When your average manufacturing employee thinks of manufacturing leadership, they might think of a plant manager, an executive, their supervisor, or even the CEO. Manufacturing leadership, however, isn’t limited to the top of an organization. Oftentimes, it can come from your day-in-and-day-out workers.

All of us can exemplify manufacturing leadership by embodying a few different characteristics every day. An emphasis on safety, a commitment to teamwork, creating an environment for new ideas, and active listening can make a leader out of anyone on the manufacturing floor. When exhibiting these characteristics, employees can become inspired, and people generally take notice.

Whether you’re trying to inspire your team, break a safety record, or even if you just want to be a team player, all of these characteristics can help develop manufacturing leadership at any level of authority.

1. An Emphasis on Safety

In manufacturing, safety is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of any operation. Operating heavy machinery, driving large vehicles, and even using a pneumatic stapler all present different levels of danger no matter who you are. Unfortunately, not all manufacturing workers are truly committed to every aspect of safety. They may wear their required PPE and keep away from hazardous areas, but a commitment to safety is so much more than that and is a pillar of manufacturing leadership.

Workers who are committed to safety aren’t just generally less prone to cause an accident (Duh) but serve as a constant reminder to those around them. Corporate safety and training videos are great, but the biggest advocate for safety is the manufacturing leadership who practice safe habits every day. This can be shown in a few different ways.

To elaborate, a commitment to safety isn’t just a series of mindless checks every day, it’s a constant state of mind that can have an incredible impact on the people around you. Although some may label the worker who consistently has an emphasis on safety a “Kill-Joy,” seasoned manufacturers know that this is also the person who could potentially save the life of another.

Manufacturing leaders who emphasize safety are constantly checking for safety violations around them, monitoring their colleagues, and even keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous situations that don’t necessarily violate current safety protocols. This emphasis on safety can save products, money, and even lives.

2. A Commitment to Teamwork

Not only do people who show manufacturing leadership emphasize safety, but they’re also committed to teamwork. However, this commitment to teamwork is by no means haphazard. Meaning, manufacturing leadership can’t just pretend to believe in their team, they actively choose to believe in their team every day.

Working in the manufacturing industry, teamwork is nothing new. After all, the assembly line was created in this industry! Just because it’s not a new practice though, doesn’t make it any less difficult. Differences in work styles, personalities, and even political ideologies, can drive division in any manufacturing team. When someone is committed to teamwork though, they’re willing to put their differences aside to accomplish the wider task at hand.

Again, commitment to teamwork isn’t just a one-time thing. This characteristic is an active choice that manufacturing leaders have to make every day, rain or shine. When individuals who show manufacturing leadership can do this, they’re that much closer to creating a tight-knit team that respects its leader – even if the leader doesn’t have a traditional leadership role.

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3. A Creative Environment

Fostering a creative environment can be tough, sometimes frustrating, and often unconventional. However, creative environments often lead to innovation – the single largest driver of business and manufacturing in the United States. With innovation, comes new ideas, efficiencies, and possibly even products.

Although it might sound easy, creating a safe environment for new ideas to grow can often be tough. Although no one trying to show manufacturing leadership would outright deny new ideas from coming forward, all leaders know that a vast majority of creative ideas can simply be unconventional or ineffective… or just outright silly.

Finding a happy middle ground can be a difficult challenge for leaders. Creating a space where manufacturing leadership can shoot down not-so-great ideas while simultaneously encouraging new ideas can be tough. Although it may be easy to foster this environment on a single day, the problems come when ideas are brought up on off-days.

For people exemplifying manufacturing leadership, your mood is everything to those who look up to you. How you deny bad ideas and encourage new ideas will have a significant impact on your employees. If you berate one idea, some workers may not feel like they could share their, possibly innovative, ideas with you. When trying to foster a creative environment, those practicing manufacturing leadership must have a balanced approach day-in and day-out.

4. Active Listening is Key

Listening to your coworkers, your boss, and those underneath you can be difficult for any manufacturing worker. Although it may take some getting used to, practicing active listening can be a gamer changer for many in, and aspiring to be, in manufacturing leadership.

Whether you’re on the manufacturing floor or in the corporate offices, active listening can be a tough skill to master – This is only exacerbated by remote work or different locations. After all, with the amount of information we process and consume on a daily basis, a drawn-out conversation can feel like a never-ending chore. The key to active listening, however, is to embrace every conversation with the same mentality.

Whether you’re listening to someone explain a new idea or how their weekend went, manufacturing leadership must show an intent to listen, contribute to the conversation, and be physically present when talking with a colleague. This physical presence can be shown simply through eye contact, head nods, posture, and even verbal affirmations (“Oh”, “That’s cool” “Uh-huh”).

With these physical acknowledgments, the person you’re talking with has physical evidence that you’re invested in the conversation and that you respect them. For manufacturing leadership, this mutual respect can go a long way.

Manufacturing Leadership Can Start with These Four Steps!

Participating in manufacturing leadership doesn’t mean that you have a title, authority, or are paid more than those around you. Whether you have your own office or if you’re on the manufacturing floor, being in manufacturing leadership is all in the way you act. We hope that after exemplifying these four characteristics, you find yourself on a path toward leadership no matter who you are!