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Best Practices for Maintenance Supervisors

April 6, 2015
Maintenance supervisors are your 'boots-on-the-grounds' leaders. Choose wisely.

What are the qualities of a top-performing maintenance supervisor, that "boots-on-the-ground" maintenance leader who makes sure superior work happens at the right time, in the right way and with the right outcome?

"We talk about managers, but we forget about supervisors," says Ricky Smith, reliability solutions advisor at maintenance consulting firm People and Processes Inc.

We shouldn't, given their importance. "They are the on-the-ground motivator," Smith says. Their role is to help the maintenance crew be successful, "to use their skills and abilities to empower the team to the advantage of the organization."

Smith has more than 30 years in the maintenance and reliability field, and has co-authored multiple books on the topic. He describes a good supervisor as an individual with good interpersonal skills, who knows his capabilities and recognizes his limitations, who is consistent in how he treats people, who can motivate and engage with the maintenance team, and who is accountable. That individual should also have mechanical aptitude.

Smith shared four easy-to-implement best practices in maintenance supervision and leadership. They are:

1. Provide Education – Give the maintenance crew the training and education they need to understand generally accepted maintenance best practices, including the process of proactive maintenance. Make sure the crew understands their roles and responsibilities in the proactive maintenance process. Training may also include bringing in other members of the organization or vendors where it makes sense.

2. Respect, Humility and Professional – Lead with respect and humility, and hold conversations with the crew about what these words mean, Smith says. In plain language, be respectful of other people and refrain from bragging. Also, and this is what is meant by "professional," operate every day using repeatable, quantifiable procedures. "It's also about continuous improvement," he says.

3. Hold Toolbox Talks – These are single-point lessons, usually on a technical topic. They may last 15 to 30 minutes and are held weekly. Typically the supervisor leads the talks when this practice is implemented, but others may do so as well if they are comfortable in the role. It also makes sense, when implementing the practice, to address the biggest pain points first. Conclude each talk with a discussion to get everyone's feedback about the lesson.

4. Display Visual Signals for the Maintenance Supervisor and the Crew – For the supervisor, Smith describes displaying a sign in the office area that reads: keep, preserve, protect. "Seeing is doing," he says, and the sign is a visible reminder to the supervisor to exercise the discipline, "to maintain." Secondly, Smith promotes putting a second sign -- a scorecard -- out on the shop floor that displays leading and lagging key performance indicators. Display no more than two to four indicators, and make sure the indicators mean something to the maintenance team performing the work.

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