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Leadership in The Painting Business

Proper job planning and on-site job management (supervision and control) are important factors that contribute to profitably accomplishing a professional painting/decorating job. The first part of this module focuses on the skills and leadership traits normally associated with a successful on-site supervisor. Also provided are descriptions of the personnel management tasks performed and some situations commonly encountered by the on-site supervisor. This information is presented here to provide trade-acceptable standards to follow for the craftsperson aspiring to be or acting as a supervisor. It also provides insight into the supervisor’s role so the craftsperson can better understand and work with the supervisor to accomplish the job.

The second part of this essay briefly reviews some of the material discussed earlier in It builds on this material to provide new or more detailed information relative to job planning and completion procedures used by supervisors and crafts-persons to successfully perform a job from start to completion.


At some point in your career, it is likely that you will be given the opportunity to assume a supervisory role. In a large painting company or on a large job, the role of a supervisor can be a formal position involving the supervision of many crafts-persons. However, in small companies or on small jobs, the role of supervisor can be less formal, involving the supervision of only one or two other crafts-persons, with the supervisor required to do the actual painting/ decorating work in addition to supervising.

A person filling the position of a supervisor must not only have knowledge and experience in the type of work being performed, but also the skills needed to supervise the activity. These skills can include organizing, planning, staffing, directing, and controlling. In addition, skills to get your crew or team to perform are also necessary. These skills relate to the human- relations aspects of the job—communicating, motivating, and leading. The supervisor should keep in mind that two basic items affect whether or not a job is performed effectively and efficiently: having the skills to do the job, and having the proper attitude to carry out the job as assigned.

Skills are normally learned through training and on-the-job experience. The correct attitude, however, must exist or be acquired through dedication and hard work. In the end, it is up to the supervisor to make sure that all the crew members under the supervisor’s leadership have the needed skills and proper attitude to perform their jobs in a productive manner.
The specific roles and responsibilities of a supervisor differ among companies and depend on company policy. When asked to assume a supervisory position, always be sure to fully understand your responsibilities and limits of authority. Find out whether you can hire or fire employees, order materials to finish a job, or make agreements with a customer. No matter what size and type of company, every supervisor is responsible (to some extent) for planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling and directing people and resources to get the job done within a given budget and time frame. Some of the important personal qualities of an effective supervisor are: ability to communicate effectively, enthusiasm, fairness, ability to teach, reliability, loyalty, diligence, ability to plan and organize, willingness to learn and a willingness to assume a leadership role.   The function of supervision involves the guiding and supervising of other people to accomplish the objectives established for them. This includes making assignments and seeing that they are carried out. The tasks of directing and controlling, along with the activities of organizing, planning, and scheduling require that the supervisor be an effective communicator. In addition, the supervisor must understand the basics of motivation and methods of applying motivation to encourage the crew members to perform.


Successful painting supervisors and leaders must clearly communicate with customers and with people at all levels in their organization. Simply put, communication is the method of exchanging information and ideas. A good supervisor can communicate both verbally and in writing and is a good listener, too. Although the process of communication is simple, problems that cause distortion, and therefore poor communication, can occur.  Some of the major barriers that cause poor communication are:


Verbal Communication

The language you use to communicate a set of directions, an opinion, or a feeling should be listener-oriented. Do not use words that the painter may not understand; it is generally a turnoff. When speaking, think about the listener and try to perceive how the listener is reading you. Organize what needs to be said in such a way that it is presented with complete factual information, including any related data. Clarify your thoughts before speaking; do not ramble. Get to the point as soon as possible.

Remember that everyone, no matter what their status, deserves respect and courtesy. Never talk down to anyone. Keep in mind that using language that is too simple may be perceived as condescending. Use common language that the listener understands, preferably simple words in short sentences. Conversation should be highlighted with the appropriate facial expressions, body movement, eye contact, and hand gestures.

People react positively to positive direction. When giving instructions, be specific. Instructions that are too general, too open-ended, or too vague to be carried out properly lead to endless problems. Check for understanding by asking the listener if he or she understands, or ask the listener to paraphrase in their own words what was said. This type of feedback lets you know if you were effective in communicating your message. And finally, when you are through communicating, stop talking.


Supervisors that work for Vancouver’s Best Painters and those being supervised should also be good listeners. Listening and speaking go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, some people like to talk more than listen. When having a conversation with an employee (or other person) who is talking, do not interrupt. Wait until they have finished speaking. This shows respect and allows you to respond to the complete message. You may incorrectly anticipate what is going to be said if you respond too soon.

Poor listening habits can completely disrupt good communication. Listening can be divided into four stages:

  • Hearing the message: can the listener repeat the message?
  • Understanding the message: are the speaker’s and listener’s meanings the same?
  • Judging the message: does the listener agree or disagree with what was heard?
  • Responding to the message: how does the listener respond?

Why is it that listening is often not effective? The reason can be found in specific types of disruptions or barriers. The two major barriers are lack of attention and lack of understanding. Lack of attention can be because of the following problems:

  • Daydreaming
  • Reacting emotionally to the speaker or to what the speaker is saying
  • Distractions, such as noise
  • Coming up with an answer before hearing the whole message

Lack of understanding can be because of:

  • Complicated information
  • Foreign words or jargon
  • Too much information
  • Not hearing all or a portion of what was said

Written Communication

Not all communication done by a painting supervisor is verbal; some is in written form. Many items on a job must be written down for history or documentation, such as weekly reports, request for changes, purchase orders, and correspondence on some specific subject. Write in such a way that the reader can read your writing and understand the content. Be alert to the meaning of words and how they might be interpreted. Do not use emotion-packed words. Be positive whenever possible. Stick to the facts, and stay away from judgments unless called upon to give them. Sentences should be short and in clear, precise language. When writing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words get the message across with the detail required?
  • Can what I am writing be stated in a better way?

So, what’s the lead here?



Becoming a leader is hard work, and being a leader may be even harder. To meet the challenge of rapid change, leaders at Vancouver’s Best Painters (painters painting in the Vancouver area) must be flexible, yet maintain deeply-held values and a complex set of traits. One of the first things that a person acting as (or aspiring to be) a supervisor should do is identify and practice good leadership traits. You may have heard the expression, natural-born leader, yet there is no evidence that there ever was a “born leader”. Rather, people can inherit or develop traits and characteristics that are recognized by others as being qualities which can motivate others to follow or perform.

Leadership Traits

The traits and characteristics of effective leadership are interrelated with the skill requirements for effective supervision. One identifiable trait of a good leader is a strong level of determination or perseverance. In the face of challenging situations, this individual seeks
to be involved and drives through adversity to achieve the goal. When failure occurs, leaders are able to identify the cause of the failure, learn from it, and use that knowledge to achieve the intended goal.

Effective leaders take risks and accept responsibilities. They have a high level of self- confidence and are willing to make decisions based on fact, logic, or calculated assumptions. They must be able to absorb information, assess courses of action, weigh the risks, make decisions, and assume responsibility for their decisions and actions. A leader must have the ability to control his or her emotions. This is not to say that a person is not to show emotion, but controlled emotion is necessary for proper performance of the leadership role. If improper emotions are displayed, serious problems may arise for supervisors and the people they deal with.

Effective leaders show loyalty to their employer and employees. Loyalty can be defined with the following statement: If you work for a company, respect it. Promote the image of the company through your work and through the image you project. Speak well of the company or say nothing; don’t talk about it negatively. Everyone owes it to their employer to try and create a favorable image for the company.

Other recognized leadership traits are:


Leadership Traits

A clear set of values: Leadership grows out of the values the leader holds, and integrity is an essential value. If a leader is dishonest once, that is one too many times, and any credibility as a leader will be lost.

A desire to serve those you lead: A good leader feels responsible for the success of the group and strives to move the group forward to greater challenges.

Openness: This can mean a wide range of things, from being a good student and learner to being a good listener and letting the ideas of others percolate. An effective leader will actively invite and encourage ideas and input from other people.

Trustworthiness: Leaders earn trust when it is clear they are not out to dominate the people they seek to lead. An employee of such a leader will be able to say, “I trust that my supervisor is making decisions that are not going to harm me; that my support and advice will be sought when it is appropriate; that decisions will be made, in an impartial way that will benefit everyone; and that he or she is willing to sacrifice personal gain for the benefit of all of us.”

Ability to handle change, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity: The challenge of leadership is to help both employer and employees stay extremely flexible with changing conditions, but still maintain an environment in which people feel they can make a contribution. It also means being comfortable with not having all the answers. Leaders must always keep in mind that whatever they do, an example is being set; actions speak louder than words. Your peers and subordinates will hear what you tell them, but they will be watching to see if you follow your own rules. For this reason, you must always think about your own conduct and behavior. Some guidelines for setting a good example are:

  • Keep your attendance at a high level.
  • Keep your anger in check no matter what the situation. Show that you are in control and can deal with a problem objectively and rationally.
  • Show that you can accept criticism. Even if it is unfounded, it is important that workers know that they can always voice their opinions honestly without suffering any repercussions.
  • Avoid making negative comments about coworkers or other persons; the remarks may get back to the individual in question. Aside from that, those hearing the remarks may be inclined to wonder what you are saying behind their backs.
  • Anticipate problems and correct them before there is a crisis. Encourage crew members to do likewise.
  • Be sensitive to time. Work efficiently, set deadlines, and prioritize tasks. Encourage the crew members to do likewise.
  • Be willing to admit mistakes or reveal faults or weaknesses. As a consequence, subordinates will be less inclined to hide their own errors. They will have no need to gloss over their own weaknesses when they know that their supervisor has no illusions about being perfect.
  • Demonstrate that you respect those with whom you work by greeting those you meet, saying “please” and “thank you”, returning phone calls, answering memos promptly, and being punctual for meetings.
  • Avoid passing on anxieties and doubts to crew members and others.

Functions of A Supervisor or Leader

The functions of a supervisor or leader vary with the environment, the group, and the task to be performed. However, the functions common to all situations are:

  • Practice the five elements of management: organizing, planning, staffing, directing, and controlling.
  • Reduce tension and resolve differences within the group to maintain a cohesive unit.
  • Make sure that all crew or group members understand and abide by company policies and procedures, along with establishing and maintaining acceptable behavior patterns.
  • Accept responsibility for the success or failure of the group’s performance.
  • Represent your group or crew to others.

Elements Of Leadership

There is a wide range of leadership styles that a supervisor can use. However, certain elements are common to all leadership styles to some degree. These include delegation, issuing orders, and giving recognition and praise.

Delegation — One of the best measures of supervisory performance is the extent to which one can get others to work effectively. Some guidelines are:

  • Delegate to people who can perform the job properly. If they are not capable, either delegate to someone else, or train the person to perform the task.
  • When delegating, make sure the person understands the task. Follow up after delegating to be sure the person does understand it.
  • After delegating the task, do not check too closely. Allow the person some time and freedom (within limitations) to perform.
  • After the task has been done, follow up to evaluate the job. This will provide feedback as to what responsibilities can be delegated to that specific person in the future. It also gives you a means of measuring your own effectiveness.

Issuing Orders — An order starts, modifies, or stops an activity. It may be general or specific, written or oral, and formal or informal. The decision rests with the supervisor and the policies and procedures established by the company. Some guidelines for issuing orders are:

  • The degree of formality used to issue an order depends on the order, the subordinate, and the situation under which it will be performed.
  • It is always better to make an order specific unless you are able to foresee changing circumstances.
  • If there is a high level of trust between you and your subordinate, orders need not be in writing (unless required by company policy).
  • Recognition and Praise — To obtain favorable performance by using praise and recognition, apply the following guidelines:
  • Combine public praise with recognition.
  • Do not use praise and recognition unless it truly is deserved.
  • Acknowledge satisfactory performance and encourage improvement by showing confidence in the ability of your workers to do above-average work.

Summary Of Effective Leadership

You will be a more effective supervisor if you develop your leadership abilities by doing the following:

  • Permit workers to operate in a democratic atmosphere that encourages efficiency.
  • Review your duties to determine which leadership qualities are required to accomplish these duties successfully.
  • Maintain a balance between too much and too little supervision for the type of work being performed.
  • Develop a sound and sincere human relations approach that inspires cooperation.

Whatever method of leadership used, follow the guidelines below:

  • Get to the point; do not beat around the bush.
  • Describe the problem situation.
  • When needed, ask your crew members for their points of view.
  • Obtain agreement on the problem.
  • When determining a solution, involve crew members. Get commitment from the crew.