Do you know your supervisor’s mode of operation?

The new tendency is to fill up your supervisor’s day with paperwork.

If I ask the question, “How much time does your supervisor spend on the shop floor?,” what would you answer? I think few people have put a value on the supervisor supervising.

An active supervisor contributes in many areas. This is called active supervision. The question is: What is active supervision?

Active supervision is where the supervisor spends substantial time on the shop floor helping workers solve problems. As strange as it might sound, on the psychological level, the supervisor might have to be both mother (nurturing and supportive) and father (strict and tough) to workers.

Several Dimensions

Active supervision is broken into several dimensions:

Ongoing Performance Monitoring

The supervisor knows how long each job should take and checks it periodically throughout the day.

When the jobs fall behind, the experienced supervisor thinks about the best intervention. In some cases, it might be logistical help, tool help, information about how to precede or an occasional kick to the worker’s behind.

In other cases, the supervisor will hang back if wrestling with the job is important for training.


Everyone needs a friend. Workers like to think that the supervisor has their back. Sometimes, the best thing a supervisor can do is to just listen like a friend. It can make all the difference.

Paperwork Compliance Officer

The accuracy of all analysis is derived from the work order. If the work order is complete and accurate, then decision-making and root-cause analysis are dramatically easier.

The supervisor is always auditing paperwork and returning it when it is deficient.

Supervisors should always look at work orders on the floor and make sure entries are being made at the same time as the activity.

PM Anal Compulsive

Do the preventive maintenance as it is written. A related issue is PM compliance. If a worker does not have the task list in hand when they are doing the PM, how does the supervisor know what was actually done?

The supervisor makes certain the task list is carried while on PMs.

Teacher and Mentor

The supervisor should either be continuously training or directing the training of his workers.

Everyone has areas that they are better at and areas that they are worse at. The easiest crew to schedule is one where everyone can do everything.

The effective supervisor should be reviewing the work schedule every day, looking for training opportunities. These can be formal training sessions or letting the trainee “help” an experienced hand.

Prison Guard

People break rules. Some people text while working or do other dangerous rule breaking. The supervisor needs to know what the rules are and enforce them.

Sometimes a hard kick in the posterior is what is needed.

Priest and Therapist

People have problems. People bring their problems to work.

The supervisor’s job is to be sure the worker is focused on his or her job, and that their problems are in the back seat during the work day. Sometimes it takes a therapist or priest to get people in a working frame of mind.

Quality Control Officer

The supervisor is responsible for the overall quality of all work performed in his or her shop. Where there are quality issues, the supervisor determines the cause of the problem.

Causes could be a lack of knowledge or skill, a lack of aptitude, a lack of adequate physical strength or dexterity, a bad attitude, a lack of the right tool, a lack of the right part, some inadequacy in working conditions, inadequate time, a preoccupation brought about by a problem outside of work, etc.

The supervisor works with the worker to solve the quality problem. If the problem is with the company or system, such as bad conditions or a lack of tools or parts, the supervisor should attack them too.

If the worker has a problem with external issues, the supervisor should mentor him or find them help in the organization.

Safety Officer

The supervisor should intervene any time an employee or visitor performs an unsafe act or is in the shop without the proper personal protective equipment.

The supervisor is the champion for safety and makes sure the shop remains safe.

Tidiness Cheerleader

The shop must be kept clean for safety, efficiency and morale reasons. All clean-up for individual jobs should be a part of, and charged to, the individual job.

The supervisor should arrange for periodic clean projects to keep the entire shop area and the yard tidy.

Support your supervisors.

Joel Levitt has trained over 6,000 maintenance leaders from over 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.