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Ten Things To Remember: On Assistant Superintendent Leadership Skills

Dave Wilber


My last post covered some basics on being excellent. Kind of a 101 level of how to roll. Now lets look at leadership.


Over the years, I've seen some things that Assistant Supers are and are not doing when it comes to being leaders. And let's really face it, you may think that the 2IC (second in charge) has to do with agronomy. Not so much. In most situations the job figures as a challenge to train, motivate and supervise a crew. Show me an excellent crew and I'll be looking for a special Assistant.


00c40f76f82d31d687dcf49d12ec852f-.jpg1. Leaders have followers. Look behind you, if you don't have anyone following you, then you are doing it wrong. Time to rethink your approach.


2. If your staff isn't getting enough done, it's because you aren't getting enough done. They watch your productivity. And they will both consciously and subconsciously want to match it.


3. Be an expert on every piece of equipment in the operation. Not nearly all of the equipment, but every single piece. How can you train or evaluate an operator on something you can't run yourself?


4. Be there when the crew arrives in the AM and be there when they leave at the end of the day. Hello and Goodbye is great. But the more important thing is that this "check-in" time will allow you to know if anything is up coming or going.


5. And plenty will always be up, realize this. Staff members are humans. They have wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, kids, families, pets, etc. And if you want to understand them, get to know them. Some have constant drama. Some have none. But all have cues they give you about life and this translates to their work. 



6. Food can make you a hero. It may seem trite, but much love can be gained through the stomach. Bring doughnuts. Con the Super into finding $ for a grill fest. Take pride in serving the gang. They will love you for it.


7. Bellyaching to the staff is a no no. Don't agree with your Super about something (anything)? Take it up with him or her. Don't air your laundry with the staff. They won't trust you if they see this.


8. Mistakes happen. Notice them. Correct them. Try not to belittle anyone in front of others. Coach for a better outcome. Got a guy who just can't mow straight lines? Don't shame him in the break room. Help him in the field. 


9. It's the little things. Show your appreciation. I was visiting a facility and found myself at the shop at the end of the day. Standing there talking to the Super and the Assistant when all of the sudden the Assistant ran to the wash pad and made a big deal out of how well one of the gang had washed up a mower. The operator lit up with a smile. Being appreciated is more important to your staff than just about anything.


10. Be genuine and consistent. The blue collar worker can spot a fake a mile away. So don't be. Be who you are. Be strong in that. Having a bad day? Don't pass it along. 


11. (I know the title says ten...but). You must embrace the fact that it is the efforts of the staff that are going to make or break the entire operation. Doesn't matter what size budget you have. Doesn't matter the status of the facility. You are judged on the efforts of the staff. Operations that don't see this are nearly doomed. Operations that let the staff run things without checks and balances are doomed as well. Healthy operations have leaders and followers and clearly defined roles that lead to success. No short cuts. 


Sure, there are more. And leadership isn't a 10 point program. But getting these things in order can give you a huge head start. Welcome to the jungle!


Feel free to add to this in the comments below. I was super excited to see some good stuff on my last post.


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A comment left by Don Mahaffey on my last post deserves some face time here. Here's what he said. His point number 1 is especially relevant.



Dave a few more,

1. Often times the Assistant Supt is younger and less years on the job than some "lifers" on the crew. First, it is OK to be a lifer and have a life away from work, so don't look down your nose at someone happy to stay in an hourly position. Second, once in awhile they have some very good ideas. Learn to listen because 20 attentive eyes on the course is better than two, and they will not be attentive if they know you will not give their input due consideration.

2. Always have a long list (updated daily) of small jobs that may take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. No matter how well oiled your operation, there will be down time at the end of the day, while your machine is getting repaired, waiting for play.....using that time productively is good management, and you can't do that if you aren't prepared. Don't always go to the default position of telling the crew to grab a broom, be prepared and be productive.


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