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Making the Transition from Worker to Supervisor

One of the biggest challenges we face in the cleaning industry is finding and keeping qualified workers. An even greater challenge is finding and keeping qualified leads, supervisors, and managers. One of the best places to find a new supervisor or lead is to develop and promote an individual from within the ranks of your existing staff.

As an industry consultant, I get to examine the inner workings of hundreds of cleaning businesses and organizations of all types and sizes. One thing I’ve notices is that very few organizations provide upward mobility training that is specifically targeted at helping existing workers successfully make the transition from cleaner to a lead or supervisory position.

If a worker consistently does a good job and shows up on time, the chances are good that they will be offered a more responsible position. This is good news in that it provides opportunities for advancement, the bad news is that those promoted are often unprepared for the responsibilities of their new position.

From my experience, the problem is twofold, one is the duties of a supervisor or lead (these can be learned over time) and the bigger problem relates to mentally making the transition from worker to supervisor and this is why and where most people fail when promoted to an entry level management position.

A pre-lead training program for those interested in and showing the potential for upward mobility would greatly improve the success rate of promoted workers and make the process much less stressful for everyone involved.

Last year while conducting a “Train the Trainer” course for Cleaning Management Institute (CMI), I challenged the class of existing managers and trainers to come up with an outline of what information and subjects they thought should be included in a pre-lead training program.

Here’s the topics they suggested:

  • Dealing with a change of relationships on the job, some will see you as having gone from coworker to enemy overnight, you must be able to separate friendship and job responsibilities. You now have a different role – position in the organization
  • Words and conversations – What and how you say things does make a difference. Learn to control your response to questions, actions and comments to others as what you say carries weight and maybe twisted or misinterpreted. Realize that your words and actions can reinforce the wrong thoughts and behaviors.
  • Keep your mouth shut. Every day you will be privy too personal and business information of a confidential nature. You have to learn to control you desire to talk about things you may know, but should not be repeated or discussed with those outside the management team.
  • You are no longer free to make comments or give your opinion or thoughts on issues or subjects being discussed openly by others. When you speak, others will hear you as speaking for the company, the best approach is to keep your comments and thoughts to yourself.
  • Immersion in the organization, (how to make this happen), involve them in meetings you attend and give them projects and assignments that expose them to others in higher positions in the organization.
  • Willingness to accept responsibility, no more excuses, you have to be willing to own up to the mistakes you make. Instead of defending yourself, learn from the mistakes you make, it’s part of your education and growth.
  • Loyal to company. Don’t forget where your pay check comes from.
  • Protect your health, exercise, eat right, and don’t take work issues home with you or bring home issues to work with you. Know when and how to separate work from your personal and family life.
  • Evaluate and utilize existing supervisory training programs on the market or available in your company, as well as private (outside the company) resources.
  • Take training that helps you better understanding people and how to effectively deal with different personality styles.
  • Understand and respect the internal politics and bureaucracy of work place. Know who has the unofficial authority and respect in the organization.
  • Understand and follow the chain of command structure and business etiquette of the organization.
  • Seek out mentors within and outside the organization that you can talk to and discuss issues with.
  • Develop the ability to read and write well.
  • Be willing and have the courage to make decisions promptly.
  • Avoid favoritism or the appearance of it.
  • To avoid claims of discrimination, make sure all your actions are fair and within the law and are defendable. Realize that what you do and say can have legal ramifications.
  • You must have a thorough understanding of the importance and a willingness to follow policies, procedures and process and related documentation.
  • Safety, is number one. There is no defense for allowing anyone to work in an unsafe environment or to commit unsafe acts.
  • Bilingual, it is definitely to your advantage to speak more than one language.
  • You must have or be willing to develop computer, Internet and social media skills
  • You must be willing to learn and not be afraid to make mistakes


Developing an Effective Pre-Lead Training Program

The most effective approach is to see this type of training as a phased in over time, multistep process that utilizes a blended learning that includes role playing, presentations, self-study, shadowing, mentoring and hands on involvement in all aspects of department and business operations.

Some of the challenges you can expect to encounter during the process are related to time, money, turnover, resistance to change, fear, and self-doubt. All of which can be overcome if the trainee is willing to stay the course and learn from their mistakes.

Rewards and Opportunity

Both are endless and unlimited, but it doesn’t always look that way when things go wrong and you are faced with the challenges of the day.

Making a Difference

What you do does make a difference, not just in the cleanliness of the buildings you maintain, but in the lives and families of those who do the work. Developing others is no easy task, but is well worth the effort. There is much you can do to help others develop and use their skills so they can take advantage of and benefit from the opportunities available in the cleaning and maintenance industry. Be prepared for successes and failures, you’ll have both.


There are endless resources available to assist you, here are a few that are a good place to start the process. Don’t overlook the value of your local sanitary supply distributor, cleaning industry manufacturers, as well as local colleges and universities.