Choosing Your Next Supervisor

Contractors are always looking for that next supervisor. Always! In more than 20 years of consulting, most of that in the construction industry, I've never seen a let up in owners or senior leaders discussing where they will get their next supervisor or foreman.

Leadership is simply high in demand and low in supply. Promoting your best technical worker to a supervisory position has left many contractors regretting the move. Why? Because not every superstar worker is a lock to be a superstar field leader. While you certainly want your supervisors to be knowledgeable they do not have to be the smartest workers you have. Likewise, they do not have to be the best craftsman, operator, or driver.

It's often difficult to see some employees as leadership material. And while some employees might not be the type an owner wants on his management team, others might express interest in a supervisors job just because they want to look more important than other workers. Sometimes the employee who broadcasts his desire to be a supervisor simply wants a pay raise.

What's a contractor to do?

First, don't let a good employee fool you into thinking that he really isn't interested in a leader's position. Most smart construction workers realize that being a supervisor is no picnic. They know that if money is the issue there is a good chance they'll make more with overtime than as a salaried supervisor.

Also, good candidates for the supervisor's position might become more open to the position once they hear more about the specifics of the job. So contractors need to develop a "roles and responsibilities" plan for the position, clearly stating what key roles the supervisor will fulfill and including a list of responsibilities he will have in fulfilling such roles.

But the question lingers, "How do I know if I've got 'Mr. Right'?" Consider the following characteristics.

Does the employee:

  • Demonstrate good work habits
  • Interact well with other workers
  • Look to solve problems
  • Rarely whine or complain … at least publicly
  • Remain "in control" when others are out of control
  • Display a calm but directness when addressing difficult situations
  • Project loyalty to the company and projects without "brown nosing"
  • Is sharp enough technically and isn't afraid to ask about what he doesn't know

The above characteristics are not the only ones important to supervisors, but they should provide you with some ammunition when trying to decide if "Mr. Right" is within your rank and file. If he is not then you will need to look outside the company for a supervisor.

If you believe that you will simply promote an untested construction worker into the supervisor's role and then have no more work to do, please call me for some swamp land in Florida that I'd love to sell you. Because once you have promoted your choice for the supervisor's job, your work has only just begun.

Consider these training steps:

  1. Spend a full day outlining and discussing the supervisor's position.
  • Clarify what your expectations are for the position.
  • Spell out the actual roles, responsibilities, and performance standards that the position will require.
  1. Commit to supervisory and leadership training.
  • Send him to classes if available.
  • Hire a "coach" for your new supervisor.
  • Assign a mentor for your new supervisor.
  1. Have your new supervisor to "shadow" another supervisor for one or two weeks before the promotion.
  • Have the new supervisor briefly describe what he learned at the end of each week of shadowing.
  1. Communicate clearly to your field crew who the new supervisor is.
  • Ask the crew to support the new supervisor.
  • Meet with any crew member who has any "baggage" with the new supervisor; get differences discussed and settled quickly.

Not all "thoroughbred" workers want to be a supervisor. In fact, if you have any really hard-working employees who are making good money, without the pressures of being the boss, don't be surprised if these workers are not interested. We need good workers at all levels and besides, hard-working employees are informally leaders among their peers so don't be too quick to push them to formally lead.

But don't take the selection and, more importantly, training, of the next supervisor lightly.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group. He works exclusively with construction companies across the United States and Canada assisting companies in their training and development of leaders at all levels. If you are interested in learning more about PDG's Leadership Boot-Camp you may visit www.pinnacledg.com or e-mail Brad at brad@pinnacledg.com.

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