Skills Needed When Overseeing a Fleet

See also: What Sort of Leader are You?

Running a company takes much more than amassing the initial capital investment and tending the books. You also have to manage people, which means possessing the soft skills to oversee your fleet and coax each team member into performing their role to their daily best. Learning how to manage people is a crucial leadership skill that benefits you in any industry and can set your fleet apart.

What should your goals for personal development be? Here are four skills needed when overseeing a fleet.

1. Teaching Skills

It speaks volumes that business leaders often fail to look to classroom teachers as experts in how to drive results. However, these pros sell an intangible product many of their audience don’t see a need for, which isn’t a shiny new toy or status symbol. They understand the true value they deliver is in caring for students and lifting them up to encourage better behavior.

One of the skills entrepreneurs can gain from their 6th-grade math instructor is people learn differently. A combination of online and on-the-road instruction gets even experienced drivers on the same page as the rest of the team while acclimating them to different truck types and scenarios they’ll face with your organization.

Another tip entrepreneurs can glean from classroom teachers is learning requires consistency. How often have you heard educators lament what kids forget over summer break? Those who oversee fleets should recognize human memory is fallible. They should assign periodic retraining modules to test critical skills, analyze areas of deficiency, and offer remediation to keep all team members up to speed with changing truck types and regulations.

2. Safety Consciousness

Safety is paramount when you oversee a fleet. Most commercial trucks are 20 to 30 times the weight of passenger vehicles, meaning bystanders often suffer severe harm when a team member errs. Although in the US OSHA doesn’t regulate self-employed truckers, contractors are nevertheless bound to the workplaces where such drivers deliver goods and the workers who unload them.

Part of all new employee training and tenured worker retraining programs should focus on reviewing crucial safety rules, including:

  • Blind spot awareness: Although technology makes it easier, commercial truck drivers still must check mirrors every 8 to 10 seconds while also monitoring the road ahead.

  • Longer stopping distances: More weight means the big rigs take longer to stop. Furthermore, reinforcing using runaway ramps when necessary with training can save lives and protect you from liability.

  • Maintaining your vehicle: Drivers should feel confident in repairing minor issues or knowing when their rig needs a trip to the shop.

  • Practicing work zone safety: Ensure everyone obeys work zone signage and slows down to allow for increased pedestrian and small vehicle traffic.

A crucial part of truck driver safety for fleet managers entails maintaining operator focus and avoiding distracted driving. Unfortunately, pressure to meet overly tight deadlines and demanding quotas can result in safety violations that cost lives. Those also increase your firm’s costs, potentially embroiling you in legal battles or raising your insurance rates.

Fleet leaders should have experience behind the wheel. Absent that, they should employ someone with such a track record as their advisor, especially on safety matters. No one knows the unique challenges your employees face daily better than they do, so give their concerns appropriate weight.

3. Empathy and Boundary Setting

Leadership requires a firm grip on your mental health, as you must walk a fine line between empathy and your boundaries. Empathy refers to the skill of putting yourself in your employee’s shoes and sharing their emotional experience. While it’s a skill you can improve, it’s also a tricky vixen, as it comes in several types:

  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to see things from another’s perspective but not experience the same emotions. This type of empathy can lend a manipulative element to your interactions, as you understand how to make people tick but don’t feel their distress.

  • Emotional empathy lets you experience other people's feelings, but you might not have the skills to respond appropriately. Some people get emotional overload, shutting or breaking down when dealing with the heavy feelings of others. It can make them seem uncaring when the opposite is true. This situation is common in people with certain neurological differences and those with past trauma histories.

  • Compassionate empathy is the type of empathy fleet leaders need. It combines cognitive and emotional energy with sufficient emotional regulation to take positive action to address problems.

How does this translate into field behavior? Consider this scenario — an employee approaches leadership about financial difficulties. A fleet overseer with cognitive empathy might manipulate their feelings of insecurity to coax them to work longer hours than is healthy, using the lure of more money. One with emotional empathy might become overwhelmed and ignore the situation, leaving the driver feeling unheard and unappreciated.

A fleet leader with compassionate empathy will set aside time to hear the driver’s concerns. They may recommend resources that teach life management skills, such as how to balance your household budget and reduce expenses. The manager might also evaluate if they can justify a pay increase in their budget but are comfortable enough to set a boundary and clearly say no if it isn’t feasible.

Ultimately, empathy and safety go hand-in-hand. Take for instance the 70,000 accidents that occur each year as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. If a driver expresses signs of exhaustion or burnout, it’s in the best interest of both the employee and the company as a whole to ensure they get proper quality rest.

4. Time Management

The trucking industry is all about getting goods in the right hands at the right time. One crucial ability to master is the difference between urgent and important tasks, and handling them in the appropriate order to make maximum use of your time.

Urgent tasks demand your attention but may not create immediate repercussions. Important tasks matter, and failure to tackle them creates consequences for yourself and others. For example, a check engine light is an urgent sign a truck needs maintenance, but you can often safely drive it to the repair shop. A flat tire is important when a vehicle is transporting easily perishable items.

How does this skill look in the field? Imagine a driver experiences trouble with their rig. Part of good time management skills entails a fleet leader:

  • Quickly assessing the issue and understanding its scale

  • Directing the driver to the nearest facility where they can perform repairs

  • Arranging for the pickup of goods on that truck and delivery to their intended destinations

Manage Your Fleet with Care with These Skills

If you oversee a fleet, the right soft skills keep operations running smoothly. It’s OK to admit one or more of these areas aren’t your current strong suit — what matters is taking proactive steps to grow the abilities you need to run your crew.

Devote professional development time to nurturing the four skills above when overseeing a fleet. Your reward is a happier and more productive workforce that gets the goods to the point of delivery safely and on time.

About the Author

Jack Shaw is a freelance writer who has spent the last five years writing about improving oneself through health, education and reworked mindsets. He’s served as senior writer for Modded, and since then has contributed to Tiny Buddha, Small Business Currents and Big Ideas for Small Business among many other publications.