Don’t Underestimate the Value of Tactical Manufacturing Leadership – Part 1

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Tactical Manufacturing Leadership – Part 1

Whether you are early in your career path or wanting to enhance your opportunity to move forward in an established career, make sure that you understand the unique requirements to performing your job in your specific field and industry.  Even if you have achieved an academic degree, which is valuable and opens many doors; taking time to learn from those who have “seen it all” and are respected for their knowledge at the company is worthwhile if you wish to move upward within the organization or industry.  This is sometimes referred to as the development of “street smarts”.

After 28 years in manufacturing, with the last 11 in operational executive roles, I have always looked for ways to grow in both strategic and tactical leadership skills.  Strategic leadership qualities include vision, compassion, loyalty, self-control, social skills and self-awareness which are focused on a longer-term view and the broader picture.  Tactical leadership is the concept of taking leadership experiences and making effective use of them.  Tactics are the individual actions deployed to execute to a strategy.  Strategic leadership is visionary.  Tactical leadership is about execution.

All leaders are bombarded with advice on strategic leadership techniques.  In fact, many, many articles can be found on LinkedIn or other social media sites that define the actions of strategic leaders.  Best-selling books have been written to highlight great leaders who have risen to the top of their respective industries.  Consultants and coaches have built lucrative businesses around helping aspiring leaders grow by offering advice and feedback on developing your leadership style and inspiring others or recommending lifestyle changes that emulate leaders who have been successful and moved up the corporate ladder.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the value of a strategic leadership journey.  One that embodies the best of leadership.  Empathy, really hearing others, humility, and servant leadership are amazing traits that all leaders should aspire to.  And, of course, you should dress in a way that respects the workplace environment and is appropriate for your position.  And yes, you should take care of yourself through defining a reasonable work life balance, exercising, eating right and taking time to relieve stress. All of us understand the need for the supposed “soft skills” that challenge us to be better.

Some leaders that I follow on LinkedIn include Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman, Marillyn Hewson, Beth Comstock and Jeff Weiner.  All amazing leaders in their respective industries.  So much has been written about their careers and I don’t pretend to know what they would like to leave as a legacy. But I know that a lot of their media coverage includes discussion of their philanthropic efforts, their leadership styles or the way that they have broken barriers and tackled adversity.  All these men and women have been willing to share their histories and provide insight into their futures.  What may not be completely clear while we admire their strategies and approach to leadership is that they are very competent business people who have utilized their tactical knowledge of their industries as well as dynamic leadership to move their career forward. 

Don’t underestimate the value of tactical leadership.  Sure, absolutely try to be your “best self” as a person and a leader.  Serve your employees and your company well.  Live a good life.  But understand the tactical skillsets that will help you further stand out from the crowd of aspiring leaders.

All industries require a set of tactical or operational skills.  In manufacturing, like other industries, these skillsets will vary according to the field that has been chosen.  For example, perhaps you are an engineer, a human resource professional, or perhaps you are in quality or operations.  All require different tactical approaches to getting the job done. 

Not every person understands the tactical approach.  Over time, I have witnessed inspiring individuals early in their growth and seasoned leaders that have stalled in the career paths.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with them as employees.  They were thoughtful, motivational, giving, dynamic, competent people who were a pleasure to work with as coworkers.  Other employees hoped to see them become a leader, so they would have a chance to work for the type of person that you read about in leadership books and articles.  So, what stalled their growth? It wasn’t their education, their personalities or their leadership styles.  It wasn’t how they dressed, whether they worked out first thing in the morning or how well they balanced work and life’s obligations.  They were missing the fundamental tactical building blocks of their industry.   

I would be confident that if you asked leaders such as Branson, Bezos, Whitman, Hewson, Comstock and Weiner how they reached the top of the industry, you would not hear from them that they succeeded solely due to their personality or leadership style.  I believe they could tell you how they learned from others about the technical and tactical aspects of their business.  So why do we get so much more feedback on our leadership style and so little training and support for the technical aspects of our roles?

In Part 2 of this 3-part series, we will explore key concepts to tactical leadership and technical skill in manufacturing.  I firmly believe this series can help you on your career journey no matter where you’d like to be a leader or a solid individual contributor in your organization.

At KM Shinn Consulting, we want you to understand that we have seen it all.  Achieving success in manufacturing can be a daily challenge.  We invite you to go to our website at or email us at  We’d love to discuss your issues and concerns. 

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