Contenders or Pretenders?

Both Leaders and Followers Need to Cultivate Their Skills to Create a Successful Process Automation Environment

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McCormick of Mick Automation has extensive experience working with plant operations staff to implement plant additions and improvements. “You must develop a friendly relationship with operators, and get them on your side. This will dramatically improve success rates when implementing control system modifications, especially for more challenging applications like advanced control,” he observes.

Teach Me

Engineers are all about efficiency, and the most efficient short-term method for accomplishing a task is usually to do it oneself. But a manager’s job is instead to teach others, delegate tasks, and make sure tasks are correctly completed.

Because process automation is not often taught in the education system, teaching is a critical component of a manager’s skill set. A manager who can hire employees with the right aptitude, and then teach them what they need to know will have a keen awareness of each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing this allows managers to assign the right task to each worker more effectively.

Learning at the plant floor
Much of the teaching and learning that occurs among managers and subordinates happens on the plant floor, not in the classroom or the office.
Courtesy of Rockwell Automation.
“Managers need to correctly identify subordinates’ skill levels and effectively manage the assignments given to them,” says Stephen Goldberg, director of the industrial systems division at system integrator Matrix Technologies in Maumee. Ohio. “Some people need more hand-holding than others, and the manager must recognize these needs and address them accordingly.”

Hiring employees with the right aptitude, teaching them what they need to know, assigning each employee appropriate tasks and monitoring each employee’s work is quite a challenge. Many managers are tempted to avoid this challenge and not delegate, but this puts severe limits on an organization’s ability grow.

“Too many managers try to do too much themselves, don’t challenge their employees enough, and don’t verbally reward their employees,” notes Rick Dolezal, market development manager of the process business for Rockwell Automation.

“The true goal of a good manager is to achieve more success from an employee than they could generate by themselves. To do this, managers need to inspire confidence and allow employees room to accomplish tasks in their own way, yet be there to provide support when employees need direction,” he continues. Dolezal stresses it’s especially important to give employees this freedom to accomplish tasks as they see fit, provided they follow broad guidelines. Giving employees autonomy and allowing them to be creative increases productivity, satisfaction and work quality.

The Manager as Leader

Some think the term “manager” is an anachronism when dealing with 21st-century relationships among highly trained technical professionals. Harry Gianakis, staff engineer with DuPont in Philadelphia, explains why bosses must lead instead of manage.

“Leadership traits are most important among process automation leaders (not managers) and professionals. Technical acumen is important as well, but the focus going forward needs to be on developing leaders in our profession. Focusing on political skills has to become secondary. 

“Important traits and characteristics process automation leaders should embody are setting a vision, continually keeping that vision out in front of their professionals, and helping them attain that vision by exemplifying a strong work ethic and breaking down all barriers that come their way.

“Leaders must make their human resources feel extremely valued and important. Everything should be all about their professionals, not about them. Leaders must ensure that most of the recognition and credit goes to their professionals and other staff. To paraphrase Colin Powell, leadership is lonely.

“One area where the leader/professional relationship falls short is communication. Discussions need to be held more often than during annual performance appraisals. The most valuable message a leaders can send to his or her professionals is that the most important thing is not how much you know, but to have you know how much I care.

“Process industry companies must transform and grow their bosses into leaders. These leaders will then be able to effectively deal with and manage any difficult situation or relationship that comes their way.”

How to Improve Manager/Employee Relationships

We now know what it takes to be a good process automation manager, but it is not at all obvious how to get there. Here are a few tips from the front lines.

“Most process automation managers were promoted based on their strong technical skills, but fall short in people managing skills,” notes Lee Swindler, control systems manager for LyondellBasell Industries in Channelview, Texas. “They’re very capable of learning how to manage, but most companies do a poor job of equipping new managers with the training and tools needed to make the transition quickly and effectively,” adds Swindler.

Just as teaching is an important skill for managers, so is learning, and learning can only occur when firms provide the right managerial training. Management skills can be greatly improved with a reasonable amount of training, unlike technical skills, which must be learned the hard way through many years of on-the-job training.

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