Easing the move from field boss to leader

Know which employees will be best at leading others.

Jack was the "All-American" pavement maintenance worker. He showed up early every day, was often the last to leave a job site, seldom made a mistake, and took great pains to ensure tack material was properly applied or hot mix asphalt was put accurately in place and at the right depth. There was very little that Jack could not do — and do well!

So Jack's boss asked him to become the supervisor for a newly formed paving crew. Though he had never actually supervised a crew Jack now faced the prospect of leading six workers, some of whom he had worked with on previous crews. His first few weeks were uncomfortable as he found himself doing more of the work himself rather than focusing on leading his crew to perform the work.

Jack's situation is common to just about every new field boss in the pavement maintenance industry, no matter whether it is paving, sealcoating, sweeping, or striping. Consider a few tips to ease your transition when moving a "boss" to a "leader."

Leaders Have ...

Any field leader will set himself apart when he develops a vision. Traditionally owners are expected to have a vision, but an owner's vision is for the direction of the company. A field leader needs to have a vision for his personal style of leading. That is, how does he want to lead others? Does he want his leadership to be one of respect, integrity, quality, and sensitivity to people?

Leaders Understand ...

Field leaders must realize what their roles are as a leader. Some of the roles might include coaching, teaching, motivating, directing, or solving problems. Each role is exercised when specific responsibilities are identified for that role. A leader, for example, might assume these responsibilities for the role of coach:

  • Clearly communicate daily job needs and duties.
  • Ensure each worker understands his job.
  • Observe workers on the job.
  • Provide timely instruction when correction is needed.
  • Provide timely and positive feedback for good performance.

Leaders Meet ...

Field leaders must strive to perform their roles and responsibilities at a level that will meet not only their personal expectations, or standards, but the expectations of those who will be on the receiving end of their efforts. Building on the coach's role and responsibilities, here are some sample standards and expectations for a specific responsibility: that of clearly communicating daily job needs and duties.

Standard (leader's expectation)

  • Conduct a five minute "huddle" at beginning of work day with crew.
  • Inform each worker of his specific duties and ask for confirmation of understanding.
  • Allow crew members to ask questions and/or make suggestions.

Expectations (from crew members)

  • To have job requirements communicated clearly.
  • To be personally directed if worker is to perform something other than what he normally performs.
  • To provide the latest and most accurate information about the job's needs and expectations from the field leader's boss or the customer.

One of the biggest mistakes construction companies make is in naming its supervisors or foremen. Most often, this ends the process of development; the new boss is left to figure out how to be a leader. Without support and a chance to understand what being a leader is all about, the new field boss simply barks out orders and performs way too much of the work himself.

Taking your field bosses to the next level requires more time identifying just what the leader is supposed to be focused on accomplishing. Time spent early identifying each individual's personal vision for leadership, defining specifically what the roles and responsibilities are for the role, will launch the boss and send him on his or her way to becoming a terrific field leader.

Brad Humphrey is president of the Next Level Contractor, a management and training firm specifically for the construction industry. Brad and his business partner, Jeff Stokes, are regular speakers at National Pavement Expo and National Pavement Expo West, where this year one of the new sessions will take a closer look at "How to Move from Field Boss to Leader."