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Back to Leadership Basics

With so many advancements in world-class technology, many maintenance leaders have failed to set a strong leadership foundation. All too often, they get distracted with starting predictive maintenance and oil analysis programs because these are the hot topics and buzzwords. Instead, maintenance leaders, prior to doing anything, must first gauge what their organizations need and set goals to achieve them. Everyone in an organization knowing what is expected of them and working toward one goal of success is much more valuable than any latest or greatest program. This article pinpoints the basic leadership skills for establishing a maintenance leadership role. The type of leadership role can vary from manager to reliability engineer to predictive maintenance leader. However, the main focus is to lead others to get results.

Step 1 - Observe Your Surroundings (What’s Needed?)

If you start by observing the root of problems to determine what your organization truly needs, it’s practically impossible to fail. To determine what’s needed, don’t start by changing everything and telling everyone about your previous work experience and many accomplishments. Start by observing what currently works and doesn’t work. Determine the daily challenges that your team faces. Determine what resources are needed to eliminate or improve those challenges.

Most likely, you will find such problems as a lack of capital investment, a poor safety environment, a shortage of labor, or a lack of leadership and mechanic accountability. Keep in mind that gaining leeway for more manpower or a new large capital investment will be a harder sell during your first year because these things require capital or period investments outside of your current account budget. Large investments are important, but focus initially on smaller issues, such as resolving lack of leadership, poor management and accountability. These areas are where you can easily gain the most respect from your manager and team members, which will make you more trustworthy for receiving large, future return on investments.

Most importantly, you must gauge the ability of your team. How you utilize your talent will make or break your success. Oftentimes, people are placed in roles that aren’t a good fit for them, resulting in the task being more challenging and time consuming than it has to be. Some people are extremely hands-on or self-doers, while others are stronger when leading others. Some are highly organized, while some will never be interested in the 5S methodology. Thus, focus on moving people out of wrong areas and getting them in areas where they can succeed.

While observing, keep in mind that feelings aren’t facts. Just because someone frequently complains about an issue doesn’t mean the issue really exists. For example, if the overall production impression is low maintenance productivity, you have to determine if that’s subjective or a fact. You need to know how work requests are gathered and collected. If work orders are requested by shoulder taps, then fix the poor work order processing issue. Or, if your customer relationship management (CRM) system is used to process work requests, but you observe the work is not processed quickly enough, then attempt an adjustment of manpower allocation. Or, if there are numerous work requests resulting in an enormous backlog, it is best to involve production to select the work. Then, at least they know where manpower hours are going, resulting in their knowing what maintenance is servicing. Or, it could be that your mechanics don’t have a good preventive maintenance (PM) program and are spending too much time on emergency work. That doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything, but too much firefighting time can result in too many unprocessed work requests.

These examples result in an unsatisfied production customer and leave a perception that maintenance is unproductive. But, in reality, maintenance teams are working, but not in an efficient work order, processing environment.

Where is most of your workforce time allocated? What percentage of time does the department allocate to emergency versus scheduled work? How are work requests gathered and collected? These questions should be considered to complete your observation.

Step 2 - Set Goals to Grab the Low-Hanging Fruit

Some managers think of goal setting as an unnecessary soft skill. Their plan is to just fix everything. This mentality can quickly send the organization down the path of destruction and inefficacy. A maintenance methodology is complex; you can’t address everything at once. Just focus on the things that can be easily accomplished. Pick items you’re familiar with so you can complete them faster. Set goals for what’s reasonable according to your staffing and funding. For example, establish 5S lubrication areas, simplify the work order flow process, hold people accountable, reduce vendor spending, or supervise those who need it. Have at least one safety initiative, such as arc flash protection, personal protective equipment (PPE), lock-tag-try (LTT), lighting, etc.

Have each member of your staff set one to two continuous improvement/project goals that each agrees is reasonable to accomplish within the year. It should be something the person has a special interest in. Most likely, your staff members already have projects they wanted to complete, but just didn’t have the time or management support. You can set one goal for you, but most of your time should be spent utilizing your strength in numbers by following up and supporting your team goals. Within the first year, you will be observing a lot, so grabbing the low-hanging fruit at the same time is key.

There is a difference between job responsibilities and goals. As a leader, you must identify employees’job roles first and then determine the remaining available time for projects/goal initiatives. If you don’t clearly communicate an employee’s job role and what is expected, you will experience confusion and frustration in your work environment. If employees have several daily tasks that occupy their time, avoid giving them a lot of project work. For example, if your planner has numerous backlogged orders, it wouldn’t be good to add three new projects. Instead, the planner would be better served with a continuous improvement initiative pertaining to his or her current job, like starting a job kitting station, daily tracking of schedule completion percentage, or updating a bill of materials (BOM) that the planner hasn’t been able to complete.

If you observe underutilized mechanic hours, this must be addressed. Mechanics should not be idle because they currently don’t have emergency work. You have to schedule their work. If not, this will be the area where you waste the most money from underutilized manpower. If you currently don’t have a large number of backlogged work requests, this would be a great opportunity to create continuous improvement work requests. The requests could be focused on the mechanic reviewing and editing equipment BOMs; modifying PMs; creating and editing task lists for PMs; 5S work areas; reading or reviewing equipment manuals for faster troubleshooting; and modifying lockout-tagout tasks.

Andrisa Jefferson

Andrisa Jefferson, has diverse experience with managing projects in quality, energy, maintenance, and production. She worked for Pfizer as a maintenance supervisor and was an energy site leader and maintenance supervisor at the Ohio-based Owens Corning asphalt plant. Andrisa is a certified Level I Machinery Lubrication Technician and has held a certified Six Sigma green belt since 2007.

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