staff, or you may need to resign from the company if your employer consistently fails to back you up.
7.      Lastly, a really hard part of being a supervisor that you might not hear about is saying goodbye to some amazing clients. :-(  After you have worked and worked to teach the client important life skills, you suddenly find out the family is moving out of state, or switching to a different agency, or they lost their ABA funding. Change is just part of this job. Allow yourself to be sad, especially if you had a great working relationship with the family, but realize that throughout your career you will work with multiple clients and when you accept a case you never really know how long you will be helping that client.  


  1. Great post! I would add that it can be hard to go from peer with direct staff to supervisor within an organization initially.

    1. Oh my goodness, yes it can! On both sides of the equation, moving from "we're co-workers and buddies who chat about our spouses" to "this is my boss now" can be quite a change....

      Thank you for commenting!


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