Look and Listen

Effective supervisor training is a worthwhile investment.

Who isn't feeling the pressure of this economy? As costs are cut and employees are asked to do “more with less,” the opportunity for mistakes increases. The burdens placed on supervisors and the workers they oversee are particularly troublesome and risky.

Ironically, as firms keep a careful eye on their expenses, their eyes tend to wander away from risk management efforts aimed at preventing expensive losses. But in a deteriorating economy, a company's exposure tends to increase because they have fewer resources on which to rely. Fewer people are carrying out day-to-day operations with less training and using less frequently maintained equipment, all of which poses an increased risk of accidents.

Headlines herald the results of poor management decisions coupled with a bad economy: financial losses and even business failures. Therefore, one risk management investment that should not be overlooked is supervisor training. These days, supervisors carry a heavy burden. Despite dwindling resources, they are tasked with making sure that day-to-day operations are carried out effectively and that everyone under their supervision goes home healthy at the end of the day. This is all the more reason to properly train supervisors to help them meet these challenges.

To create a workplace culture of respect and safety, managers must know how to be effective supervisors and how to communicate openly and fairly with their employees. This is especially true in a period when firms find themselves more susceptible to litigation than ever. Last year, discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose to the highest number in the agency's 44-year history.

Supervisors play a valuable mentoring role in the risk management process, setting an example for employees to follow. They are vital to safety efforts, as many of their responsibilities have a direct effect on a firm's ability to recognize and address workplace risks. These responsibilities include:

  • Complying with OSHA and other industry standards.

  • Communicating safety information.

  • Monitoring and initiating employee training.

  • Establishing maintenance procedures.

  • Monitoring safety and health, including tracking employee performance, watching for substance abuse and identifying opportunities for ergonomic improvements.

  • Identifying and correcting hazards and potential hazards.

  • Maintaining documentation and records.

More than just enforcers of safety standards, supervisors should be trained in coaching employees to implement safety protocols and best practices. While a supervisor might initially be hired for technical skills or industry experience, people skills (or lack thereof) can quickly become an asset or a detriment. Tasked with keeping everyone informed, keeping employees motivated, communicating procedures and perhaps even interacting with customers, supervisors need strong communication skills.

Communication affects every phase and aspect of an operation, and effective communication could mean the difference between resolving an issue quickly and facing a lawsuit. Problems arise when there is a breakdown in the communication of job responsibilities and expectations, poor documentation of changes, or a lack of established procedures for identifying and addressing risks, issues and conflicts.

These kinds of supervisory skills aren't always instinctual, so it behooves firms to properly train their managers. Many insurers offer access to managerial training or can direct clients to training resources.

Supervisors should be trained to understand how seemingly insignificant interactions can make a big difference. Effective and responsive communication can have a long-lasting benefit, building a trust between management, customers and a workforce that can be very advantageous should a problem arise. Likewise, taking an active role in developing effective supervisors can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line.

Kate McGinn
XL Specialty Insurance Company