First time supervisor. Advice please?
October 6, 2020 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm finally working again, earning about half as much as I did in that office job, as a warehouse supervisor. I'll be leading a team of 6 - 12 delivery crew, but without being their actual boss. As an anxious 36 year old, I could really use some advice.

How do I be friendly but with good boundaries with my team?
what are some "unspoken expectations" people might have for me?
are there some good books for being in this situation?

I'm eager to learn, and I hope to be a good boss. But I recognize that I might not know the right questions to ask right now.

posted by rebent to Work & Money (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Read Ask a Manager daily and also read her book.
posted by saturdaymornings at 6:28 PM on October 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Being a supervisor without being anyone's boss can be a tricky situation. If you and the delivery crew's direct supervisors are not on the same page then you're out of luck when someone is not receptive to your feedback. I would suggest spending a lot of time up front getting the lay of the land and figuring out what is and isn't under your control as a supervisor.
posted by fox problems at 6:45 PM on October 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The best supervisor I ever had introduced herself and said, “My job is to make sure you have everything you need to be successful at yours.”

I think that’s a pretty healthy mindset, and I through her consistent support I always saw her more as an advocate/resource than as another layer of management/enforcement. Mutual respect.
posted by mochapickle at 7:28 PM on October 6, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: My recent transition to mostly supervising others is in a very different field. But, as a somewhat reserved person who over-thinks things and wants to get along with everyone, the one thing it took me far too long to appreciate is the art of figuring out when to stop trying to build concensus and instead just make a decision. Learning when to say something like, "I understand your point. But, I disagree. Since it will be my responsibility if this fails, I'm going to insist we do it my way," has been really useful.
posted by eotvos at 10:50 PM on October 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

Figure out who thinks that job should've been theirs or why nobody wanted it. Go out with each crew for a day and let them train you.

If you have no authority you have to merge their wants into yours by being a good listener early on. Find that little thing driving them nuts and fix it.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:03 AM on October 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's going to depend a lot on your corporate culture and team as well as logistics. But I went from managing a creative team to managing a more service delivery team (fitness instruction + bus drivers) and I'll just share my particular experience.

I was used to people who were 'building a career' vs. 'getting paid' and while both teams were/are truly excellent, I had to readjust my thinking a bit.

For example, I wanted to involve people in planning routes, and while they did appreciate that I wanted the real-deal information on their routes, I also missed that they felt like I was downloading the work I was getting paid for onto them. Same with things like making sure the vehicles have their inventory (jump cables, first aid kits, etc.)

On the plus side, solving problems raised my credibility a lot.

You may find you have to shift your thinking on some things that seem given from white-collar work. For example, on my media team people frequently moved their work around to accommodate emergencies like cable repair. On my blue collar team, people have had to call in sick because they were being evicted and they had to get their belongings somewhere. As a manager of white collar workers I could say "take the time, no problem, as long as you meet your deadline."

As a manager of drivers, I have to call in a backup driver, of which I have a limited supply because it's a narrow slice of people we can have on call who are insured and trained etc., and then I obviously pay those drivers for those a) I have to manage my team so that no children are left at the side of the road and b) I have to apply our sick time/emergency leave/holiday policies correctly or else I end up with negative budget. (Our budget includes leave, but not unlimited leave.) So I have learned to be kind while saying "I totally get it, I just want you to be aware that you are out of XYZ days so this time will be handled in FGH manner."

And on the note of applying policy, make sure you know your policies inside out and can articulate them positively but fairly. As an example, we have a uniform - so what happens when someone comes in wearing pants that are the wrong colour? What's the response? What's the response the second time?*

Definitely get as much practical understanding as you can - go on routes, use the radios, use the break room, check out the lockers, whatever you need to do to be able to respond to issues.

When in doubt, say less. Some of my people come from cultures where supervisors are petty tyrants who can take work away from you that you need to feed your family and so they approach the relationship with me very differently than I am used to. They are seeking subtext a lot.

People appreciate clear answers. "I'll find out" is better than speculation.

*This is one of the least favourite parts of my job. Our uniform includes black pants. I have had young men inform me there are no black pants in the world in their size for under $200, that they can't do laundry, etc. However, I made the mistake of being chill about it in my first three months and when I turned around, over half the staff had abandoned the black pants for jeans, all because I 'let' someone get away with it for a week. Then my boss was upset. Then everyone was upset having to put their black pants back on. There are systemic ways to handle this, like giving people pants, but we give out the polos as well as provide martial arts uniforms and still have issues. This is sort of my example of something I don't personally care about, never really had to deal with, and now I know to be really, really on top of it.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:23 AM on October 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

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