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Supervising on the Line: Chapter 1


The Role of the First Line Supervisor

Supervising on the Line by Gene Gagnon and revised by enVista CEO Jim Barnes is a book that seeks to inform the read on how to lead, manage, communicate, direct and measure their associates. Supervising on the Line can act as a handbook for ready reference, able to help you meet the management challenges you face on a day-to-day basis.

The First Level of Management

The first level of management is your first line supervisors. Many times these supervisors are pulled between the needs of their workers and the goals of management. Their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors, including experience, training, self-esteem, confidence, leadership ability, communication skills, and the backing of upper management. In addition, the first line supervisor in a warehouse has a unique problem: she cannot usually observe all the people she supervises at any one time. The uniqueness of this problem does not mean it is an unsolvable one, just that special skills are needed. Supervising on the Line seeks to give those first line supervisors the skills they need.

There are many different types and sizes of warehouses, all run in their own unique way. One thing every warehouse has in common is that it is the people, not machines, that make the difference between a good and bad operation. This is especially true in warehouses, where supervision is complicated by both the nature of the work and the physical factors involved in a large and busy distribution center.

New first line supervisors are frequently coming straight from the ranks with little to no training in between. It is nearly impossible to pick up tips as time goes on – the warehouse is too demanding, fast-paced, and ever-changing. A new supervisor needs help the minute he gets the job, if not sooner.


Managing The High Priced Asset

Warehouse costs can account for nearly 25 percent of a product’s total cost. Retailers and producers can’t take storage and distribution for granted. First line supervisors must not underestimate the importance of their job. Employees might not be listed on the company balance sheet, but people are the most valuable and high-priced asset in the warehouse. The first line supervisor may not have much decision-making power when it comes to purchasing new equipment, or hiring employees, but he can control the productivity of the warehouse. This, above all, determines whether the balance sheet is red or black.

The Key to Management

Like many other jobs, in management it is important to be active rather than reactive. Being an active manager means setting goals for your employees as well as yourself. Workers today are smarter, more sophisticated and more willing to play an active role in their work. This is the biggest reason a supervisor needs to help set goals and be less a traditional boss – looking over employee’s shoulders – and more of a coach.

In that environment, people will work hard, not because they’re afraid for their jobs, but because they believe they can make a difference. It is up to the first line supervisor to instill that belief in his employees. The best way to create a positive work environment is to listen to your employees and make sure they feel you are an advocate for them.

Utilize “management by walking around” in order to see your employees in action and show that they have your ear. Employees view the company through their supervisor. You have the ability to share the way employees feel about their job and the company, and when people feel good about the job they do they are more productive which makes the work environment a positive for everyone.

Stay tuned to enVista’s blog for more from Supervising on the Line. If you can’t wait and want to see for yourself what the book has to offer, click here.

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