Becoming 'YOUR BEST' Maintenance Supervisor

Becoming 'YOUR BEST' Maintenance Supervisor

“A real leader or supervisor’s success is not solely measured on their personal ability, but is better measured by the success of the team they lead. This success is based both on the personal and professional growth of the team they lead.” R. Scott Smith.

It can take years, if not decades, to realize the wisdom of the quote above. Becoming a great Maintenance Supervisor and demonstrating true leadership requires the mix of the right traits, skills that are honed through the years, and the maturity and humility to learn from mistakes.

Maintenance Supervisors are the front line of leadership; they are the ‘sharp end of the spear’!

Given the challenge of the position, I wanted to share some sage advice from a Marshall Institute senior consultant who has spent much of his career becoming ‘HIS BEST’ Maintenance Supervisor. David Hunt has learned the lessons of leadership the hard way. David’s advice is the result of blood, sweat and years. This is real advice, from someone who’s been there, done that, and done it well. Our hope is that David’s insights can accelerate your professional learning and performance to become 'YOUR BEST'.

Following is my interview with David:

Tom: What advice would you offer a new Maintenance Supervisor?

David: Even though the responsibilities and challenges of being a Maintenance Supervisor are roughly the same, there are important implications during the initial weeks of that job, depending on whether you are 'brought up', or 'brought in'. Brought up refers to being promoted from within the company, and brought in refers to being hired from outside the company.

Tom: What are the differences and what advice would you give to Supervisors in each position?

David: Sure, I’ll start with those who are brought in: When you are new, you have very limited knowledge of the plant. So use and rely on your team of experts to help make the right calls.Spend time getting a feel for 'who’s who'. Study personalities, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. This insight is essential to managing people effectively. Success is achieved by building a team bond. Listen to the craftspeople and make a concentrated effort to build a strong rapport immediately.

David: Now, for those who are brought up: You may have been promoted because of your trade aptitude, but remember, those skills may not be enough to make you a successful Maintenance Supervisor. Acknowledge your new roles and responsibilities; practice your new skills and execute your new responsibilities. You are now managing your friends and ex-peers. You must lead and manage people by treating everyone fairly and equally.
You shouldn’t be 'working on the wrench'; become the leader, teacher, and mentor.

Tom: That’s a great distinction. Once this early stage induction to the new role is over, what should a Maintenance Supervisor do, or not do, to be effective and successful?

David: I break down my advice into three sections: policies, people and position.


  • Know company policies inside and out, and understand the gray areas
  • Inquire about how gray area decisions and situations have been handled in the past, and understand the decisions made in those gray areas.


  • When you begin to lead the crew, you have to let them know you are open minded, available, and that they can come to you for anything. - Your job is to make sure they succeed.
  • Treat everyone equally, and don’t pick out favorites.
  • Let your team know that if they fail, you have their back. Your job is to support your crew, not the other way around. Support them, coach them, serve them and protect them.

Position – Role and Responsibilities
Spend no less than 75% of your time on the floor with your crafts people. This is tough to do, as it means tearing yourself away from paperwork, but you MUST do this.

Get the most out of your colleagues and enhance their skills and capabilities by exposing them to increasingly challenging tasks.

Establish a strong and sincere relationship with the Production Supervisor and other value stream leads to understand their goals and priorities

It’s hard to prioritize the maintenance work without knowing the production department’s priorities and vice-versa. This is a major disconnect between production and maintenance. Overcome it by growing the partnership with the production group to understand the daily and weekly schedules. This helps tear the walls down. Weekly production goals change constantly; be aware of these changes and work around them.

On the flip side, the production department doesn’t always understand the maintenance department’s need for PMs on equipment. Help to educate them on the importance of PMs and on the maintenance schedule. Part of this education is making sure production is aware of the cost of an hour of downtime. Different value streams have different priorities. Understand these priorities and grow relationships with your peer supervisors. There will always be conflicting plant priorities, but, the closer the value stream leaders are the better cooperation will be.

Remember, the old saying, “it takes a smart person to learn from their own mistakes, but it takes a wise person to learn from others’ mistakes.” Whether you’re a new supervisor or an experienced one, find ways to onboard David’s advice to accelerate your learning curve and improve your professional performance to be 'YOUR BEST' Maintenance Supervisor.

Please share your experiences, thoughts, and wise advice by leaving a comment below.

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