The Job Site and the Crew-Leader Mindset

Blake Duval, center, leads a tailgate briefing prior to starting a job overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire last winter. TCIA staff photos by Richard May.

A great crew leader is an essential component of any company, but what makes a great crew leader? Someone who can climb anything or run a piece of equipment with unmatched ease and precision? While those are great qualities, in my opinion what makes a great crew leader is something much more than just a physical skill set. Rather, it is a mindset of excellence that truly sets the great crew leaders apart.

For the most part, a crew leader is judged on their efficiency on the job, with efficiency being the ability to complete a task as safely and quickly as possible. In this article, I want to share what goes through my mind on a job in order to be as efficient as possible. I’m not saying that I am the model crew leader, but I want to share some things that have helped me be successful so far in my career.

A job site is a puzzle, and it’s a crew leader’s job to put that puzzle together as safely and efficiently as possible. As a crew leader, the first thing that goes through my mind when I step onto a job site is how can I utilize my crew’s skill sets to keep everyone working the whole time. I have found that the more engaged crew members are, the better their job-site focus is. This creates less room for error due to wandering minds or complacency. My main focus is to determine how each crew member’s strengths and weaknesses will best fit the tasks at hand.

Next, I will delegate work to the various crew members to fit their abilities while also being mindful not to overwhelm them with tasks. For instance, asking a newer climber to step outside his or her comfort zone with a difficult removal might not only have a negative impact on the job, but also could lead to an incident. As a crew leader, you need to be aware of everyone’s abilities and use them in the most efficient way possible. That means giving them tasks that will set them and the crew up for success.

While I delegate work, I keep crew morale as one of my main priorities. In this line of work, it is hard enough to maintain a positive attitude, so if morale dips, so does the workflow. Crew morale is one of the biggest factors leading to a successful and efficient job. As crew leader, morale is directly related to you and how you work throughout the day. I always try to keep things light and be positive, even in the worst of situations. Something instilled in me from a young age is to “embrace the suck.” How I translate this into crew morale is to lead by example and always be a part of the less-desirable tasks.

When delegating work, people tend to build a pattern of consistently dishing out the not-so-fun work to the crew members with the least amount of skill or the “new guy.” This can kill morale as well as push employees away. I am constantly trying to share the work evenly, as well as provide opportunities to all crew members. I always try to take part in every aspect of the job and be willing to step away from the “hero work.”

“I delegate work to the various crew members to fit their abilities, while also being mindful not to overwhelm them with tasks,” says Blake Duval.

Keeping morale high is the difference between people wanting to work with you rather than having to work with you. The morale of a crew is a major factor contributing to the efficiency of the job, so it’s always top of mind.

One final part of my mindset is accountability. Keeping expectations clear and holding everyone to those standards is key. Maintaining a mindset of accountability makes me take ownership of every aspect of the job, good or bad. This helps me stay diligent about consistently being a good leader and communicating my expectations. I tend to over-communicate the “why” behind every action or delegation, so that the purpose behind a task is constantly running through not only my mind but the mind of each crew member as well.

If my crew understands why each task is being done, it helps make the “bigger picture” a lot clearer. It also holds them to a set standard that is repeatedly discussed. By doing that, it builds accountability throughout the crew, leading to everyone doing their part to get the work done as efficiently as possible.

Blake Duval is a Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and Certified Arborist with Aspen Tree Service, an accredited, 25-year TCIA member company based in Carbondale, Colorado.

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