Beyond Coaching-the-Coach: Critical Coaching Supervision Skills

Critical Coaching Supervision Skills

Beyond Coaching-the-Coach: Critical Coaching Supervision Skills

One of the key questions experienced coaches may have when they consider becoming a coaching supervisor is what skills will they develop beyond using their existing coaching skills.

Many coaches assume that coaching supervision is simply coaching skills deployed in a context of their supeervisee’s professional practice.

Whilst it is clearly the case that core coaching skills remain absolutely essential to coaching they are no longer sufficient. 

Skills such as effective listening, catalytic questions, holding space, sitting with silence, bracketing one’s assumptions and so on are the price of admission to become a coaching supervisor. But they are not enough.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges we see with new coaching supervisors is their over-reliance on coaching skills to the detriment of the additional supervisory skills. 

I call this coaching-the-coach rather than supervising-the-coach.

What does this look like?

Quite simply, the coaching supervisor remains in coaching mode by:

  • only asking questions rather than engaging in dialogue
  • avoiding giving their opinion, ideas or advice
  • focusing on the needs and wants of the coach in front of them without reference to the end-user client or the wider system
  • allowing the supervisee to dictate the conversation even to the exclusion of important issues that need to be addressed
  • heavy focus on the formative lens of coach development and an avoidance of the normative lens of standards and ethics

This is understandable but for a coaching supervisor to be truly effective, they must spread their wings beyond coaching and encompass the whole set of supervisory skills.

So the question is: beyond the core relational skills what skills do coaching supervisors need to develop?

Whilst the following list is not intended to be exhaustive, I believe it presents some of the most important skills and areas of  knowledge that a coaching supervisor needs to master.

These skills include:

  • Systems Thinking
  • Ethical Maturity 
  • The Authoritative Stance
  • Wider Awareness of Coaching Approaches
  • Advanced Reflective Practice
  • Feedback and Evaluation

Systems Thinking

We have already looked at this issue in the first chapter but it cannot be overemphasised as it is a significant change from coaching.

Coaches main focus is on the client. A coaching supervisor, by contrast, must develop the ability to think in terms of systems, recognising the broader organisational, social, and cultural systems within which coaching takes place. 

This skill helps supervisors support coaches in understanding the systemic influences on their clients and on the coaching relationship itself, leading to more effective and contextually aware coaching interventions.

It also ensures that the supervisor is able to hold in mind the duty of care they have not only to the coach in supervision, but also to their clients, to the coaching sponsor, to other stakeholders and to the profession as whole.

An additional distinction worth making here is to recognise the difference between systems thinking and systemic thinking. 

This is a subtle distinction that Peter Hawkins, co-creator of the 7-Eyed Model, makes when he states that when you say you are working on the system you are, by default, not working systemically. 

His point is that to work systematically is to notice what is happening to you and through you as part of the system.  In other words, it is to be able to reflect on the system whilst being part of it and affected by it.

This is an additional skill that coaching supervisors will develop over time.

Ethical Maturity 

Supervisors must help coaches consider the various ethical dimensions of their work, including confidentiality issues, boundary management, and the dual relationships that can sometimes arise in coaching contexts.

More importantly though, supervisors are often called upon to help coaches navigate complex ethical dilemmas that are not black and white issues contained in codes of practice.

Often these ethical dilemmas are being ignored by the coach or are not even in their awareness.. 

The supervisor may sense that there is an issue that is not being addressed and be required to bring into the open.  This can be uncomfortable and challenging but it is a key part of coaching supervision..

This calls for Emotional Maturity as Michael O’Carroll calls it. The ability and skill to:

  1. Spot potential ethical dilemmas
  2. Articulate the dilemma
  3. Plan how to deal with the dilemma
  4. Implement the plan
  5. Reach peace of mind with your best effort

As coaches, we are taught not to know and not to assume we are right.  This remains the case here – supervisors are not claiming they have a moral high ground  but they do need to give voice to issues they feel are not being addressed appropriately or at all.

coaching supervision skills

The Authoritative Stance

The authoritative stance, to borrow the language of John Heron in his Helping the Client, is often a significant leap for coaching supervisors to make.

Whilst coaching supervision is not predicated on hierarchy of experience, supervisors nonetheless inhabit a role in which authority can have a role depending on the level of experience between the practitioners.

In Heron’s book mentioned above, he describes 6 kinds of intervention that fall under either the authoritative or the facilitative.


  • Prescriptive
  • Informative
  • Confronting


  • Catalytic
  • Cathartic
  • Supportive

We don’t have time in this book to unpack all of this, of course, but it is worth noting that coaches spend the majority of their time in the facilitative mode with a particular emphasis on the catalytic – ie. interventions that create new thinking and awareness in the client that comes from them.

Supervisors by contrast will typically use all of these modes, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the supervisory relationship.

Thus a coaching supervisor working with a much less experienced coach might “prescribe” a solution to what they perceive as a serious issue, or they may inform/teach the coach a new skill or concept.

My own experience of this when training coaching supervisors is that the step from facilitative to authoritative is one of the most difficult for coaches to take at first.

But it is an important skill to have when the time is right.

Wider Awareness Of Coaching Approaches

Coaches operate under a wide array of theoretical frameworks and methodologies, each with its own set of principles, techniques, and desired outcomes. 

Most coaches will have touched on different approaches to coaching over the course of their learning but at some point they will settle on their general style.

Coaching supervisors, however, will continually come up against a wide range of coaching styles and theoretical stances as they work with multiple coaches.

A supervisor well-versed in different coaching approaches can provide more nuanced and informed guidance. 

For instance, the introspective depth sought in psychodynamic coaching or the search for meaning in existential coaching requires a different supervisory lens than the goal-oriented focus of performance coaching. 

Understanding these nuances allows supervisors to tailor their support in a way that respects and enhances the specific methodological orientation of each coach.

This is not to say that a coaching supervisor will become a walking repository for every coaching style.  What it does mean is that not only will a coaching supervisor develop a wider understanding over time, but they will also be more clearly aware of the distinctions and be able to draw these out of the coach without making assumptions about what someone’s coaching should look like.

Advanced Reflective Practice

While reflective practice is important in coaching, in supervision, it takes on a more critical role. 

Supervisors need to facilitate deeper levels of reflection, helping coaches to not only reflect on what happened in their sessions but also to explore the underlying patterns, beliefs, and systemic influences on their practice. 

This involves guiding coaches through a process of critical thinking about their own coaching identity, ethics, and the impact of their personal history and biases on their coaching.

Feedback And Evaluation 

Whilst supervision, unlike say mentor coaching, is not focused on competencies per se, there may be times when a coaching supervisor is required to offer feedback.

Perhaps the coaching supervisor is running a group session in which peer coaching takes place in order to develop skills.

The ability to offer genuinely constructive feedback in a way that it can be heard is a vital skill in coaching supervision.  All too often, people will avoid upsetting the coach by only offering positive feedback.  

Whilst there is clearly benefit in hearing positive feedback, most coaches really want to know what they can do to improve.

This is where the coaching supervisor must step in offering feedback that strengthens the coach’s confidence whilst surfacing areas for real growth and improvement.

Beyond offering feedback, supervisors may be called upon to evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching provided by their supervisees. 

This requires the ability to assess coaching interventions critically, provide constructive and balanced feedback, and support coaches in developing their self-assessment capabilities. 

Supervisors must navigate the delicate balance between challenging coaches to grow and providing the support needed to encourage that growth.


As mentioned at the start of this article, I don’t suggest that these are all of the skills a coaching supervisor needs;  However, I do believe that developing these skills will enable coaching supervisors to transcend coaching-the-coach and move to true supervising-the-coach.

Embracing the skills above will enable a coaching supervisor to provide valuable, impactful supervision that supports the development of competent, reflective, and ethically aware coaches.

Should you wish to learn more about our coaching supervision training programme, why not book a call with one of our experienced coaching supervisors who can answer your questions about the profession and the training process. Simply click Book A Call at the top of the page.

Author Details
Nick is the founder and CEO of the International Centre for Coaching Supervision and Animas Centre for Coaching. Along with his love of coaching and supervision, he is a a passionate learner with a fascination for philosophy, psychology and sociology.
Coaching Supervision Skills
Nick is the founder and CEO of the International Centre for Coaching Supervision and Animas Centre for Coaching. Along with his love of coaching and supervision, he is a a passionate learner with a fascination for philosophy, psychology and sociology.
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