A contractor recently asked me if I had any notes he could use in giving a talk to his foremen — the people who supervise his workers in the field. As I looked to find some answers, it occurred to me this is an area that is most neglected in our industry. We have numerous technical schools willing to teach prospective students the ins and outs regarding the operation of a furnace or air conditioner — some with a great deal of sophistication. Then, of course, we have a countless number of two- and four-year colleges and universities that will teach anything and everything regarding the details of operating a business. As an aside, even the best ones have difficulty teaching the way things really are out here on a day-to-day basis. However, they do provide the theory regarding how a business should be operated.

In between these two, there is very little training available for journeymen or apprentices who desire to be leaders within their groups. Yet, from a contractor’s standpoint, there’s probably no one more important to the success of the business than the supervisor who dictates everything is happening as efficiently as possible every day. I thought it would be worthwhile to provide some of the notes I discovered in researching this subject. I will be using the words foreman and supervisor interchangeably in this discourse. The concepts I’m presenting are just as important for one of several foremen on a large job or project as they are to the small operation, where perhaps the boss himself has to take on the additional role of supervisor.


A supervisor’s basic job is to ensure the work he is supervising is manufactured or installed properly to meet the specifications of the customer as efficiently as possible. The most important skill he needs to accomplish this goal is good communication. There are many individuals from many levels of many organizations with whom he has to deal. Some of them include: his crew; his direct boss who is probably a project manager; other trades on the job, including their tradesmen, foremen, etc.; the owner and his representatives, such as the architect, engineer, and general contractor; and, of course, inspectors representing the safety of their constituents.

Obviously, many of these individuals require an entirely different type of communication. It’s the supervisor’s responsibility to know and exercise the proper communication with each of these groups.

As a supervisor, remember that first impressions are lasting. Prepare yourself and dress appropriately for each type of person with whom you are communicating. Have a business card ready and speak firmly and confidently. Listen carefully to what the other person has to say. The biggest failure that occurs in communication is typically because someone didn’t listen carefully to really hear what the other person has to say. Check to see if the person had any special requests. After a meeting, it’s a good idea to jot down important notes that were discussed.

Besides the important things to know about communicating, it’s worthwhile to be aware of mistakes that can ruin a job or even lose a customer.

Here is a list of simple don’ts: don’t be late, don’t fail to do what you promise, don’t take criticism too personally, don’t cover up mistakes, don’t bring in someone to cover up a mistake, don’t point fingers, don’t just do the minimum, don’t try to justify a mistake or bad behavior, and don’t communicate in anything but a professional manner.


As a supervisor, it’s your responsibility to do the planning for what is going to be occurring on your portion of the job. This means making sure all of the necessary equipment, parts, pieces, and hoisting tools are on schedule at the time they’re needed. Studies have shown that poor planning and scheduling by management costs far more time and money than a lack of work by those on the job. Make sure the proper amount of manpower is on the job, as well. This means having the proper number of employees on site — not too few or too many.

Finally, it’s the responsibility of the supervisor to make sure the job is properly completed. This includes leaving the job cleaner than it was when you arrived, notifying the customer you’re leaving, and answering any questions. Make sure you leave a method for the customer to reach you and/or your supervisor in case of a problem, and, last but certainly not least, be sure to thank the customer for their business.

Using this as the basis to train your supervisory staff will go a long way toward improving your performance. We’re preparing a small booklet that includes the items described above. It will likely be completed by the time this goes to press. If you would like to receive a copy in your email inbox, just send a note to the email address shown at the top of this article.

Publication date: 11/2/2015

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