The First Line Leader Program, Back in Action

The First Line Leader seminars were recently restarted because developing leaders is a company priority. More than 250 teammates have graduated the program, which is approaching its fifth year anniversary.

The First Line Leader program is an impactful three-day seminar with supporting eCourse, assessment and feedback opportunities. The seminars focus on management and leadership topics; safety and technical topics are addressed, but field leadership is emphasized.

Safety and Training Director Matt Dawson said the approach emerged from a Quality Improvement Team (QIT) formed in late 2016. The QIT was a grassroots, multi-discipline work group that formed to look at data, study issues and review trends. The team’s goal was to identify and implement a meaningful quality improvement.

After a few months, team members realized (and unanimously agreed) the best thing to propose was a better way for company leaders to support knowledge, skill and behavior improvements at the field supervisor level—the first line. Executives agreed and the First Line Leader program began.

More than 20 First Line Leader seminars have been held, most recently completed in January and February 2022, following the pandemic suspension. It was a great kickoff to the new year.

“I always look forward to being involved in the training and development of First Line Leaders,” said Health and Safety Analyst Anthony Tagliaferro, a First Line Leader program presenter. “Each group is eager to learn.” He said the learning goes both ways during the seminar. “It’s not just the presenters teaching the attendees, it’s the attendees teaching the presenters,” Tagliaferro said.

Tagliaferro said the program is important because it improves attendee skills and knowledge in the areas of safety, technical, management and leadership. It also standardizes the company approach to developing new leaders. He said an added benefit of the program is the relationships created between the attendees, as well as between the presenters and the attendees.

Tagliaferro hopes participants gain the knowledge and courage to make a change when they see something they can improve. “I hope they gain the hunger and drive to continue their education and advancement throughout the company, building lasting relationships with fellow attendees and presenters, and realizing how valued they are,” he said.

First Line Leader program 2019 graduate Travis Kutz was promoted to Superintendent for Central Florida since completing the program. “At the time I was Health and Safety Supervisor when I took the leadership course,” he said. “Matt Dawson did an excellent job explaining why leading by example will set the stage for success!”

Rockport Supervisor Stacie Ricketts has been promoted twice since completing the First Line Leader program in 2019. “I found it very beneficial,” she said. “It helped me with my people skills, which has led me to become a supervisor in the field.”

Ricketts said the seminar enhanced her communication skills with customers and upper management. “From the safety aspect it has heightened my sense of awareness, which has helped me lead my team better on all fronts when working on job sites,” she said.

General Manager and First Line Leader presenter Jimmy Peck said the program covers company profitability, safety, company strategy, entrepreneurship and servant leadership, which is an important subject to him.

Peck said servant leadership is a philosophy where the leader’s goal is to serve. A servant leader shares power, places employees’ needs first and helps employees develop and perform at the highest possible level. “The leader is the servant of your team, not the boss,” he said.

Managing, scheduling and coordinating programs like this takes time and effort; several employees have put in that time over the years, but the driving force today is Instructional Designer Autumn Cash Rose. “My goal is to serve and support the group so they can focus on learning new content and improve,” she said. “I’m always surprised by the engagement of each leader; I hope each leader learns something new, meets new team members, and they go back to their everyday tasks feeling engaged, energized and supported.”

“Resourcing and investing in leaders at all levels is a strategic priority for us,” said President Jared Black.  “We recognize and appreciate the roles and responsibilities of our first line leaders, and we know they are key to the company’s future.” 

The commitment is so clear that future plans include a universal First Line Leader program for those moving into or serving in a first line supervisory role in all MPW groups and Porta Kleen.

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