Purpose: On the basis of affective events theory, this study aims to examine the connection between work-related events (i.e. supervisor role ambiguity and role conflicts) and abusive supervision via emotion (i.e. supervisor frustration). This study also examines the moderating role of supervisor personality traits (i.e. neuroticism and conscientiousness). Design/methodology/approach: This study collected lagged and multisource field data (472 subordinates and supervisors dyads) from the service organizations. Findings: The data collected supported majority of this study’s hypothesized relationships regarding determinants of abusive supervision. Practical implications: This study underlines what triggers supervisor abuse. This study also enables organizations with the intervention opportunity to reduce the effects of supervisor role ambiguity, role conflict, negative emotions and personality on triggering abusive supervision. Originality/value: Prior research on abusive supervision has extensively focused on its outcomes, leaving a noteworthy research gap about what triggers abusive supervision. To fill this important gap in leadership literature, this study proposed and tested a research model of determinants of supervisor abuse. Thus, this study contributes to leadership and abusive supervision research. Implications and future research directions are discussed.