Transitioning from Worker to Supervisor

Tips to identify and develop future leaders from within

Transitioning from Worker to Supervisor

One of the biggest challenges we face in the cleaning industry is finding and retaining qualified workers. An even greater challenge is finding and keeping qualified team leads, supervisors, and managers. One of the best ways to find a new supervisor or leader is to develop and promote an individual from within the ranks of your existing staff.

As an industry consultant, I examine the inner workings of hundreds of cleaning businesses and organizations of all types and sizes. One thing I’ve noticed is that very few organizations provide upward mobility training that is specifically targeted at helping existing workers successfully make the transition from cleaner to a lead or supervisory position.

If a worker consistently does a good job and shows up on time, the chances are good that they will be offered a position with more responsibility. This is good news because it provides opportunities for advancement; the bad news is that those who are promoted are often unprepared for the responsibilities of their new position.

From my experience, the problem is twofold: One problem is learning the duties of a supervisor or lead, which may take time, but the bigger problem relates to mentally making the transition from worker to supervisor. This is where and why most people fail when they are promoted to an entry-level management position.

A pre-lead training program for those interested in and showing the potential for upward mobility would greatly improve the success rate of promoted workers and make the process much less stressful for everyone involved.

Last year, while conducting a Train the Trainer course for Cleaning Management Institute (CMI), I challenged the class of existing managers and trainers to outline what information and subjects they thought should be included in a pre-lead training program. The following are topics they suggested:

Relationships. A change of position means dealing with a change of relationships on the job. Some will see you as having gone from coworker to enemy overnight, and you must be able to separate friendship and job responsibilities.

Words and conversations. What and how you say things does make a difference. Learn to control your response to questions, actions, and comments to others, as what you say carries weight and may be twisted or misinterpreted. Realize that your words and actions can reinforce the wrong thoughts and behaviors.

Company culture. Immerse yourself in the organization; get involved in meetings and seek out projects and assignments that will expose you to others in higher positions in the organization. Learn, understand, and follow the chain-of-command structure and business etiquette of the organization. Gain a thorough understanding of the importance and a willingness to follow policies, procedures, and processes, along with related documentation.

Responsibility. A promotion requires a willingness to accept responsibility. In a higher position, there is no room for excuses; you have to be willing to own up to the mistakes you make. Instead of defending yourself, learn from your mistakes; it’s part of your education and growth.

Loyalty. Being loyal to the company that has put its faith in you is important. Upper management is not just who signs your paycheck; these decision-makers can help you advance even further in the company.

Work/life balance. Protect your health, exercise, eat right, and don’t take work issues home with you or bring home issues to work with you. Know when and how to separate work from your personal and family life.

Continuing education. Evaluate and utilize existing supervisory training programs on the market or available in your company, as well as private resources. Take training courses that can help you better understand people and how to effectively deal with different personality types. Seek out mentors within and outside the organization that you can talk to and go to with issues. In an increasingly digital age, you must have or be willing to develop computer, internet, and social media skills.

Above all, you must be willing to learn from mistakes—and not be afraid to make them.

Developing an Effective Pre-lead Training Program

Generally, the most effective approach is to phase this type of training in over time. I suggest a multistep process using blended learning techniques that includes role playing, presentations, self-study, shadowing, mentoring, and hands-on involvement in all aspects of your department and business operations. Some of the challenges you can expect to encounter during the process are related to time, money, turnover, resistance to change, fear, and self-doubt, but all of these can be overcome if the trainee is willing to stay the course and learn from his/her mistakes.

Rewards and Opportunity

Being in a position with greater responsibility has its rewards and its opportunities. Both can be endless and unlimited, but it might not always feel that way when things go wrong and you face the challenges of the day.

Making a Difference

What you do does make a difference, and not just in the cleanliness of the buildings you maintain, but in the lives and families of those who do the work. Developing others is no easy task, but is well worth the effort. There is much you can do to help others develop and use their skills so they can take advantage of and benefit from the opportunities available in the cleaning and maintenance industry. Be prepared for successes and failures; you’ll have both.


Posted On October 13, 2016

William R. Griffin

President of Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc.

William Griffin is the president of Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc. He is an industry consultant, author, and trainer with more than 35 years of experience. Contact him at [email protected] or visit

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