Active Supervision Improves Productivity

The new tendency is to fill up your supervisor’s day with paperwork. Or if I ask the question, “How much time does your supervisor spend on the shop floor?” what would you answer? I think few people have put a value on the supervisor actually supervising! An active supervisor contributes in many areas. In fact, active supervision can improve shop productivity by 15 percent.

So, what is active supervision? Active supervision is where the supervisor spends substantial time on the shop floor helping workers solve problems. As strange as it might sound, on the psychological level the supervisor might have to be both mother (nurturing and supportive) and father (strict and tough) to members of the crew. Active supervision is broken into several dimensions:


Ongoing Performance Monitoring

The supervisor knows how long each job should take and checks it periodically throughout the day. A four-hour job issued in the morning should be done by the lunch break. When the jobs fall behind, the experienced supervisor thinks about the best intervention. In some cases, it might be logistical help, tool help, or information about how to proceed. In some cases, perhaps the equivalent of a polite kick in the pants. In still other cases, the supervisor will hang back if wrestling with the job is important for training.



Everyone needs a friend. We like to think the supervisor has our back. Sometimes the best thing a supervisor can do is to just listen like a friend and offer moral support. It can make all the difference.



You are not on the field – you are on the sidelines. Your job is to get the crew to win the game without picking up a tool.


Paperwork Compliance Officer

The accuracy of all analysis is derived from the work order. If the work order is complete and accurate, then decision-making and root cause analysis are dramatically easier. The supervisor is always auditing paperwork and returning it when it is deficient. The supervisor should always look at work orders on the floor and ensure entries are being made at the same time as the activity.


PM Compulsive Disorder

Do the PM as it is written, period. A related and just as critical issue is PM compliance. If a worker does not have the task list in-hand when he / she is doing the PM, how do we know what was actually done? The supervisor ensures the task list is carried out while working on preventative maintenance.


Teacher and Mentor

The supervisor should either be continuously training or directing the training of members of the crew. Everyone has areas in which they are better and areas in which they are worse. The easiest crew to schedule is one where everyone can do everything. The effective supervisor should be reviewing the schedule every day and look for training opportunities. These can be formal training sessions or letting the trainee ‘help’ an experienced hand.


Prison Guard

People break rules. Some people text while working or do other dangerous rule breaking. The supervisor needs to know what the rules are and enforce them. Sometimes real discipline is needed.



People have problems. People bring their problems to work. The supervisor’s job is to be sure the worker is focused on his / her job and his / her problems are in the back seat during the work day. Sometimes it takes a therapist to get people in the working frame of mind.


Quality Control Officer

The supervisor is responsible for the overall quality of all work performed in the shop. Where there are quality issues, the supervisor determines the cause of the problem. These could be in several areas: lack of knowledge or skill, lack of aptitude, lack of adequate physical strength, dexterity, bad attitude, lack of the right tool, lack of the right part, some inadequacy in working conditions, inadequate time, preoccupation brought about by a problem outside of work.

The supervisor works with the employee to solve the quality problem. If the problem is with the company or system, i.e., bad conditions, lack of tools or parts, the supervisor should attack those too. If the worker has a problem with external issues, the supervisor should mentor him / her or find him /her help in the organization.


Safety Officer

The supervisor should intervene any time an employee or visitor performs an unsafe act or is in the shop without the proper personal protective equipment. The supervisor is the champion for safety and makes sure the shop is safe. If the supervisor doesn’t take PPE seriously, no one else will.


Tidiness Champion

The shop must be kept clean for safety, efficiency and morale reasons. All clean-up for individual jobs should be part of and charged to the individual job. The supervisor should arrange for periodic clean-up projects to keep the whole area and the yard tidy.

One issue for the supervisor themselves – some of the roles come easily and some come with great difficulty. It could be the supervisor is personally a slob so he / she is not too effective being a clean-up freak. In this case, some training or coaching from the manager or outside classes might be helpful.

Joel Levitt is a leading trainer of maintenance professionals. He has trained more than 15,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in more than 20 countries in more than 500 sessions. He may be reached at Since 1980 he has been the President of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services clients of all sizes on a wide range of maintenance issues. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2013

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