Reflections on Becoming a Coach Supervisor

Martin Hill, Senior Tutor, BSC


I successfully completed the ILM Level 7 Certificate in Executive Coaching & Leadership Mentoring and have undertaken coaching with a mix of internal and external coachees.

As part of my continuous development for my coaching, I undertook the ILM Endorsed Coaching & Mentoring Supervision Award through the British School of Coaching.

This experience has been a rewarding journey to embark upon and has not only led to the attainment of an additional skills, but has also has had benefits to my own coaching as I apply those new skills to myself as coach.

This article examines the elements of supervision and looks at the benefits that this can provide to your supervisees and to yourself.

What Is Supervision?

For me supervision, as with coaching, involves the use of reflective learning techniques and the elements of a good supervision session mirror the elements of a truly effective coaching session.
In the CIPD Report “Coaching Supervision –Maximising the Potential of Coaching”   Hawkins & Schwenk propound that there are eight features of good practice in coaching supervision, namely:-
•    It takes place regularly
•    It focuses on client, organisation and coach needs
•    It provides continuing professional development to the coach
•    It quality assures coaching provision
•    It provides support for the coach
•    It generates organisational learning
•    It manages ethical and confidentiality boundaries
•    It balances individual, group and peer supervision

Essentially the above elements are all about ensuring the professionalism of the coaching/mentoring and also the coaching supervision itself. It is for this reason that I am of the opinion that a number of the elements that are features of a good coaching session need to be features of a coaching supervision session, These features incorporate:-

  • Contracting and Ethical considerations – coaching supervisor agrees with the coach the ground rules for the session, with particular attention being given to confidentiality. The coaching supervisor needs to bear in mind that there are a number of relationships to bear in mind here – the coach-client relationship, the coach-supervisor relationship and the supervisor-organisation relationship and these need to be carefully considered and explored particularly in relation to confidentiality.
  • Rapport building and development of the session
  • Communication
  • Self-management – ensuring that intrusions and distractions caused by behaviours and/or beliefs and values are minimised. Where the coaching supervisor is present at a coaching session , further attention needs to be given to the potential distraction the supervisor’s presence and actions may have on the coach-client relationship
  • Striving for excellence- using feedback skills to encourage the coach to reflect and develop their skills to continually improve and develop.
  • Responding and challenging through understanding and thought-again using feedback skills in order to generate reflection and leaning.
  • Diversity awareness – ensuring equality and fairness in dealing with the supervisory relationships.
  • Reflective learning and continuing development – from my experience to date it is clear that the supervisory process provides opportunities for reflection and continuing development for both the coach and the supervisor- especially in terms of the supervisor by having the opportunity of observing the approaches, tools and methods of other coaches and then reflecting on my own practice.
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In preparing for my supervisory role, I have found the following extract from Hawkins & Smith  useful in considering the skills that needed to be achieved:

“To start supervising you will first find it important to understand the boundaries of supervision and be able to make clear, and mutually negotiated, contracts. Second, you need to develop your framework for supervising, which is appropriate to the setting in which you work. This framework needs to be clear enough to be explainable to your supervisees, but also flexible enough to be adaptable to meet the changing needs of different supervisees, at different levels and with a variety of situations”

The most difficult new skill that supervision requires is what we call the ‘helicopter ability’. This is the ability to switch focus between the following areas:

  • The client that the supervisees are describing.
  • The supervisees and their process.
  • Your own process and ‘here and now’ relationship with the supervisees.
  • The client with their wider context and to help the supervisees do likewise.
  • The wider context of the organisation and inter-organisational issues.

This skill cannot be learnt before you start and indeed takes many years to develop. What is important is to know of the existence of all of the possible levels and perspectives and then gradually to expand your focus within the sessions.”

Supervision can be delivered in a variety of ways:

  • Individual Supervision: – this could involve the supervisor observing a “live” session (either by sitting in the same room or remotely learning); or it could involve the supervisee reviewing their coaching practice with the supervisor. The benefit of individual supervision is that it is bespoke to the needs of the supervisee coach.
  • Group Supervision: – this is where a number of coaches meet with a supervisor to discuss matters.
  • Peer Supervision: – this is where a group of coaches meet to offer support to one another.
  • The CIPD Report “Coaching Supervision –Maximising the Potential of Coaching”   makes the point that “ all supervision has limitations: individual supervision with a senior practitioner can lead to dependency; group supervision can be overtaken by the dynamics of the group and leave insufficient time for each individual and peer supervision can become collusive.” I am of the opinion that a diversity of supervision results in the best results being achieved for the individual.

The Benefits of Supervision

  • The benefits of coaching supervision were considered in the CIPD Report on Coaching Supervision and it was noted that there were different reasons given by coaches and organisations.

“For coaches the main reasons were developmental, for example, to develop coaching capability (88%) and to assure the quality of the coaching (86%)…. For organisations the main reasons are qualitative, for example, to monitor the quality of coaching provided (70%) and to improve the quality and effectiveness of the coaching (50%).”

  • In a further CIPD Report on Coaching Supervision  Hawkins and Schwenk elaborated further on the findings of the survey:

“Coaches are interested in making themselves more effective…. Those who organise coaching on the other hand, use supervision to monitor coaching quality. This includes protecting the client and minimising the organisational risk of unethical or unprofessional practice. Supervision helps to ensure that coaching is focused on work objectives and within the boundaries of the coach’s capability. They also see coaching supervision as raising coaching standards by continually improving quality and effectiveness. Those organising supervision for external coaches said that broadening a coach’s understanding of the client and their organisational issues forms an important reason for implementing coach supervision. In the case of internal coaches, benefits include bringing geographically dispersed coaches together to share good practice, improving collaborative working and identifying organisational themes and issues.”

Peter Bluckert  states

“Supervision serves both the interests of the coach/mentor and their client. The management function of the supervisor is about ensuring that the coach/mentor is working responsibly and to the best of their ability. This also ensures a third party check on quality and ethics. Ultimately the supervision process exists for the client’s benefit and to protect their interests. However, good supervision is also about the interests and well-being of the coach/mentor….this is the educational (learning) and support aspect of supervision.”

Julia Menaul  describes the following benefits of supervision:

  • “A way of helping the coach to continually professionally develop
  • It provides ethical guidance and support for the coach and consequently benefits the welfare of the client
  • The coach learns to develop their own internal supervisor so they can monitor their own performance
  • Provides an unbiased, neutral space where the coach can attend to things that they may be doing with their client unconsciously.”

The CIPD Report on Coaching Supervision  elaborates on those benefits in more detail, and these are the elements that I particularly identify with in relation to my own experience and practice:

  • “Monitoring Coaching Quality” – supervision creates a regular opportunity for coaches to reflect on their coaching and its impact on the coaching client. Supervision is about improving and evaluating the service to clients (individual and organisation). Reinforcing coaching objectives during supervision keeps the purpose of coaching central to coaching interventions. Regular, ongoing, supervision provides a safety net for the coaching client, the organisation and the coach.”
  • “Developing Coaching Capability and Capacity”– by reflecting on their practice, coaches develop greater self-awareness and develop better tools and techniques. They also generate personal insights and discover the best way to meet coaching objectives. This results in more skilful coaches with greater capacity to help their clients achieve their personal and organisational aims. The ultimate aim of supervision is to improve coaching practice across the organisation. Coaching supervision makes better coaches and better coaches make better managers who can deliver business targets. But it doesn’t stop here. Managers experiencing good coaching will in turn be able to improve the performance of staff around them – the ‘informal coaching’ effect.”
  • “Drawing Organisational Learning from Coaching Activity” – coaching is most commonly a one-to-one process to improve the effectiveness and productivity of coaching clients. But organisations are keen for these individual conversations to be connected and, in doing so, nurture a coaching culture that delivers greater organisational impact. Group supervision can be especially helpful in generating learning across the coaching community and capturing the patterns and dynamics within the organisation that can be more widely applied.”

In addition I would also add the following benefits:-

  • Exposure to other ideas/methodologies/tools and techniques- this is a surprising gift of supervision- getting to discover how other coaches approach topics/issues.
  • Continuing Professional Development of self and own practice- supervision has added another dimension to my own coaching practice; the learning achieved from supervising others can be used to benchmark my own practice/techniques etc.
  • Professional Coaching bodies- all of the professional coaching bodies require that their members undertake regular supervision. I think that it is also indicative of a coach having a “professional” mind-set and approach to their practice. As with other professions, for example lawyers and doctors, continuous professional development is required as an essential tool to ensure that their members have up-to-date awareness of developments in the profession and avoid their skills stagnating. This is the sense of continually striving to excel.  My ethos to coaching is that if I do not treat it seriously and regard it as akin to a profession, how can I expect to persuade prospective clients/organisations of the positive benefits that coaching can deliver?
  • Confluence with wishes/requirements of buyers and tenders- more and more prospective buyers are stipulating that the coach needs to be able to demonstrate that they receive regular supervision.
  • Negotiation basis for discussing premiums re professional indemnity cover- especially if linked in to clear contracting as well.
  • Safe environment to discuss ethical issues and/or challenging issues encountered.
  • Internal coaches- supervision can reassure the organisation by providing a form of quality assurance- ensuring that coaching rather than conversations are taking place and the needs of the organisation are not being compromised. For the internal coaches, supervision provides a safe, confidential environment to share knowledge and experiences and discuss areas of concern etc.

The Costs of Supervision

One of the main problems faced by coaching, and consequently coaching supervision, is the difficulty of establishing quantifiable Returns on Investment. Clearly there are significant costs, in terms of time and money, in embarking upon a coaching programme let alone a coaching supervision programme. However the benefits outlined above can and do have the potential of having a significant positive impact on the skills and ability and confidence of coachees in dealing with issues and challenges; in turn leading to improved performance and thus a more effective and efficient organisation.

Time and financial implications are the most obvious costs of coaching supervision. Adequate time needs to be allocated to enable the coach, supervisor, and potentially with observed sessions, the coachee as well, to undertake sessions. In addition, in order to maintain credibility and ability to supervise, I think that the supervisors will also need to be undertaking regular coaching themselves in order to keep their own skills fresh and up to date. Allocation to these roles obviously carries financial implications as well, and in times of financial constraint, could be viewed as an unsustainable expense.

Hopefully the returns generated by the coaching programme to date in terms of improving performance and leadership capability will help demonstrate that coaching, and thus coaching supervision, can provide clear Returns on Investment , especially if the objectives of the programme are attuned to personal and organisational targets.

A further potential cost of coaching supervision is the risk of adverse impact on the confidence and capability of coaches who receive feedback that they disagree with or which highlights developmental needs that they may or may not be aware of. Clearly if feedback is given in a poor fashion (for example being incorrect or not based on evidence) or is over-critical there is the risk of adverse consequences – these could impact on the coach, the coachee, the organisation and, ultimately, the supervisor.

Whilst this risk can be minimised by ensuring that the supervisors are adequately trained, and also by having a mechanism in place to resolve disputes/grievance etc., it had to be recognised that this is still a potential risk that the supervisors have to be alert, but it also has to be balanced with the need for the supervisors to be able to deliver difficult feedback when appropriate.


To conclude, I think that the following comments of Brigid Proctor  are particularly apposite and a useful building base for coaching supervision:-

“ The task of the supervisor is to help him (the supervisee) feel received, valued, understood on the assumption that only then will he feel safe enough and open enough to review and challenge himself, as well as to value himself and his own abilities. Without this atmosphere, too, he is unlikely to be open to critical feedback or to pay good attention………… It will also be the case that a [person] will often come to supervision stressed, anxious, angry, afraid. It is our assumption that only if he feels safe enough to talk about these uncomfortable feelings, and fully acknowledge them for himself will he be ‘cleared’ to re-evaluate his practice.”

Coaching Network Sessions

January 2015: Supervision


British School of Coaching would like to invite you to the second in our series of Coaching Network mornings.  In these informal sessions we lead a seminar on a crucial area of coaching, followed by a chance to mix with like-minded professional coaches and share your learning.

Last time we covered (amongst other things) internal coaching, organisational strategy, confidentiality and ethics.

This January the session will be led by BSC Senior Tutor Angela Hill, who will discuss:

– The role of the coaching supervisor

– Models for individual and group supervision

We look forward to seeing you there!

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