Qualities to Look for in a Lead/Supervisor/Foreman

foreman on cell phone with clipboardOne of the common situations I run into is lack of leadership within the field crew. This is particularly noticeable when the owner is withdrawing from the field to spend more time working on his business. Some owners see the Lead Carpenter system as salvation since it shifts responsibility for the organization, communication, and planning components of the job as well as the performance of the job off the owner. Others feel that having a middle management on-site Job Supervisor or Foreman works better for their situation. Whatever the company eventually winds up doing, the first step is to get the owner off the job site.

This is doubly traumatic for the owner who must (1) leave quality control (and the company’s hard-earned reputation) to somebody else, and (2) redefine his/her own role within the company. In addition, the transition is made more difficult when the owner’s departure leaves a gaping hole to be filled. This is when I’m asked for suggestions on where to find somebody with the right mix of skills. Ideally, of course, you want someone with high scores in each of these skill categories: technical, problem-solving, leadership, work ethic, and communication. So when you can’t find somebody with all these attributes, which ones become your bottom-line “must haves?”

Back in the 50’s when Walt Disney was making his glorious “Living…” nature series (you Boomers may remember “The Living Sea,” “The Living Desert,” etc.), his film company was faced with a dilemma: their trained camera crew had no experience in the wild, and were coming back with lovely sunset shots, but no wildlife. The studio solved the problem by enlisting experienced wilderness enthusiasts and teaching them how to run cameras, and the results became the films. The point is that Disney discovered it was easier to teach mechanical skills (how to run a camera) than it was to teach everything required to get close to wildlife. The same may be true for a supervisory position. You may be better off hiring an intelligent natural leader with excellent people and communication skills and a strong work ethic even if s/he has only average technical skills.

Individuals motivated to get the job done right and on time will enlist the assistance of higher skilled crew and, if you’re lucky, will actually improve their relationship with the crew in so doing. It’s tempting to hire the best carpenter, but keep in mind that their role is to bring the job in on time, on budget, using an effective team while keeping the homeowner happy. Consider which skills are required to do this, and you’ll find carpentry expertise relatively low on the list!