[B]1. Remember that you’re part of a whole-ship team.[/B]
Every person on the ship, regardless of their department, rating, race, sex, or appearance, is part of the whole-ship team. Every one of them performs some function necessary to the ship’s mission and is entitled to basic professional courtesy and to fair compensation for the work they do. Nobody in the crew should be treated as an “extra,” not even temporary manpower additions. A crew member who knows that their work and dignity are taken seriously will perform better and reflect better on their supervisors. Above all, don’t place your ‘cred’ with the company above the safe and smooth operation of the vessel. What are your points with the office know-nothings really worth if the price is turning your ship into a broken-down rustbucket, driving away any crew that actually knows what they’re doing, and throwing away your personal reputation?
[B]2. Be approachable.[/B]
Every supervisor depends on information from their subordinates and vice versa. If you insult and dismiss people when they try to approach you, they stop giving you timely information or suggestions that can help you, or asking for clarification when they don’t understand how to complete an assignment. Crew members who expect to be treated with contempt will avoid the hassle and let you deal with it the hard way, which may very well involve costly damage or delays, or even detention of the ship. This can lead to [I]you[/I] having unpleasant conversations with [I]your[/I] boss, the company, port officials, or the Coast Guard. Conversely, making your team comfortable with you pays dividends in useful suggestions, better understanding of tasks, and high morale.
[B]3. Communicate, and be honest.[/B]
As a supervisor, it is very important that you can communicate effectively with your subordinates. Liars, jackasses, and secret agents are very poor in this regard, because they’re not taken seriously or their subordinates don’t understand what they want. Give clear instructions, pay attention to feedback, and be frank when you disagree. It’s OK to be a demanding boss, but you and your team must be on the same page for the job to get done the way you want it. Honesty is crucial to effective leadership, and your team can smell B.S. from a mile away. Taking responsibility for mistakes or unpopular decisions will not hurt you in the long run – if you respect your team enough to tell them the truth, your authority grows stronger and more respected. If you try to hide the truth from them, they’re likely to find out anyway and regard you and your leadership with contempt.
4. Take safety seriously.[/B]
Supervisors are responsible for encouraging safe work practices, and it’s essential to be conscientious about it. There are few quicker ways to alienate your team than to ask them to work unsafely, or to ignore their concerns about safety. Require your people to [I]actively[/I] participate in drills, be firm about PPE requirements, and be willing to assign two people to a hazardous job. Never, ever punish or try to embarass your team for taking means to protect themselves from injury, including heat injuries. Even when working safely is uncomfortable or slow, don’t cut corners.
[B]5. Enforce clear, fair standards.[/B]
Everybody on your team needs to know what your rules are and that they will be applied fairly to every person in the department, licensed or unlicensed, black or white, male or female. Don’t break or allow your team to break them without explicit permission and a good reason. It’s motivating to reward hard workers, but it will break down your team’s morale to give one mariner easier jobs just because you two are from the same town. Conversely, a team member who is chronically late and sloppy can be disciplined, but not because you don’t like who they voted for.
[B]6. Never assume your subordinates are dumb, submissive, or helpless.[/B]
This is one common mistake that leads to disaster for abusive supervisors. It’s a not-uncommon belief that the unlicensed crew are a gang of poor, illiterate cattle, or that a freshly-minted 3rd must be a bungler with no real world skills. The truth is that your subordinates are often much more intelligent or resourceful than they’re believed to be, and much harder to intimidate or threaten. A quiet mariner is not necessarily a cowed one, so don’t assume that abused team members are afraid to go over your head and write an eloquent burn letter about you to the company, or that they can’t afford to stand their ground and fly themselves home. Less conscientious mariners may even damage or destroy equipment as a tangible “up yours.”
7. Discipline promptly and properly.[/B]
This one’s a doozy. Discipline is serious business, and team members who get out of line need to be put back or put off. That said, there are good ways to do it and bad ways to do it. Don’t fly off the handle over minor first offenses, but don’t let them become habits that undermine your leadership. When practical, criticism and punishment should be kept private – unofficial punishment dished out in the privacy of your own department, or especially one-on-one, is preferable to airing your dirty laundry all over the ship or company unnecessarily. Nobody wants to be humiliated in front of their co-workers. Collective punishment is also a bad idea, since it sets you and your team up as adversaries, devastating your ability to lead them. On the other hand, excessive lenience makes your team think they can get away with blowing off work assignments or disappearing. Confront bad behavior promptly and unequivocally. There is a time to be tough on slackers or poor performers, and failing to use the disciplinary tools at your disposal can be even worse than overusing them.
For transparency’s sake, I have never been a supervisor myself. I have been an unlicensed mariner since 2007, and have been sailing primarily as an Electrician since 2012. I have no formal training in management, and these tips are merely gleaned from my own experience observing the behaviors of successful and unsuccessful officers I’ve worked with. I welcome courteous input of any kind, particularly corrections, suggestions, anecdotes, or limericks from those with leadership experience.