The importance of front-line supervisor training
By Cari Dubiel
Public libraries are often faced with challenges when it comes to training in general: staff shortages, lack of time, and the need to stay relevant to their communities, are only a few examples. Leadership training gets pushed to the back burner, and managers are expected to become self-starters, learning on the fly.
While there are many self-directed programs for library leaders to complete…often through state or local support organizations…managers rarely receive coaching beyond what their direct supervisor can offer them. And when Library Directors, Deputy Directors, and Fiscal Officers are also stretched, this setup can lead to poor outcomes. Middle managers feel isolated and unsure about how to interact with their employees.
Middle managers are the bridge between senior management and staff. They play one of the most critical roles in organizations. In libraries, the middle managers are:
- Branch Managers
- Department managers such as the Acquisitions Manager, Technical Services Manager, Facilities Managers, etc.
- Deputy Fiscal Officers
A strong middle management team is crucial, especially in smaller public libraries, where those managers are charged with the management of the building when the Director is away. These managers may also deal with difficult customer situations as well as conflict among their reports.
Depending on a library’s needs, leadership development programs may include some or all of the following:
- Formal development workshops in which supervisors learn effective supervision and can practice what they learn
- Defining the traits and behaviors that are critical for supervisors to possess to be effective leaders
- Personality and behavioral assessments such as DISC and Myers-Briggs
- Employee coaching techniques and standards that can be customized to meet a leader’s needs
- One-on-one coaching and individual development plans
- Conflict management and disciplinary strategies
- Balancing innovation with everyday practices
- Learning when to listen and take employee feedback
Administrators, too, can benefit from such coaching. Directors and Fiscal Officers, especially those with long tenures, may fall into ruts when it comes to typical practices. Leaders need updates on legal and Human Resources changes as well as trends in corporate management theory such as empathetic leadership [also known as servant leadership]. Administrators who are upskilled in such a way build morale and strengthen their teams from middle management all the way down to front-line workers.
An effective coach can increase a library’s productivity, morale, and innovation. Boards and administrators should consider this developmental opportunity for the good of both the institution and the community.
Cari Dubiel is a public library expert with 20-plus years of experience. Having worked from the ground up as a Shelver to her current management position with the Twinsburg Public Library, Cari understands the operational aspects of public libraries from both a staff and administrative perspective. Cari has managed projects such as technical services workflow development, software evaluation and implementation, collection development analysis, employee onboarding and training, and website usability. She holds a bachelors’ degree from Hiram College and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. She is also an adjunct faculty member at KSU in the iSchool program. She presents frequently for PCI Webinars and has also presented for NEO-RLS, OLC, and public library staff development days. A former Library Liaison to the National board of Sisters in Crime, Cari is very active in the publishing industry. She is represented by Lynnette Novak of the Seymour Agency and is the lead editor for Writing Bloc Books.