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Focus on the Workforce: SME's Manufacturing Leadership Institute

David Csokasy




Perhaps this is manufacturing's perfect storm. The factors for this storm would include the challenges of an expanding global marketplace and pricing pressures, the downturn in the world's financial markets with the likelihood of a different model emerging once the economy rebounds, negative press about manufacturing caused by the challenges faced in the automotive sector, and the retirement of the baby-boom generation taking out many, if not most, manufacturing leaders.

While continual technological and process improvements have steadily diminished the need for lower-skilled production-level employees, the need for technicians and knowledge workers remains strong. Much like the transition from an agricultural society to an industrial society, the current transformation to the knowledge society is creating challenges and upsetting long-held paradigms. And yet, just as we continue to produce more and more agricultural products, we also continue to lead the world in terms of goods manufactured.

Running a manufacturing business and managing a workforce is more challenging than ever. Challenges include how to beat global competition, how to manage from a distance, how to capitalize on your organizational culture, how to deal with constant change and the subsequent stress it creates, how to implement great ideas such as lean, how to motivate and lead a team, and how to manage conflict. The old rules seem to be changing every day. Manufacturing leaders have to be quick studies, nimble, and trusting of their employees. Having deep skills and technological expertise is not enough. Becoming a leader, at any level, requires the development and utilization of strong people skills. Leadership is exclusively about people—you don't lead machines or processes, you lead people.

A particular challenge in the creation of leadership and management courses and activities concerns the new reality of constant change. In just 10 years, we have seen the meltdown, terrorist attacks, a series of wars and conflicts around the world, the rise of China and India as major markets, suppliers, and competitors, as well as the global economic collapse. Manufacturing leaders at all levels must be adept at reading these changes in the environment, and skilled at adjusting accordingly. Gone are the days of relative calm and long periods of stability for manufacturers. In addition to the traditional skills of developing a vision or project management, today's manufacturing leaders must also be competent in such new skills as project termination, global manners, emotional intelligence, and managing without authority.

But where can they turn to learn to be more effective and efficient leaders? Taking time out for an advanced degree is not always possible, and is often very expensive. Training in short, targeted, and focused topics, combined with coaching and on-the-job action learning, may be the best solution.

     Table 1

A few years ago, a group of dedicated SME members from the Product and Process Design and Management Community (PPDMC) began to question the term "Management" in their title. The Manufacturing Leadership Institute Technical Group was soon formed to delve into issues of leading and managing the people aspects of the manufacturing enterprise. The Technical Group envisioned not only creating a manufacturing leadership-development model, but populating that model with targeted learning opportunities.

The team has been working for over two years, and has begun to offer webinars, author white papers, and provide leadership tracks at major association events such as SMEWESTEC and SAE-World Congress. The core passion of the group continues to be the creation of a manufacturing leadership institute. Defining leadership remains an elusive target but, for planning purposes, the team developed a core list of competencies required of all leaders. These core competencies are shown in Table 1.

The team then created a working model for manufacturing leadership development that is shown in Table 2. This model may be thought of as having two halves. The right half includes developmental activities and topics that are recommended for anyone progressing through a leadership career track, starting with the entry position, referred to in the model as a supervisor, through executive-level positions. It includes developmental activities and topics that are important for targeted groups of leaders, or specific skills not required of everyone.

The core of the model includes competencies required of all employees, those planning to enter a management track, and those who plan to remain as technical experts. These core topics will be useful for all employees as they deal with foundational skills required for effective day-to-day interactions. Each module is expanded to ensure adequate coverage by the team. Core topics are shown in Table 3.

Learning opportunities are being developed, beginning at the core, and will eventually include comprehensive coverage for all levels. It's anticipated that on-line asynchronous learning will be utilized as much as possible but that some topics, particularly at the upper end of the leadership continuum, will require classroom-based instruction. An intermediate step would include synchronous webinar technology. Face-to-face sessions could be offered as strategically located stand-alone sessions or scheduled concurrent with events sponsored by professional associations. If demand warrants, sessions could also be conducted at SME chapter meetings or even at a customer's site.

     Table 2  

Manufacturing leadership tracks were offered at WESTEC 2007, and are planned for the 2009 Annual Event in Philadelphia. In addition to SME events, the team has broadened their reach by managing the management tracks at the 2008 and 2009 SAE World Congress (2010 is already in the planning stages). A white paper is available through SME on Effective Managing of Lean Manufacturing, and a series of webinars have been conducted and are planned throughout the remainder of 2009. All events may be found on the SME Web site.

This Technical Group cuts across and serves the leadership/management needs of all SME Communities, as well as providing resources for the development of internal SME leaders and supporting the SME Certification processes. It is anticipated that this community would serve existing members who wish to understand more about the leadership/management of the manufacturing enterprise, who desire to prepaTable 3re for a management position, or who are in a management position and are looking for ways to improve. It's also expected that manufacturing managers who are not presently members of SME, because they are no longer technical experts, may wish to join or rejoin to take advantage of the offerings from this new Technical Group.

The human side of manufacturing must support the product and process ideas of the manufacturing engineer for the enterprise to be successful. This Technical Group is built on this premise, thus enabling SME as a professional association to fully build team members for successful and profitable manufacturing organizations. The Manufacturing Leadership Institute Technical Group is co-chaired by David Csokasy, president, The DJC Group (human resources development) and Evan Caile, program manager for Hewlett Packard. Phone conference calls are held every other Tuesday morning at 11 am EST. Access can be gained to this call by contacting either David or Evan. A Web site has been created for the group, which can be accessed through, and from the Product and Process Development and Management home page.


This article was first published in the May 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 5/1/2009

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