The New Role

Many supervisors moved up from the rank of craftsman or journeyman. In typical scenarios, craftsmen become very proficient at their work and, in addition, have demonstrated to superiors in the company that they have that “something extra” that distinguishes them from others. This, in turn, leads company management to consider craftsmen for supervisory roles and then to move them into those roles. But how does that transition from craftsman to supervisor occur?

Let us look again to what defines a supervisor—he is one who oversees or manages the role of electrical construction craftsmen. Note, especially, the word manages.

Typically, once the craftsman has become accomplished and is recognized as having that additional set of qualities, company management asks him to move into the role of crew leader. Then, with time, he becomes a foreman. Sometimes, the next step is assistant superintendent or superintendent, and from there, some people progress to the role of project manager.

Certainly, not all craftsmen move to supervisory capacities in these steps. Nowhere is there a set of definitions or requirements that this is the required progression. Some people move directly from the role of craftsman to the role of foreman or even superintendent.

It is not long after the craftsman has moved into supervision that he will realize he has entered an entirely different realm. For the supervisor, the skills of electrical craftwork no longer are as important as they once were. It seems a new kind of work with completely new skill requirements needs doing. Less time is spent working with the tools of the trade and in using the skills learned in the apprenticeship and in craftsman development.

Instead, time is spent in meetings, project planning and in project coordination. In addition, more time is spent talking with the supervisors of the other specialty contractors on the job and in communicating with the general contractor, the architect and, sometimes, with the owner. The supervisor also must expend time ensuring the resources (such as materials, supplies, tools and equipment)—which are essential for the craftsmen to perform their work on the project—are at hand and available when needed.

In summary, the supervisor is finding he is spending more time performing the functions of management and less time performing the functions of the craft.

It is important to note that this transition usually is not as simple as flipping a switch. For example, many foremen are referred to as “working foremen.” They perform craftwork and supervisory functions.

One thing is abundantly clear for the new supervisor from the beginning: He is performing work in this supervisory capacity, which is different from the proficiencies of a skilled electrical mechanic. This new kind of work is called management. Supervisors manage.

The supervisor should recognize also the longer he stays in supervision and the further he advances in supervision, the less his technical skills will be a factor, and the more important the skills of management will become.

Management often is referred to as “getting things done through the work of others.” Or, as we said earlier, supervision is overseeing or managing the work of craftsmen—that is, getting the work done by managing the craftsmen.

Management is said to consist of the performance of five essential functions. No matter the level of management or the kind of work being managed, management consists of the performance of these five essential functions:

Planning—Setting goals and objectives and converting them into specific elements or activities to be accomplished. Planning is done in terms of both long-term and short-term planning.

Organizing­—Lining up all available resources (people, materials, tools, equipment, dollars, time, organizational plan, etc.) and giving them the structure to implement the long-term and/or short-term plan

Directing—Energizing human resources, building teams, providing instructions, making decisions

Controlling—Monitoring the plan and its execution and modifying with a new plan if necessary, measuring results, comparing them with expectations, judging the significance of the differences, and doing what is necessary to make corrections

Staffing—Getting the people to make the organization and the plan work, maintaining and improving the competencies of these people, recruiting, hiring and firing, training, professional development

For the new supervisor, or for one who has been in supervision for some time, it is important to recognize the supervisor’s job differs greatly from the job of being a craftsman. Supervision is management. And, it should follow, then, that becoming more effective at supervision means recognizing, developing and improving management skills.   EC

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at







About the Author

Bob Segner

Supervision Columnist
Bob Segner is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at .

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