As we are coming up in the ranks, we strive to become technically sound in our profession. We learn the ins and outs of our job and continue to hone these skills. Eventually, we make rank and gain some supervisory roles. If we are quasi effective in these new roles, we gain even more rank and even more responsibility. One day we become responsible for functions we do not know much about. How important is it to become technical experts in these functions?
I am a Crew Chief who has not turned a wrench as a line mechanic since 2009. Since then, I have been in various supervisory roles both on and off of the flightline. I have supervised those of my own Crew Chief species and every other specialty that is in our maintenance community. In deployed locations, I have supervised civilians, supply functions, contractors, foreign nationals, security forces and many other various specialties. Now, I supervise high performing NCOs and SNCOs in all maintenance specialties, admin personnel, computer networkers, military training leaders, and we are part of a detached unit with unique operating requirements. All this about me is not to brag; rather, to lay the framework that I have some credibility to talk about supervising those whose function is outside of my background or area of expertise.
I have attempted to become an expert in some of these fields in the past. I tried to become a technical expert in each field because I thought I couldn’t be effective as a leader if I didn’t know their jobs. Have you ever had this thought too? What I learned was that I was completely wrong. I didn’t need to learn how to do their jobs to be a good boss; I had to learn how THEY did their jobs. I needed to see their routines, what processes they employed, what restraints they have, what they struggle with, what they excel at, etc. I needed to experience their day. I needed to know what they did and could bring to the table.
There is no way I could ever become an expert in every functional area and there is no need for me to even try. We need to trust our experts to practice their trade and to do our best to give them the tools they need to succeed and seek ways to develop them professionally. If we want them to trust us, we have to trust them. As leaders we need to be experts in helping our team see the big picture and how each function fits into it. We need to create the vision and point the direction we need to go. We need to articulate what needs to be done and the intent behind it and then let the real experts figure out how to do it.
This does not mean we are to be completely ignorant to how things work or even not strive to become smarter in how things are done. In fact, the more we know about the inner workings of a particular area, the better we can be at hearing those whispers that can become screams. The way we do this is by going back to my formula for trust. To earn the trust of others; you have to be visible, interested, and involved. When we are doing these three things, we are learning the inner workings of our organization and earning the trust of our team all at the same time.
Being knowledgeable as a leader is very important; however, being an expert in each area is not a prerequisite to being in charge.