Supervision-Individualizing roles and responsibilities through supervision


With so many organizations hiring new staff, we are reminded that a new team member and their manager or supervisor can use the person-centered thinking skill, the donut, during supervision to facilitate discussions on roles and responsibilities listed in the position description. It can be used to reach a shared understanding of what each responsibility means at a practical level within the staff member’s role.

Even with a very clear job description, once a staff member is in their role, elements often need fleshing out or require further discussion to ensure the staff member is confident in what is expected of them.


Using the donut to discuss individual roles and responsibilities:

  • can ensure that each staff member has a good understanding of how their role should function on a day-to-day basis;
  • creates space to discuss and capture where and how the role and its responsibilities might play out differently, depending on other elements of the job. For example, someone in a direct service delivery role may have different daily and weekly responsibilities depending on the individuals they support.
  • can facilitate more detailed discussion about specific issues a staff member may have in their role, where a better understanding of their responsibilities would clarify the situation.

For example, a team leader raised an issue in a supervision session concerning an individual she worked with.

Part of her role was to support him with his diabetes management plan, but he often chose not to follow the plan. The support worker was concerned and unsure what to do.

Her manager used the donut to clarify her role around this, so that she would be able to develop new strategies based on who the individual was and his support needs.

Core responsibility (inner ring of donut):

  • To inform the individual about diabetes in a way that he understood.
  • To ensure that he was aware of a variety of foods and meals that he could have and might like.
  • To ensure that he understood the consequences of not following the management plan.
  • To provide information and advice without ‘telling’ him what to do.

Creativity and judgement (outer ring of donut):

  • Consider how you provide him with information and support him to understand the situation.
  • Consider how you manage the conversations so that he is not feeling lectured.

Not your responsibility (outside the donut):

  • To make him follow the diabetes plan once he has all the information.
  • To tell him what he should be doing.

The staff member is now clear about the balance between duty of care and dignity of risk, while still knowing what is expected from her in her role.


The donut is a working document and can be used flexibly during supervision to clarify a staff member’s role and responsibilities. Additional information can be added as needed.

Core responsibilities

Core responsibilities should link to the strategic core requirements, functional requirements and key performance measures in the staff member’s position description. Use the donut as a starting point to clarify how the position description applies to specific day-to-day expectations.

Be clear and specific. You cannot provide clarity if something is open to interpretation by the manager, supervisor and/or the staff member; it is also difficult to hold someone to account if they don’t know what is expected of them.

For example:

A staff member might have a performance measure in their position description stating – shares knowledge and information.

Using the donut to agree and clarify core responsibilities will result in an agreement or understanding on how, when, how often and with whom this applies. For example:

‘Shares new learning and ideas about individuals you work with by:

  • noting information in the individual’s communication book at the end of each shift
  • writing in learning logs as agreed with the rest of the team
  • contributing information to discussion at team meetings.

If a staff member is struggling with a particular situation or aspect of their work, use the heading of core responsibility to support them to think through their role rather than just telling them what to do.

Creativity and judgement

Use the creativity and judgement section to encourage the staff member to try new and different ways of doing things. Explore areas detailed in the core responsibilities where, as long as they do the work required, there is no right or wrong way of approaching it.

For example:

In this situation the staff member is responsible for maintaining regular contact with an individual’s family.

Their core responsibility might be to communicate with the family once a month. In using the creativity and judgement section of the donut, the staff member might focus on how and when they approach this, depending on the family’s preference and based on how it works best for all involved. This provides clear expectations without being prescriptive.

Not your usual responsibility:

This section captures the point at which the staff member is no longer accountable. It also assists managers and supervisors to clarify what is expected if there is a risk that they may ‘cross a line’ in their role.

This can also be used to specify the point at which the staff member’s role ends and someone else’s begins. This is particularly useful when someone is starting to take on responsibility that is not required of them.

Using the donut works for everyone involved. It enables a manager or supervisor to ensure their staff are accountable within their role. It also assists the staff member in feeling clearer and more confident about what is expected of them.


This article is reprinted from resources developed by National Disability Services Ltd, and Helen Sanderson Associates. The donut is one of several person-centered thinking skills developed by the Learning Community for Person Centered Practices