How did you land in your role as a supervisor? Perhaps it was because you were good at a previous job and management believed you could take on a new challenge.
But the word “challenge” may not even begin to describe the learning curve most supervisors face in the first months or years in that role.
Michael Topf, an organizational trainer and consultant, said many new supervisors, along with more than a few experienced ones, have little idea how to lead, instruct and supervise workers effectively.
“They are left to their own devices to figure out how to get people to do their work and how to carry out all the leadership responsibilities that a manager or supervisor is supposed to do,” said Topf.
He leads Topf Initiatives in Wayne, PA, and specializes in executive leadership, management and line employee development, as well as safety, health and environmental cultural change and attitudinal/behavioral change.
Many large companies have felt the effects of various kinds of organizational changes, such as downsizing, reorganizing or upsizing, which have impacted so many workers. These companies, said Topf, experience the pressure to have supervisors and leaders readily available to handle the production demands to keep them profitable.
“Many of these same companies have their own internal training and safety departments and have the advantage of providing in-house supervisory and safety training. However, most new supervisors and managers state they were just thrust into the job, without the necessary training to prepare them for what they will experience given other priorities of their leadership,” he said.
Supervisors who work in smaller companies that do not have internal training and safety departments suddenly find themselves on the shop floor or in the “safety department” with some quick catching up to do.
Topf said all companies, whether large or small, should require and provide sufficient training to orient supervisors to procedures related to the job, technical aspects of the operation, human resources policies and OSHA or state/provincial health and safety regulations that need to be followed – before they set foot on the shop floor.
This training should cover all supervisory positions relating to production, distribution, research, sales or administration. In reality, Topf says, a gradual immersion into a supervisory role is unlikely.
Trying to grasp the knowledge necessary to keep workers safe can be a massive challenge for a supervisor who is new to the job. While doing this is a job in itself, there’s another aspect of the job that new supervisors need to master if they hope to be successful, says Topf.
New supervisors need training on what it means to be a leader and how to interact with other employees “so that you stand the greatest chance of getting cooperation and buy-in from your employees and co-workers, as well as from other supervisors and managers,” according to Topf.
Some companies operate with a command and control approach – the “follow-my-instructions-because-I-told-you-so” model. Topf said that approach often leads to resentment among employees, who may respond by doing just enough to get by in their jobs.
“This can result in safety incidents, breakdowns in equipment and a decline in results.”
Supervisors need training on how to communicate respectfully regardless of whether employees are being cooperative or resistant.
“They need to know how to coach and counsel when people are not doing their jobs according to required standards, whether this relates to working safely or in a quality manner, or are being late every day. If you deal with people in a negative way they most likely will develop a negative attitude.”
An effective supervisor ensures that employees at all levels are properly trained and equipped, and that they have the proper instruction and direction to do their jobs safely in a quality manner and not cut corners or bypass procedures.
“They’ve got to ensure that people not only know this information, but practice it in reality,” said Topf.
Learning to be an effective supervisor also entails knowing how to properly correct behaviors that do not conform to requirements and how to discipline employees who, despite several reminders, do not comply with safety or other regulations or requirements of their job.
“There’s one other point – supervisors, managers and safety professionals need to be trained to be internal sales people. You need to be able to sell your manager on what you need to do your job. If you, or the employees you are responsible for need safety (or leadership) training or you want to go to a safety conference or bring in an outside trainer, you have to be able to sell them on it.”
If you believe you could use some brushing up on leadership and communication skills, talk to your own manager about the possibility.