Be a leader, not a boss.
Some backstory – I’ve been lucky enough to be the Scenic Charge Artist for a summer stock in Virginia for the past three summers. I also have been a Lecturer and Paint Shop Manager for a university. Although these are very different leadership roles, they require a lot of understanding of how to manage a team. This blog post is going to be focused on theatrical production, but it can certainly apply to other industries (foremans on job sites, corporate teams, you name it).
We’ve all had a couple terrible supervisors and have been in positions where we’ve felt awful at work because of how we were mistreated or not valued. I won’t go in detail about the negatives here – I’m deciding to write this blog post in an effort to hopefully inspire you to develop a positive managerial style to empower your team and create great work.
So, the first step to be a better manager is to fully understand your role and expectations other people have for you. Don’t assume your job responsibilities just based on a title. Ask questions to your supervisor and make an effort to figure out how you fit into a company’s structure.
+ Figure out if you have an assistant and how many people are on your crew.
+ Determine your role in weekly production meetings and shop check-ins.
+ Advocate for yourself and your team with the shop, administrative team, and artistic teams when applicable.
+ Figure out how payroll works for you and your team.
+ Determine your role in weekly production meetings and shop check-ins.
Go out of your way to understand your team. Realize that they are people with feelings, personal goals, weaknesses, and a life outside of their work.
+ Ask your crew what their career aspirations are and integrate those into the work at hand if you can.
+ Pay attention to your crew’s morale throughout the work day. See if there’s anything you can do to make coming to work a positive, enjoyable experience for your team.
+ Learn from your crew as much as possible. Everyone has something to offer no matter what level of education they have.
+ Implement suggestions from your crew into the project at hand if you feel it is best for the work and for your timeline. Put away your ego and realize other people might have really good ideas for ways to help the project.
Earn your team’s respect, don’t demand it.
+ See what you can do to make your team feel valued. Advocate for their needs.
+ Prioritize safe work practices and education of materials. Make sure your team knows materials they are working with to empower them with knowledge they can use later in their career.
+ Ask questions and check in with your team daily.
+ Strive to create a non-toxic work environment where your team can feel comfortable asking questions and receiving feedback on their work.
+ Include your whole team on important discussions, as you see fit. Inclusion promotes a wholesome environment that earns the respect and appreciation of your team.
+ If you have to shift work schedules, ask and include your team on those decisions. Give a 24 hour notice if possible for changes in work calls. Give your crew an acceptable lunch and/or dinner break. Don’t call them at 8am after you just worked until 3am. Keep humane work conditions and prioritize well-being over the project at hand.
+ Realize that your team is looking at you for examples of work practices, how clean you keep a shop, how to speak to your shop foreman, etc. You are setting an example for how someone should be in your position. Don’t train your team to develop bad work habits, please.
If you’ve been the Scenic Artist in a paint shop for years, it can be a real culture shock to step into the role of Scenic Charge Artist. My first time being a Scenic Charge Artist, I remember feeling really weird if I wasn’t holding a paintbrush all day. You have to remember that a manager’s role is to lead their team into success – and sometimes that means stepping back and not doing the bulk of the hands-on work yourself.
+ Organize your daily routine for your team so that they can focus on doing the tasks at hand. I’ve wrote a blog post about how I stay organized that I’m going to link here. It goes over my to do lists, inventory breakdown, daily trackers, and how I can help my team be as efficient as possible.
+ Wash brushes, sweep floors, and take out the trash. You are never above doing these tasks no matter what position you are in. In fact, I love washing brushes that my team used, so that they can move on to the next project efficiently, while I take time to plan and clean the shop.
+ On those lines, work with your team and jump in whenever you see a lack of productivity in a project! Typically, as a Scenic Charge, I’m not assigning myself a large project to do because of how often I’m being pulled away to check up on things or prep something for the next project. This way, if I’m in between work myself, I can help someone else finish a floor or wash their sprayer for them while they move forward onto the next project.
+ Figure out how you can delegate tasks to your team to meet your deadlines more efficiently. If you’ve a person on your team who’s really awesome and fast at wood graining, put them on a wood grain project if your turn around time is short for that project. If you’ve got a little bit of time to spare on the project, put them with someone else so that they can teach another person how to wood grain as quickly as they do.
+ Inform your team about the daily goals of the shop. This helps to motivate them to meet that goal, and it empowers them with inclusion. You need to make sure your team feels like they are contributing (which they are!) in order for them to feel valued.
+ Personally, I like going over tasks for each person with each person present. I have daily morning meetings with my team where we spend roughly 6-8 minutes talking about what each person is working on for the morning. Nothing too detailed, but if everyone has an idea of what everyone is working in, we can all jump in and help because we’re all on the same page about it.
I also want to note here that being in a managerial position isn’t always the next career move for everyone. And that’s okay. We often get stuck thinking that moving up to Scenic Charge or Technical Director or Production Manager is the only way to make more money – and it is a way to make more money than a Scenic Artist, Draftsperson, or Stage Manager most of the time. But, we need to remember that if you don’t enjoy being a manager, you don’t have to be a manager. It seems ridiculous that I’m writing this in this blog post, but I’m always surprised by the amount of students who think that’s the end goal for them. Here’s the thing. You can be a successful, pretty well paid Technical Designer, Prop Artisan, Certified Welder, Scenic Artist, Finish Carpenter, etc. for a company and not have to manage a team. I just wanted to note that here because I feel like these management positions are overly romanticized sometimes.
Please let me know if this was helpful in any way – I’m always looking to connect with you all who read my posts. Follow me on Instagram and stay tuned for the next one!