Leadership starts with training at the top

May 10, 2021
Tom Moriarty says supervisors need leadership development in order to provide direct reports with the right guidance.

I have been writing for Plant Services Magazine since 2009. My target audience has always been managers and supervisors. But I also hope to reach plant managers and senior executives as well as hourly wage employees.

Managers and supervisors is where ‘the rubber meets the road,’ and where there is traction related to leadership. Managers and supervisors in a manufacturing plant directly influence about 90% of plant population.

I want to reach plant managers and senior executives because I want to plant seeds that will grow into organization-wide improvement. Hourly wage employees are the folks most affected by good, or poor, leadership. Some hourly wage workers aspire to future positions as supervisors, or they are senior workforce persons and may want to learn a bit about leadership.

The editor of Plant Services first asked me to write a column, after I presented on practical leadership at a conference. That workshop was developed because I kept seeing recurring patterns in organizations. The pattern was (and is) that most organizations that ask for help were focusing in the wrong area. They would say things like “We need to improve our planning and scheduling,” or “We need to implement Lean.” They would have ready answers for the business case of improving: “We’ll improve labor effectiveness by 15%,” or “Lean will allow us to cut waste and get an ROI of 40%.” 

If you ask project leaders why had these issues not been solved before, they would answer, “Well, I just became convinced of the importance of planning and scheduling,” or “Our corporate office believes Lean is the way to go.” Answers like that are a pretty good sign that these projects solve symptoms, not root causes, and are unlikely to be sustainable.

Whether the group is in operations, maintenance, or support, no initiative will be sustainable if two things are not present. Those two things are accountability and leadership capability. Without these as a foundation, there will be no culture or norms to support and sustain improvements.

At each level of leadership there is a senior person and those that report to that senior person. The senior person must be accountable to provide direction, guidance and assets. Direction includes the mission, vision, values, and objectives. Guidance includes policies, plans, processes, procedures, and measures. Assets are the things needed to carry out the guidance.

The direct reports have accountabilities to execute the guidance with the assets they are provided and to notify the person they report to if there are deficiencies or ways to improve (updates). Direct reports can only perform to the level the senior person enables them to perform.

The second issue is the leadership capabilities of the leadership team, which includes everyone from the senior most executives to the supervisors and lead persons. In our 2015 Plant Services/Alidade MER Leadership Survey, nearly half of all managers and supervisors got insufficient leadership training. Insufficient was defined as not more often than once every five years or never.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

Why do leaders need leadership training? First, poor leaders induce dissatisfaction among the people under them. Second, just as tradespersons should be supported in developing their knowledge and skills, so should leaders. A leader’s trade is the performance of the team. Good leaders get higher performance, which increases profitability.

Can’t leaders just learn from experience? People learn from experience. But what experiences are they learning from? If your organization is not controlling leadership development, then you get random leadership capability. That means mentors may be coaching next-generation leaders on the wrong approach to leadership.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, and any leadership challenges you’d like me to write about. I like to deal with actual issues (names will be changed to protect the innocent). Go forth and do great things!

This story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Tom Moriarty
About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at

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