The Three Roles of a Front-Line Supervisor: Lifeguard, Coach, and Sheriff

What constitutes effective supervision, and how does it influence task performance? The role of a front-line supervisor involves more than simply overseeing workers with concern; it's a complex blend of actions that directly influence the success of tasks. Front-line supervisors must ensure all maintenance personnel are aligned and executing the company’s proactive work to standard so that the company meets its business goals 100% of the time.

Effective supervision also requires diverse knowledge and training not only for the front-line supervisors but for their teams as well. Training in topics such as condition monitoring, planning and scheduling, root cause analysis (RCA), etc. help to influence optimal performance.

There are three key components of excellent task execution, including:

  • Safety: Prioritizing harm-free completion.
  • Efficiency: Optimal resource utilization.
  • Quality: Accurate, documented, and minimally revisited tasks.

These three components play a crucial role in task performance and are something that great front-line supervisors always prioritize.

Keeping the key components of task execution in mind, we can then define the hats a front-line supervisor must wear.

Three Qualities of an Exceptional Front-Line Supervisor

1. The Lifeguard

Like a lifeguard responding to emergencies, supervisors intervene when problems arise. Whether rectifying misplaced scaffolding or addressing the absence of crucial repair components, supervisors ensure obstacles are resolved to maintain progress. They act as problem solvers.

Keep in mind that the job of a lifeguard is not always to be reactive. A good lifeguard is also proactive. Defining rules for safety, ensuring a safe environment, observing the “pool” (or shop floor), and ensuring rules are followed. A good lifeguard stays calm under pressure, and they relate to people professionally.

2. The Coach

According to McKinsey & Company, plant line supervisors in manufacturing spend 15-25% of their time with their frontline workforce, but best-practice companies “…allocate 60-70% of their time to the floor, much of it in high-quality individual coaching”.

Coaching and mentoring ensure engagement, understanding, and alignment of your team. Supervisors anticipate challenges and hazards, like coaches preparing their teams for success and offering guidance to avoid setbacks. Coaches train, motivate, communicate expectations, and foster a desire for high performance.

Supervisors take great care in training and developing their people. They ensure that expectations are clearly understood, and they make themselves approachable and available to clarify any expectations or instructions that are not understood.

3. The Sheriff

Supervisors hold individuals accountable without resorting to intimidation. Accountability becomes a motivational force, propelling team members to exceed expectations and contribute their best. It's about instilling a positive sense of responsibility. The goal is for employees to take ownership of the assets’ health and performance.

One of the keys to developing accountability is ensuring that roles and responsibilities are well-defined and communicated. You want to see that people understand how they contribute and what the expectations are. Once you have this, train towards it and set up the proper communication process to give feedback. This is the only way to maintain the continued growth of operational excellence.

Concluding Thoughts

A front-line supervisor's role involves balancing these three attributes: lifeguard, coach, and sheriff. Finding the right blend is important and can be tedious. Each job and team possesses varying complexities, risks, and skill levels, demanding customized supervision levels for success. Effective supervision requires analyzing these factors and offering precisely what's needed to achieve favorable outcomes.

This practice is the true art of supervision—tailoring approaches to each unique scenario. Ultimately, it's about facilitating an environment that maximizes task execution excellence.

At Allied Reliability, we understand that not all front-line supervisors have the same skill sets or resources. We can help on your reliability journey. From insight to execution, we will serve as a partner every step of the way. Get started with your maintenance and reliability assessment today.

About the Author

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff has worked in the maintenance and reliability discipline for over 30 years with a wide range of experience both as a practitioner and a consultant. His area of expertise lies within the social sciences related to the discipline, particularly in the work control (maintenance planning and scheduling), operator care, and management systems areas.

Mike has worked extensively in the steel industry and held several corporate and division-level reliability positions. He also has experience in the mining, food and beverage, oil and gas, and power generation industries with a proven track record of delivering results. Mike is particularly effective in team-based environments where frontline associates are empowered to make a change in their organization. Breaking down barriers to communication, motivation, and a set of common goals for the organization are all areas that represent a professional passion for Mike.

Mike graduated from Eckerd College. He is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), as well as a Certified Plant Maintenance Manager (CPMM). Mike is also a Six Sigma Black Belt and has earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida. Mike is always open to adventure and has an extensive international travel resume.

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.


Allied Reliability provides asset management consulting and predictive maintenance solutions across the lifecycle of your production assets to deliver required throughput at lowest operating cost while managing asset risk. We do this by partnering with our clients, applying our proven asset management methodology, and leveraging decades of practitioner experience across more verticals than any other provider. Our asset management solutions include Consulting & Training, Condition-based Maintenance, Industrial Staffing, Electrical Services, and Machine Reliability.

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