Boosting communication skills for mill supervisors

Supervisors looking to enhance their communication skills can register for a free course that covers leading meetings, sharing information, and more. 

Photo of two people wearing hardhats standing at a desk with a computer in a saw mill.

Photo credit: Zigic

“Communicating is and always will be a key part of being a good and effective supervisor,” says Cherie Whelan, director of SAFE Companies with the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC). She says that communicating well with workers is also effective for building workplace safety culture and retaining staff.

Recently I spoke with Cherie about Effective Communication, a free online course to help train supervisors in the sawmill and wood pellet manufacturing sectors. This self-paced course is one of six courses that make up the Wood Products Manufacturing Supervisor Training Program. The program is being developed by BCFSC and the Manufacturing Advisory Group. Courses are being rolled out now, with all scheduled to be available by the end of 2022.

Guidance for first-time supervisors

The effective communications course is especially good for workers being promoted to their first supervisor positions.

“A lot of times we promote people because they’re good doers,” Cherie says. “They’re good production people in the field, but it’s often a big step to talk in front of people. The course helps make that transition from being a performer in the field to training others.”

The course helps supervisors understand how to listen to their own leaders and convey the necessary information to workers. “It could be relaying work activities for the day or communicating what’s required for safe procedures. Supervisors must be able to communicate to workers clearly and articulate exactly what the expectations are,” Cherie says.

The course also covers things like having difficult conversations, giving feedback, and running effective meetings. (See my post Tips for effective safety meetings for more about how to make the most of your safety meetings.)

Learning in a virtual environment

BCFSC first offered this training a few years ago as an in-person program. It was the result of the Manufacturing Advisory Group’s consultation with CEOs from large sawmills and other senior industry leaders who wanted more tools for training supervisors.

“The content is already tried, tested, and true,” Cherie says. “Now we’re just making it more readily available to people. If someone wants to enhance their skills, now they’re able to go in and do it on their own schedule.”

“Remote learning opportunities allow participants greater flexibility in scheduling,” says Megan Martin – WorkSafeBC manager, OHS Consultation and Education Services. “I’ve seen an increased interest in consuming information in a virtual environment after the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to look for new ways to interact and educate. (WorkSafeBC also has an online course for supervisors, Supervising for Safety.)

Although the BCFSC course was developed for the wood products manufacturing sector, Cherie points out that the universal skills it teaches can also be used by supervisors in other industries. She says: “I would strongly recommend it to any supervisor who could benefit from it.”

Thank you to Cherie for telling me about the course and speaking of safety with me.

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