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Transitioning from a mine worker to a mine boss

transitioningmine worker to mine boss
Mine worker to mine boss can be challenging when it comes to safety

MINE WORKER TO MINE BOSS – It is common for many employees in the mining industry to start at the grass-roots level and transition to a range of supervisory and management roles in various organisations over the course of their careers. While landing a supervisory or junior executive role in a mining company is undoubtedly exciting for some, it is often accompanied by challenges in managing safety and managing people… often because it involves altering relationships with former colleagues and the those you are used to having a beer or two after your swing is finished.

The truth of the matter is that once the dynamics of working relationships change, you will be most likely be trusted with more and more responsibilities over the organisation and the safety of its’ workforce. This can prove daunting for some throughout the mining industry unless they are well supported through the transition from both a leadership, technical and safety management perspective. 

While some say the ‘purple circle’ approach is an element of some mining industry sites, others argue that at the end of the day keeping working relationships professional plays the biggest part in your transition.

John Ninness, Consultant Editor, Australasian Mine Safety Journal

They’ll no doubt be a unique set of challenges for some individuals, but it doesn’t have to be too daunting if you know how to transition to a boss man, like a boss man. 

Read on to learn some simple tips how you can smoothly transition from a mine worker to a mine boss. 

Have a clear understanding of your new management role 

As the saying goes, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ Being a leader comes with new responsibilities that you have to be physically and mentally prepare to handle. As a member of the management team, you are now expected to lead others, enforce safety and other policies, and be accountable for the actions and productivity of your team. At times it will feel like you’re juggling multiple balls in the air. This can be very daunting and even stressful.

Transitioning to mine management
Transitioning to mine management can be challenging.

Learn as much as you can from your new supervisor regarding how you can occupy your position with integrity and confidence. Remember that your former colleagues and your seniors are looking to see how you carry out your new responsibilities. Importantly, they’ll be looking at ways you react and manage safety at your site. While in principle it shouldn’t be any different, the very nature of a transition into management can see your attention often focused on productivity as well as a myriad of other priorities. Sometimes its easy to drop the safety ball while you’re juggling all the others.

Discuss the changes in relationship with colleagues

For sure, your day-to-day interaction with your former colleagues will change once you become their supervisor or boss. Some will see it as a positive and others, well, they’ll probably take every opportunity to take the piss out of you. Some may even try and set you up to fail.

Take time to speak personally to each individual to let them know that your relationship with them will change now that you have additional responsibilities. This is particularly important if you’re transitioning to a role on the same site where you interact or supervise your former co-workers on a daily basis. It is important to make this clear before assuming your role to ensure things flow smoothly from the onset. 

Moving from colleague to boss is not straightforward, especially when it comes to supervising individuals you related to on a personal level before. Be sure to let coworkers know that you are only doing your job and that ultimately you are accountable and answerable if anything goes pear-shaped. Make an early stand on safety and be prepared to have those difficult safe behavioral discussions if they are needed.

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Some even say…don’t smile for the first couple of months and they’ll eventually take you seriously. Whatever way you choose, don’t lose your integrity and ensure that you don’t compromise on the things that affect safety performance. Too often we have seen junior mining personnel fronting court in inquiries or coronial inquests where they have ‘normalised’ risks that have taken lives in the industry.

PIn a recent interview with the Financial Times, BHP’s Mike Henry made a profound statement on leadership and the challenges that go with it in the mining industry.

“One of the things I have learned over time is that you can be the smartest man in the room but if you don’t have great people in place and you are not providing the space and the conditions for them to contribute, the capacity of your organisations will be limited,” However, that doesn’t mean you can just appoint a “bunch of hard-chargers” because a group of ambitious high achievers aren’t “necessarily going to be a good team”

“Of course, as a leader, you also have to be clear on what the ambitions or the aspiration is for the business. I believe I have got the ability to see what the possibilities are for us.”

Mike Henry BHP, Interview with Financial Times by Neil Hume

Discuss the need for support with your supervisors

Taking on new duties as a boss will require you to have a deeper understanding of how things ought to be done. This is where you seek support and guidance from senior leadership as you inform them of how you intend to manage your team. Make sure you understand their expectations across a range of measurables…. remember not to lose your focus on the safety ball. 

Over the years I have met with many junior supervisors who believed, rightly or wrongly that as all the company wanted from them was productivity. When I have spoken to their leaders…that wasn’t the case. Of course, they want productivity, but they also want it balanced against multiple factors including safety.

Ultimately, you’ll probably never meet anyone in senior management of an organisation who believes that productivity can occur above safety. They may ask for more production but generally speaking they don’t want miner’s blood on their hands or the costs of a shutdown following an incident.

Hopefully your senior leadership will equip you with the right tools and mindset to prepare you for your new management role. They’ll prepare you for managing others and maximizing safety at the same time.

To reiterate, communication is indispensable to becoming a successful boss. Talk to your senior leadership about your vision for your team (including a safety vision) so that they can advise and offer their support to guarantee a successful transition. This also ensures you are all on the same page, and no unnecessary conflicts will arise in the future.   

Avoid bias and favoritism

Becoming a boss means you may now be supervising your former colleagues and equals, some of whom you related to closely. And sometimes having worked with them in the same mine for so long, you might be tempted to show bias and favoritism toward them. However, this will not only affect how you carry out your duties, but it will also compromise your integrity as a manager. 

It is critical that you ensure former relationships with colleagues do not influence your new managerial responsibilities. Inform your coworkers that you are not going to make concessions and that they will be liable for their own actions.

Don’t be the subject of ‘purple circle’ rumors at your site. Stand strong with integrity and seek to understand perspectives of many before you make rash decisions. Of course, when it comes to technical safety decisions, work with the safety teams and other professionals who can guide your decisions for the better.

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Get training on how to make the transition

As you move from being a colleague to a boss, things are expected to get a little bit tough, considering you will have many more responsibilities (including statutory ones). To ensure you transition successfully, try and get the right training from the HR team and other knowledgeable parties within and outside your organisation. 

In the past I have often observed some individuals make the mistake of trying to figure everything out by themselves, which may make it more difficult for them along the way. Receiving the necessary training before assuming office will help you to take on challenges with confidence. 

Keep everyone in mind when making decisions

As a boss, it is your solemn duty to make sure the needs of your team are taken care of at all times. Pay attention to what makes them productive and strive to create an environment that supports and enhances safe productivity. Remember to be considerate of their personal preferences as this is what will make you a boss of all and not some. 

While trying to make your team comfortable in the workplace, do not compromise your principles or vision. You might not be able to please everybody, but at the end of the day, you will feel fulfilled if you stick to what you believe in as you continue to take care of your team members. 

Remain professional all times 

Before you became a boss or mine supervisor, you might have been pretty easygoing in how you related with your colleagues. This may need to change, since you are now a leader who is expected to act professionally and find the solutions to the problems your team members encounter. It is noteworthy that this does not mean you start acting like a bossy prick, rather that you need to show more composure and consideration in how you approach issues. 

Always treat your colleagues with the utmost professionalism and respect even after becoming their boss. This will ensure that your reign as a supervisor or manager has fewer challenges, and that your coworkers support you and follow your vision along the way.   

Always be fair, consistent and just in your leadership

Leaders are expected to act in a fair and just manner for the betterment of the organization and its people. As a mining boss, aspire to show courage and fairness in your judgments to win the trust and confidence of your team. It’s fair to say that you must always address matters from the leader’s perspective, since you are now a boss and not grass roots level employee but ultimately you must understand your team’s perspectives. There will be times when you agree to disagree with your team…that’s ok as well

Being fair and just also helps to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings that are bound to arise from disgruntled team members. 

Above all, it is your solemn duty to be a leader who shuns biases and one who pursues justice and safe production under all circumstances. 

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The takeaways 

As you transition from a colleague to a boss, you are bound to face myriad obstacles along the way. Safety is one of them. It will be sometimes played as a card…sometimes it will be real and lives of your team members are at stake. Discerning the differences must rely on understanding and technical competence which ultimately you should aspire to as you continue on your management journey.

You must not permit yourself and others to normalise unsafe behaviors. That’s a slippery slope where many technically competent mining supervisors and managers have gone before and that’s ultimately cost the lives of their team members.

If you keep your focus, act with integrity, prioritise safety and treat everyone with respect, you are sure to become a successful supervisor or manager and an important asset for your organisation. 

John Ninness is the Principal Safety Consultant with Safetysure and a consultant editor of Australasian Mine Safety Journal. You might like to read one of John’s recent articles: The carrot vs the stick in safety behaviour management

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AMSJ April 2022