6 Ways to Develop More Successful Managers

successful construction manager

Attend the education session "I'm a Manager! Now What? 11 traits of Effective Managers" on Friday, March 13, 2020 from 9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. at CONEXPO-CON/AGG. 


As an industry, there are many things we do well. Filling supervisory and management positions with qualified personnel isn’t one of them. “Sixty percent of managers fail in their first 24 months on the job,” says Bart Gragg, president of Blue Collar University. That rate of churn is costly in human resources as well as in productivity. Interestingly, white-collar industries see a similar rate of failure, according to studies. Irrespective of collar color, the core problem is the same: lack of adequate training. But the solution is different for us than it is for those in white-collar industries.

White collar workers tend to emerge from an environment that is very much like what they will be experiencing as managers. A white-collar desk jockey promoted to management is still at a desk but now in an office instead of a cubicle. That continuity doesn’t exist in the world of the blue collar. “You’re requiring the person to move from working mainly with tools and objects to working mainly with data and people,” says Gragg. “An experienced mechanic has an excellent feel for the proper torque. But how do you feel the torque on an employee?”

This is not merely a minor shift in thinking. If this transition is to be successful, there will be changes in brain utilization and even brain structure. Functional magnetic resonance interferometry (fMRI) shows us that different parts of the brain are used for different functions. The part that responds to diagnostic engine fault codes is not the same one that responds to a disruptive employee. (Primarily the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex vs. the amygdala within the limbic system, in case you’re wondering.) New responsibilities often require creating new brain connections through a process known as neurogenesis, a key component of neural plasticity.

Bart Gragg“The bottom line is that far too many companies take far too casual an approach to cultivating managers,” says Gragg. “The process requires guidance, structure and deliberate actions. We promote someone to management because they’ve been with us a long time or because we like them or because we need someone in a hurry. That’s fine, but the promotion is just the beginning of what we need to do to ensure that person’s success in their management role.”

Here, then, are the three things employers can do to bolster their managers’ long-term success followed by the three things employees can do when they find themselves moved into management.

Tips for Employers

  1. Prepare. Don’t hire with an eye only for the immediate need but rather take the long view. White-collar employers do this. Every white-collar new-hire is a potential candidate for management at some point although few will make that ascendance. Keep blue-collar workers in the information loop as business decisions are made; get them to think like managers long before they are in management.
  2. Support. Create an environment where new managers can thrive. Give them the resources they need, starting with access to upper management for reporting and problem solving. Make sure the new manager’s former coworkers respect their shift to a higher level of authority and accountability.
  3. Develop. Work with new managers to leverage their strengths and resolve their shortcomings.

Tips for Employees

  1. Humility and self-discipline. “Your title doesn’t make you a manager,” says Gragg. “Your actions, attitudes and habits do.”
  2. Own your career. No one has as much riding on your success as you do, so take ownership of your career. Even if your employer provides outstanding training, that’s still just one item in what should be a lengthy catalog of career-development tools. Take the initiative to use multiple resources for becoming better at what you do.
  3. Develop others. You’re in management now. Your performance is measured in large part by the performance of those you manage. Once you’ve begun to develop yourself, use those new skills to develop others. Doing so increases productivity and efficiency, but it also improves trust and credibility and morale and countless other intangibles that make the workplace safer and more enjoyable.

Author, consultant and president of Blue Collar University® Bart Gragg will present the education session “I'm a Manager - Now What? 11 Traits of Effective Managers and Supervisors” on Friday, March 13, 2020 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020. Tips are taken from his soon-to-be-released book on the topic.