Looks like you’ve been working hard and people are noticing your efforts. Congratulations, you have now become a crew leader! Now what?
Becoming a crew leader is your first step in a career as a leader, and hopefully not your last. Most often in the green industry, people are put into leadership roles based on a certain skill set that usually has nothing to do with leadership. Usually it is because a person is competent at a certain physical skill such as pruning, climbing, removals, equipment operations, etc. Because you have become a crew leader, you are most likely competent at certain skills in the arborist industry. Now it’s time to work on leadership skills to develop your career.
An entry-level crew leader is usually given smaller, simpler jobs to complete, and once management starts seeing success, he or she probably will be challenged more and hopefully rewarded for it. You know how the saying goes, “The harder you work, the more work they give you.”
Becoming a crew leader for the first time is known as a positional leader. This basically means you simply have the position and you will need to get your crew to start to follow you. Just because you have the title of crew leader does not necessarily make you a leader. One of the first steps would be to influence your crew. Influencing is simply getting them into your camp. To do that, you need to communicate to them what you are trying to accomplish as a leader.
The next step would be to motivate them. Motivating is leading your crew to do something because they want to, not because they have to.
It is also very important to enable your crew. Enabling them is to give them the training and tools they need to perform their jobs safely and professionally.
The idea is to use all three of these tools to have your crew working toward a common goal. As a leader, you will need to communicate to them what that common goal is. This will give the crew something to think about in the “big picture,” rather than just doing the work in front of them. The organization may already have a set of core values or a mission/vision statement to work toward, and the crew leader may just be enforcing those values, but you could go one step further and create your own.
As crew leaders start to perform at higher levels, it is usually because they have good people-development skills. Effective leaders understand that the crew/organization cannot grow without developing the careers of its staff. If staff development stays stagnant and people are not learning new skills and adding value to the company, then the company will not grow or perform at a higher level.
Crew leaders will find success with their staff wanting to perform for them if they take the time to help them perform at a higher level, either by coaching them in the skills they already have or by developing new skills. Once the crew leader has improved the skills of the crew, the team will perform at a higher level, most likely performing more safely, providing a quality product for their clients and being more productive. This will be recognized by others, and over time careers will start advancing.
Being a crew leader, you most likely have developed “hard skills.” These would be the skills necessary to complete the work. Examples would be things such as equipment operation, climbing, pruning, rigging, etc. Leadership also requires the use of “soft skills.” These would be things such as influencing, motivating and enabling. Other soft skills that are important are things like stress management. Being able to recognize your emotional intelligence is a skill that is very important in any leadership role.
Being a crew leader and working in a dangerous environment as we do, it is very important to keep stress levels to a minimum. Keep in mind that leaders set the tone for the crew. If the crew leader is displaying a high level of stress, that will reflect on the crew and then they will begin showing signs of stress, and none of that is working toward a common goal.
Quality crew leaders are also good at team building. Team building is a very effective way to get everyone working toward that common goal. Try using words such as “we” instead of “I.” Carefully choosing what words to use could affect the attitude of the crew and the outcome. By consistently saying “I,” a crew leader may be removing staff from the responsibility of doing things themselves.
Another very important soft skill is actively listening. This simply means you are listening with the intent to understand and not the intent to reply. This is a skill that requires work and practice to become good at it. This is no different than any hard skill. If a crew member has a thought or an idea and, as a leader, you do not actively listen and instead interrupt them or don’t even let them finish their thought, it would be difficult for them to follow you. Keep in mind, leaders only have one thing, and that is followers.
As a leader, how you deliver a message is very important. Keep in mind how a message is received. Five percent is the actual words we use, 38% is the tone of our voices and 55% is our body language. Body language speaks very loudly. So, as a crew leader, it is very important how you are delivering a message to the crew or an individual crew member. If you are not actively listening or are using a critical tone of voice or poor/negative body language, it would be difficult to get optimal performance out of the crew or crew member.
In a leadership role, understanding your co-workers is very important. Good leaders will get to know their staff. They will do this by knowing what they enjoy outside of work, what their family environment is like, etc. By getting to know your staff, it becomes easier to lead them because you know a little bit about them, and it also appears that you genuinely care about them as a person and not just as a co-worker.
There are a few things to avoid as a crew leader. For one, do not delay or avoid any of your crew members’ questions or requests. Doing so will lead to a lack of creativity and will increase hostility, and that is not a positive work environment. It is very important to have team spirit, with a group of people working toward a common goal. While working with your crew, never criticize their performance. Coach them into improving skills.
Finally, let’s discuss trust. Trust is the foundation of leadership. Skills that could help build trust for leaders include always demonstrating respect, listening first, showing loyalty, clarifying expectations and having very consistent performance. Keep in mind that trust is an emotion/feeling built on a common set of values and beliefs. You cannot simply require someone to trust you.
Becoming a crew leader is an awesome responsibly. Keep in mind that new soft skills will be required to be successful. Also consider that success takes time in a leadership role, and developing staff members takes time as well.
Todd Kramer, CTSP, QCL, is training and performance manager with Kramer Tree Specialists, Inc., an accredited, 31-year TCIA member company based in West Chicago, Illinois.