Frontline supervisors have arguably the toughest job in any organization, particularly in skilled blue-collar industries such as mining, oil and gas extraction, and construction. Promoted because they are very good at their jobs, frontline supervisors are caught in a "No Man's Land," no longer part of their old work teams, nor generally accepted as part of their organization's management team. They are no longer expected, or in many cases, even allowed to perform the jobs at which they excelled, for they are now responsible not for producing, but for leading others to produce, and for doing it safely.
Leadership skills are quite different from either operations or management skills. Leadership is primarily about people, not about systems, and that can be bewildering to someone skilled at managing systems. Very few frontline supervisors are ever trained in the types of skills required to be a successful leader, which include such things as interpersonal communications, accountability, team building, conflict management, coaching, and mentoring—in other words, the "soft skills." Making the job even more difficult is the fact that the workforce is becoming increasingly diverse with multiple generations and people from different cultural backgrounds in the workplace, and more and more women coming into jobs that have traditionally been male-dominated. Frontline supervisors are ill-equipped to deal with these workplace dynamics unless they have been trained to understand differences and to effectively handle the inevitable conflicts that arise from having different beliefs, expectations, and perspectives among the members of their work teams.
In 2014, NIOSH awarded a grant to the University of Texas at Arlington, with a sub-award to Safety Solutions International, Inc., to develop a two-day training course entitled "PPE for Leaders: Leadership Development for Frontline Supervisors" that would begin the process of training supervisors to become leaders. While the grant specifically targets supervisors working in the Western mining industry, the course is applicable to any frontline supervisor who desires to be an effective leader.