Being a crew leader is the gateway to leadership in the blue-collar world. It takes many different skills. There are very few natural leaders who excel at all of the qualities you need. How do we find them?
We usually take a dependable, productive person and promote them. Unfortunately, too often circumstances force a promotion. So how do we set this usually reluctant person up for success? How do we take something that can be intimidating and make it easier? We all know even the best people will have some blind spots.
After struggling and failing with these questions, I decided to break them down; by taking the ideal qualities and defining them individually, it makes it easier to teach and learn. After we decide and define what is most important, we need to train them. The most effective way is one-on-one while role-playing specific examples. This can be done with half-hour weekly meetings. Individually, it helps you to bond with one of your key people. This also can be done in small groups, and if you have monthly crew leaders’ meetings, it’s good to review and reinforce one topic each time.
What’s most important is to communicate each key point one at a time. Here is my list.
Work safely and encourage others to do so. Start with a safe job setup, fill out your pre-job inspection and communicate with the salesperson. Make sure your crew is using their PPE. Be sure you have the right equipment and right crew for the weather that day. Make sure your team knows that no question is a “dumb” question, and that everyone is empowered to call an ALL STOP.
Communicate with the sales rep, the client and your team. Read the work order the night before; reach out to the sales rep to ask questions to be ready for the next day. In the morning, delegate tasks to your crew. What can they do to help you? Double-check that they followed through before you head out. Call the salesperson again to confirm you have what you need. Make sure you have everything you need before leaving the yard.
Delegate and engage your team
When you arrive at the property, share the scope of the job with your crew. Fill out the pre-job paperwork together. They will feel better about their roles, no matter how menial, when they are involved. Put your crew members on tasks that challenge them, but don’t put them on tasks that compromise their safety or quality of work.
Client service is almost as important as safety. Treat the client like you would want someone to treat your mom. Engage the client when you arrive and before you leave the property.
Meeting with the client and reviewing the work (when possible) can set you up for success. Doing the work the way the client and sales rep want it done avoids unhappy clients, no-charge go-backs and complaints. Every job is a little different; be sure you do it well every time.
Make the time to coach your crew. Whether you are teaching a new employee the basics or teaching a more experienced crew member to remove a tree for the first time, making your crew better makes your job easier. Look for opportunities to engage your team every day. In turn, they will appreciate you and become more productive.
Keep an eye on them
Keep an eye on your crew throughout the day to make sure they are working safely and that quality work is being done. Avoid being surprised.
End of the job
At the end of the job, before you leave the property, do the walk-around to make sure the quality of the work and cleanup is to your standards. Avoid the go-back. Going back costs money and credibility. Ask the client to review the work, if they are home.
Job not finished
If you cannot finish the job, if something gets damaged or if something out of the ordinary happens, call the salesperson or manager. Do not let the sales rep be surprised by a client complaint.
Give the credit and take the blame. When something goes wrong, even if it’s not your fault, take responsibility. When the salesperson or client says what a great job you did, give the credit to your crew. Treat your crew as if they are the client.
Praise in public and coach in private. Tell your crew members what they did well and what they need to work on. If and when they make mistakes, speak with them. Encourage them to grow and get better. Ask them for feedback about what you do well and what you need to work on. Speak with the salesperson and ask them how you are doing. Remember, feedback goes both ways. If you feel a salesperson did not set you up for success, ask them what happened and let them know your concerns. Feedback is always most effective when given in private, without emotion and in a timely manner.
Work on plant ID, insects, diseases and arboriculture. Stay curious and strive to learn more. None of us are ever finished learning. It is important to always look for ways to continue to improve. Set goals such as acquiring arborist certification, a pesticide license, a crane license, the CTSP credential, etc.
You should be reviewing your list constantly with your existing crew leader or crew leaders and looking for the next candidate to start coaching proactively.
David M. Anderson, Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and a Massachusetts certified arborist, is a manager with Mayer Tree Service, Inc., a 28-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Massachusetts.