Charles Steck

I’ve had many conversations with business owners recently about hiring a production manager. The common practice in our industry is to promote a lead carpenter to this position. But this isn’t always a good idea because the skills required for each of these jobs are not identical. The ability to manage one or two jobs doesn’t translate to managing a department. So what makes a good production manager?

  • Entrepreneurial spirit. One business owner recently told me his production manager had an entrepreneurial spirit. He showed the initiative to try new ventures on his own. This is a key ingredient: a willingness to venture out, not simply take direction from the owner; to want projects to be better and to find solutions for issues. This assumes that the owner is willing to let go and allow the individual to assert themselves and make field decisions. In some cases hiring a former business owner is a good move because they understand the connection between performance and profitability.
  • People manager. This is simply the ability to get the work done through others rather than doing it yourself. Setting expectations, following up with evaluations, and holding people accountable in a way that gains loyalty, not resentment, are some of these skills. This is a rare skill in most craftsmen who are typically “get-it-done-myself” people.
  • Systems-oriented. Companies must have systems in place for production and a manager who can implement those systems. Good craftsmen usually view jobs “one day at a time”; good managers review the process and evaluate the results. A good manager will spend hours looking for the reason for a drop in gross profit and then determine if there’s a systemic change that can be made to change course. They understand that just doing it the same way or working harder won’t achieve different results.

—Tim Faller is president of Field Training Services and author of The Lead Carpenter Handbook.