Today’s post is a guest blog by Johnathon Sullinger, a Construction Field Supervisor who also has experience in software development.  He just recently became promoted and wrote up some of his experiences about becoming a new supervisor.  Enjoy his advice on making the transition and what he’s learning about managing a team.

About two months ago I was promoted to a supervisor position at the Municipality I work at and got pretty excited. What I did not expect however, was the stress of managing the same people I worked alongside for over 4 years. I started by giving the other inspectors some room to breath, the ability to handle things without me getting involved in their assigned tasks too much. I remember thinking They’re grown adults, they can do their job without their hand being held right? I never liked it when people hovered over me while I did my job, I felt like they were spitting in my face. So I assigned them to an area of work and let them handle it without getting involved myself.

Well, I was right that they could do their jobs.  They excelled at it.  Some of the inspectors respected that I ran things the way I did.

Not everyone was happy though.  Others became angry at my management style.   They criticized me for not showing them how things needed to be inspected or training them in areas that they struggled in.  I started helping people out more, stopping by their areas of work and offering assistance if they needed it. This stopped the complaints from the 2nd group of people, but started issues with the 1st group who previously had no problems with me. Now they complained I micro-managed, and it cramped them. There was a lot of trash-talk that went on behind closed doors and it put me in a bad situation.

I’m just doing my job, and they don’t get it. That’s what ran through my head until I decided to look at things differently.

This last week I had some time to reflect on all of the issues that had occurred over the last two months and I came to a realization. Everyone is different. Different backgrounds, different up-bringing, different levels of experience, different training and different standards. I made an assumption that I could slide into a position and supervise everyone in the same manner, give them all equal responsibilities and expect them all to perform the same, which in reality, isn’t really the case. Some of the inspectors are book smart and catch on to things quickly, while others are hands-on and need to witness something in order for it to register in their minds what’s going on. Some have done the work for 20 years and know pretty much all there is to know, while others have been here for 2 years and haven’t learned everything yet.

I spent the week evaluating each employee, their strengths and weaknesses and began assigning duties based off my evaluation. I found that people never questioned the quantity of their work if it fit into their strengths, nor did they complain about the work assigned if it was a weakness and I spent time explaining what they must do and demonstrating things to them before they left for the assignment. I told each one of them that if they ever needed help, they could call me. I’ve exercised an open door policy with them and it’s working very well. Those that don’t need me hovering over their shoulder are happy, and those that need me to be there for guidance now know that they can ask for it.

As a manager you must treat each person equally, but it does not mean you have to divide up the work load equally. Each person has a strength and a weakness, and it’s your responsibility as the manager to see to it that each person is assigned in an area where they can succeed. If they fail, it falls on the manager. If you stop and think about it, shouldn’t a manager be a mentor to his or her employees?

Managing people is a difficult position to be in at times and requires a lot of balancing. Once you have ironed out your chosen approach and have it in place, your employees will make you look like a super-star, and they’ll enjoy doing it while they’re at it.

About Johnathon

Johnathon works full time in construction as a Construction Field Supervisor.  His current project is a multi-million dollar contract covering bridge construction, roads, pipes and landscaping. He’s written blog posts in the past regarding team management for both his software development hobby and full-time job.  Check out his blog or contact him via Twitter.

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