Bluefield Round Table: Becoming a Supervisor – What I Wish I’d Known

Moving into a supervisory role for the first time is always tough.  No matter your background – tradesperson, engineer, or any other – it’s a steep learning curve that is difficult to prepare for.

Many of Bluefield’s team members spent time as a maintenance or production supervisor earlier in their careers.  Although they’ve built their skills and confidence over the years, many of them learned the hard way.  So, we asked them the following question:

Thinking back to when you first became a supervisor, what's the number one thing you wish you'd known before you started in the job?

 

Gerard Wood

I wish I had understood the responsibility that comes with being a supervisor.  I did learn it the hard way through making bad decisions that affected the people.  I had to learn that as a supervisor you are responsible to ensure people are treated fairly but also that they are held to account for their responsibilities.  The required level of communication with people is significantly more than I expected, and people need the interaction with their leader.  A supervisor has the responsibility and sole ability to make sure the procedures, standards and policies, which must be implemented to achieve safe work and reliable work, are actually implemented and not just documents.

Gerard previously facilitated a round table on “Becoming a Maintenance Manager” – Read it here.

Brett Peebles

One thing I learnt the hard way was the people you lead, may have been friends once but when you put on the supervisor’s shirt, that all changes.  This relates back to my time in (a previous role).  We had a tough start to the job.  We assembled a fleet of 793C's.  The team, including myself were tight.  We all lived local and did things with our families after hours.  As soon as we went steady state, I found myself having to make choices which sometimes involved those people who I called friends.  I found myself excluded from activities and isolated.  This extended to my wife which was hard on her.  I soon learnt that as a leader you sometimes need to maintain the line that the relationship you have with your workmates needs to be maintained as a working relationship.  I reflect back on my time in mining and say I have lots of former colleagues who I stay in touch but very few if any are long term friends.

Wade Konotopsky

I started supervising young.  Most of the tradesmen I was supervising had been certified for longer than I had been alive.  On top of that, I was an engineer (not typically appreciated by the mature tradesmen).  I learned a few things (No particular order):

  • You don’t need to know everything about how to do every job, but you have to trust your guys, and know enough to question them when they’re BS’ing you
  • Don’t tell them how to do their job, unless you are MUCH more experienced than they are, or if they are doing something unsafe
  • Offer to get in there and help with the ugly, dirty jobs. That is how I gained their respect… swinging hammer, etc on nightshift
  • Respect their knowledge and learn from them, I learned more about equipment maintenance on nightshift than I did at University
  • Stand up for your crew when they deserve it (in front of management)
  • Learn how to talk to each person… everyone needs to be handled differently to get the most out of them, know their strengths and weaknesses for the job, but also take an interest in them personally (family, hobbies, etc). As Brett said, you won’t / can’t be best friends off the job, but showing interest in them goes a LONG way)

Watch Wade speak about his previous experience with Bluefield in this video

Peter Yates

Probably, if not, one of steepest learning curves in my life.  As a fitter I worked hard, kept good time and quality, and did the (tough) jobs which was the trigger to being promoted to a supervisor. Haha how does that work, no skill gap analysis, TNA etc... and now your most productive fitter is off the floor.

Not having the skills to manage people let me down the most.  All the things the others have mentioned but the one in particular that comes to mind often is not challenging underachievers. The result is you flog your good workers and eventually your entire crew ends up underachievers.  The saving grace is moving to another site armed with this knowledge.

I urge all to ensure your supervisors have the basic skills before you throw them in the deep end, oh and your best technician won't necessarily make a good Supervisor.  My son (23) just went through this same process and rang me often for advice.  He has backed down from supervisor, too young and too much pressure if you don't have the coping skills.  Agree with Wade, make a decision.  People will respect you whether they agree with you or not.

Yatesy has previously written on the importance of maintenance work quality – read it here.

Don Cameron

Early in my career as a leader I learnt that once you've set standards and or expectations and they are ignored you need to act.  Firstly, understanding if there is a reason why a task wasn't completed.  Act and hold people accountable.