I’m a New Supervisor, Now What! - Lessons Learned from John Goglia

Maybe things are better today, although not by much from what I’m told. Mechanics still go from being mechanics responsible for their own work to being first-line supervisors responsible for a dozen or more mechanics with not much more than a change in title. And maybe a few dollars more in their paychecks. Training is scant to non-existent, especially when it comes to managing people and their abilities – or in some cases, managing their inabilities.
Now – after a few decades in the business - I know how significant a jump in responsibility that first supervisory position is. But when I was young and eager to move up the chain, I didn’t think much about it. Until that day, shortly after my promotion, when all of a sudden the fate of an airliner hung in the balance. That may sound melodramatic, but hear my story and be the judge.
It was another midnight shift at Logan, except now I was the newly-minted, lead mechanic which meant I was responsible for a crew of 11 mechanics plus myself. That night, I handed out assignments and got involved in the every day details of repairing aircraft. With seven or eight aircraft a night, that meant keeping track of – or trying to keep track of – people scattered around the ramp.
One of the assignments handed out that night appeared deceptively simple. A pilot write-up involving the anti-skid system malfunctioning on a DC-9. Usually this meant identifying and replacing one of the transducers, a job that did not require a lot of finesse. I assigned this to a mechanic I had worked with for many years who was certainly a good mechanic but also had a reputation on the ramp as a bull in a china shop. You didn’t want him anywhere near delicate work. But this wasn’t delicate work, so I was comfortable assigning it to him and moving on. Not such a great idea, as it turned out.
While I was busy attending to other maintenance issues, the simple problem I had assigned turned into a much more delicate one involving trouble-shooting the wiring in the wheel-well area. Anyone who has worked on aircraft landing gear knows how brittle that wiring in that area can become. One wrong move and you’ve got a broken wire that you don’t even know is broken. That is until the flight crew runs its checks the next morning and something isn’t working. Delaying a flight the next day is not something you want to be responsible for. 
As word travelled that this mechanic was working in the wheel well area, I broke into a sweat as it dawned on me that I was responsible. I immediately dropped what I was doing and hoofed it to the DC9 in question. As I approached the aircraft, I could see from the mechanic’s feet and body position that he was indeed in the area I had feared. I don’t deny that my heart was beating quickly. I had to get this one guy out of the wheel well and replace him with someone with a lighter touch, and do this diplomatically so as not to hurt feelings and destroy morale. Most importantly, I needed to make sure that the aircraft was not damaged on my watch!
In the end, I caught a lucky break on this. No damage was done, the aircraft was fixed by the right person and no feelings were hurt. But I can say I gained some much needed perspective on my supervisory responsibilities.
Moral of the Story: People are not born supervisors. They need to be trained on managing people and their skills, as well as on keeping an eye on the big picture.

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I understand the feeling all too well. I too was unprepared when I was a new Lead Mechanic. We as an industry concentrate on the technical aspect of the job but we give very little if any attention to Leadership and interpersonal skills training. As a result mechanics promoted to a Lead position are simply thrown to the wolves. Leadership skills is an aspect of Human Factors that needs to be addressed.

John Goglia is a great example of what can be accomplished. He answered the "now what" for himself. This story highlights what D.O.M. magazine's mission is, filling some the space between being a great mechanic to becoming a great supervisor.

I have also faced the dilemma of suddenly being thrust into a supervisory position without any training. It can be a stressful situation. DOM Magazine has had some excellent articles on managing people and business. I also think some of the societies and associations should offer management or supervisor training at their conferences. Their conferences would be a good place for learning these important concepts. Maybe AskBob could also do a webinar on management or supervision.

Good article,

Makes me think of my time as a Lead Mechanic at an MRO. With my background in the military I was comfortable in the role, however, training was definitely not a prime focus.

The most trouble I had was from my superiors because of my insistence on training my people. I would have my different mechanics doing different jobs even if they had never done it before or were slower. I always told them that if they had any problems come and get me and we'll walk through it together until they got it. Within 3 months my efforts paid off I could turn to any one of my mechanics and have him or her do any job on the aircraft with minimal supervision and with confidence that they would do the job right. Soon everyone wanted into my crew, my guys worked harder for me, and we were all safer.

I believe that as a supervisor, part of your job is training your people, instilling in them the knowledge and confidence to get the job done right and safely.

And honestly, it was one of the funnest jobs I ever had. I would still be there doing it if the compensation was there.

Posted by Mark Pinneo via LinkedIn

We are lucky enough to have John Goglia as our instructor for our Aircraft Maintenance Investigation (MXI) course. His knowledge, experience, and training ability are invaluable. He continues to make his mark on this industry in a positive way, and we are all lucky for that.

Although I'm quite aware that the MTX crew in BOS was the EXCEPTION to the norm of US Air mechanics and exceptional in their collective skills and attitude, my post-PI/US merger experiences with the aforementioned would NOT have had me accepting either a lead or management potion for a six figure salary! In my own 31 years with the carrier I'd have never dreamed I'd ever have to work side-by-side with such a collectively mindless and misguided group of so-called experienced "mechanics."

If they weren't doing flight arrival marshaling or departure push-backs...they weren't or COULDN'T do squat. (And they exceptions were few)

Sorry but, the facts are many and years quite pitiful.

For what it's worth, the movie The Wizzard of Oz is an excellent analogy! After the Wizzard takes off without her, Billie Burke tells Judy Garland "...you've always had the ability" meaning to go home. Well, I would say the same to new supervisors, you already have the ability... meaning to lead.

With very few exceptions, the Peter Principle being one, in our industry people are promoted because they're good at what they do. But at times the associated new title wrongly instills fear, doubt or a low level of confidence in people. A good technician is like a sponge, absorbing knowledge, techniques and insight as they grow. Well, unbeknownst to their conscious mind they're separating the good from the bad of supervising as well.

Your experience being supervised effects [or affects, either would be correct here] your description of how to supervise. This is amplified, in my opinion, in those with any kind of military background. Now there are many external factors that may more closely define how you supervise others but the fact that you have been chosen over your peers should tell you something positive about yourself. The naysayers who criticize, complain or harass are merely those not qualified to lead.

I have given this subject much thought over the years and still can't imagine a syllabus for a "Supervisor's Course" per say. If chosen, your experience, education and life credits more than qualify you TO START! Have confidence and do it your way. But remember, you can never stop learning! Besides if there was a true need for a supervisor's course, the FAA would have mandated that years ago...