If industry as such is the „real life“, then production is the beating heart of this real life. Which challenges await a production leader, how does her everyday life look like?
The main task is carrying responsibility. That primarily refers to the production process itself, which has to run smoothly and often even 24 hours a day. That in turn only works with a sufficiently large team of engineers and technicians. The work is thus marked by large staff responsibility, which comes along with a range of interpersonal and bureaucratic tasks. The pace of the work is set by the production process itself, undisturbed working time is thus a rare good. There is another side to this coin, though, as described by this production leader:
“Academia was not making me happy, flat and simple. I am the kind of person that needs goals and the feeling of achieving reasonably quickly. Academia requires a certain patience, and more devotion. I needed to work in a field where I could see the results from my work in a quicker fashion, and in manufacturing you see this batch after batch!”
And then there is the responsibility for lowering the cost for the production process as well as the staff while at the same time increasing productivity. That like a Gordian Knot, but let´s first of all take a look at how these tasks can be performed successfully. Planning, delegating, trusting and controlling are probably the most important instruments along this path. In order not to be crushed by the conflicting interests of management, staff and safety requirements, you need a very clear and open communication style.
For instance to your boss, “Of course that´s technically possible. However, it´s also illegal. If I implement this despite our safety requirements, it can bring me to jail. I suggest the following alternative.”
Or to your co-workers, “The CEO would call it a learning curve I guess, but whatever the name, the situation looks screwed. We can do a more exact analysis of it tomorrow, for now we need to see how best to handle it. Please call Ralf to see if he can come in a couple of hours earlier for his late shift, I´ll have a look into the protocol for now.”
Many production sites, particularly large-scale plants, are male-dominated environments. If you enter into a leading position as a female, you´ll naturally be facing peculiar challenges and opportunities. Here the gist of what two female production leaders told us about their work experiences:
“Neither in this nor in any other position was it ever an issue that I was leading a team of males as a female. I actually never really noticed that I went along this path as a woman. Also as a working mother I never felt stereotyped, neither at work nor privately.”
“My beginnings in the professional world were a bit tough. I was the only woman in my team, in a manufacturing plant for recombinant antibodies, and they were not exactly looking forward to a supervisor that was young and inexperienced. And the fact that I was a woman made them quite uncomfortable as the production floor was “a place for men, not for a woman”. They used to be quite tough and even had a bet on how long I would be able to handle the job before quitting. Luckily things are very different nowadays. I worked 9 years in that facility. And most of those colleagues that had trouble accepting me in the beginning were even including me in their acknowledgements as they retired.”
In general, smashing Gordian Knots is not necessary in order to lead a production. This would anyway be too tedious for the beating heart of the company. Let´s rather call it juggling, which can usually already be done in 8 hours a day, even in a 24 hour production plant. If all runs smoothly. There are hardly any other positions, in which you are so heavily affected by sudden glitches. You should ask your (future) employer how such situations are handled and how far your personal responsibilities go in these cases. Then ask yourself and if applicable your family, if you want to engage in this job type. And if yes, then sleeves up and on we go!