Are you hiring or promoting a production manager soon?

At least once a month, a shop owner will contact me and ask for tips on this all-too-important decision. Usually, they are nervous about making a wrong step, and they want to discuss their situation.

Maybe they’ve never hired someone for this position, or maybe their last person didn’t work out. When you boil the process down, it’s all about honing in on the key traits that will make the person shine in the role.

Here’s what to look for regardless of shop size, business market, or production method when hiring or promoting a production manager:

They Possess Coaching Ability

This is the number one attribute I would look for in hiring or promoting a production manager. Sadly, a lot of people get the production manager position because they have superior knowledge of that decoration technique or length of time in the company. Not that those aren’t important.

They are.

However, the main task in management is, you guessed it, working with people.

What you want is someone that has proven they can take a team member and coach them into a better one. Better employees will always equate to better work out the door.

Dealing with people is hard.

Everyone on your staff has different attitudes, abilities, pressures, and personalities. Getting an efficient shop culture going in a positive direction can be like herding cats. You have to identify how to reach each person on an individual basis and work with them to improve.

Barking orders like a general will have a limited lifespan. Meekly just letting things happen is just as bad.

Remember, people usually quit their jobs because of their direct supervisor. If your shop has had a lot of people quitting lately, look to the leadership as one of the main reasons.

Coaching Basics

A good coach will “paint the picture” of what needs to happen. This is more than the traditional Rah-Rah locker room speech. Instead, this is a thorough explanation of the journey that needs to occur.


Describing what needs to happen educates your staff, so they are informed. This could be the reason why your staff needs to learn a particular skill or even the basics of what needs to be produced today. A good coach will outline the roadmap of the tasks needed so the next steps are obvious.

This isn’t a one-time discussion either. They will constantly talk about the same idea, so it becomes ingrained and part of the shop culture.

How good will your candidate be in this task? Can they articulate the vision? Do they even have one?


There has to be a plan.

A good coach approaches the workload in an organized and efficient manner. “This task is worked on first, and here’s the next one.” Duties are assigned. Everyone knows their role in the endeavor.

Downtime is frowned upon, and everyone knows what to do when things slow down.

Don’t have anything to do? “If you can lean, you can clean” is just one example of what a good coach would say.

Or, finding out what we can do to get ahead for tomorrow is even better.

Think about how your candidate has shown skills in planning. Can they scheme and organize everything to get things handled on time?


Good coaches hold their teams accountable.

You want the best players on the field, but a good coach lets inexperienced team members try their hand. An honest effort is rewarded with more training. Everyone is always getting better. Apathy and indecision are dealt with immediately.

If your candidate hasn’t managed before, are they personally accountable for their own work?

Excuse makers rarely make good managers. If there is always a reason why their work isn’t up to snuff, don’t expect they will manage your team any better.


Good coaches say thank you. They publically praise. You know you have a good coach mentality in your shop when your crew naturally is motivated to do good work. Does the potential candidate bring out the best in others?

Are they morale builders?

How are they in giving credit? Have they demonstrated this type of trait without being asked?

It’s just part of who they are…

They Have a Proactive Mindset

When I look for potential leaders in a company, I want someone that is always thinking ahead. Are they projecting out and looking for problems? Do issues get solved before they explode in your face?

This could be just in the details of how they work.

There is a reason why they handle their tasks a little differently than the next person. When you can find someone that wants to get a jump on tomorrow before they leave today, that’s gold.

That’s what you nurture.

Proactive Basics

Look for an employee that shows these proactive traits in how they think or work.

Preventative Mindset

A good way to be proactive is to stop a problem before it starts.

One key thing to look for is someone that is vigilant and double-checks the information before beginning a task. An example could be someone that counts the shirts before the job and matches the quantity per size to the work order. They may spend extra time at the beginning or end of their shift making sure their equipment is maintained or set up properly.

They are usually fastidious and want their work area “just so”.

When you are thinking about your candidate, are they always on the lookout for a better method to solve problems?

If problems are resolved before they can happen, you know you have a winner.

They Can Seemingly Predict the Future

Proactive people aren’t caught by surprise. They have already thought about it and are asking those tough questions.

“You know if we don’t get those mediums in today, we won’t be able to run that job tomorrow.”

If you have someone on your staff that is connecting those dots instead of just simply working on what’s in front of them, that’s worth a gold star. These folks make good leaders as they can link ambiguous situations up with preventative actions to resolve problems early.

They see the big picture.

While that may be obvious to you, most production employees don’t have that vision.

Action Oriented

Proactive people don’t sit around. They aren’t waiting to be told what to do. They simply will keep working and get stuff done.

Hopefully, you have a few of these types on your payroll.

Action-oriented people make great proactive production managers, as the earlier tasks are completed, the better.

Procrastination is not an option.

Look for candidates that are always early about everything. Imagine if everyone in your company operated that way.

They Care About Company Culture

Why is this?

Simple. Good managers can link how people care about their jobs to the work they do.

If you are talking to someone about a leadership role in your shop, spend some time on this particular point.

Culture Basics

They might do this by simply showing up, but more often than not it’s about pitching in and being a leader.

Positive Effect

The bottom line is that employees that care make great managers. The overall vibe of the shop matters to them.

They aren’t going to let anyone disrupt that and will say something or take action.

Leadership to a large degree is about influencing others if you have a candidate that creates a positive atmosphere around them that could be hugely beneficial to your shop.

You want that positivity to be contagious.

When your staff gets stuff done because they want to contribute more than they are fearful for their job, that’s a shop culture worth noting.

Do you need to lock your doors to keep your production crews working? Your ownership needs to rethink its leadership team strategy.

Their Actions Are On Purpose

They make a point to volunteer. To stay late. Their hands go up first.

Why keep that spirit locked down?

Imagine if that attitude was driving the company culture instead of being in the herd?

Culture is Fun

It is being human. Want to have more involvement and engagement in your shop, so orders are handled fantastically? Create a culture where working there is actually fun.

This happens with the right person in charge.

When looking at a potential production manager, will this happen with them leading the troops?

Or are they the mayor of the no-fun zone?

They Can Make a Decision

You want a self-starter. A good manager is someone that wants, and maybe even craves, the need to run the show.

This comes from making decisions.

Decision Basics

When thinking about your candidate, do they strike you as someone that can operate on their own? Or are they a “just needed to check with you” type of leader?

You don’t want someone that will always seek permission. Permission is for wimps.

What’s better is someone that can run the entire department from nuts to bolts with very little involvement. They want that pressure. The need to excel is in their blood.

Decision-making means they can handle the opportunity and succeed.

So, in your gut…does that person you are thinking of hiring or promoting have that in them?

Command Decisions

These are the authoritative decisions you make as a leader. When things need to move quickly, you need the captain of the ship to tell the crew what to do.

There isn’t an argument.

Things. Get. Done.

Is your potential production manager in command?

Collaborative Decisions

These types of decisions are based on input from many voices. This isn’t asking for permission. This is getting good information and making a decision together based on the facts.

For example, maybe you have a large or complicated order to get out by Friday. This requires some shuffling to the schedule and maybe some overtime.

A collaborative decision may be reached by discussing the challenge with other departments or managers to get all the facts, and then deciding together on the plan.

For your hiring or promotion decision, has the candidate been involved in these types of scenarios before?

How did they work with the team?

Visionary Decisions

This type of decision is chock full of ambiguity usually.

It’s all about the long term. If you make a decision about something now, what will the effect be a few months later? Will the consequences be positive or negative?

For example, one way to reduce overtime is to staff a second shift. It makes sense, as you have the equipment already. You just need qualified staff to run the equipment.

Is your candidate capable of visualizing these types of decisions?

It’s a big step.

They Can Communicate Effectively

Good managers have to communicate with all levels of people. Customers. Other Managers. Ownership. Employees. Vendors.

This is a skill like any other.

Communication Basics

Effective communication is all about delivering meaning.

What is important?

Why should anyone care?

Active Listening

As you know, you have two ears and only one mouth. Great managers listen and try to comprehend what’s going on before they speak.

They may ask a lot of questions.

This is an attempt to understand the situation before they make a decision.

For your candidate, how are they in this regard?

Can They Communicate The “Why”?

This is important as this drives home the context of the situation.

Great managers aren’t shouting orders from across the shop floor. That’s not leading.

What you are searching for is someone that can deliver the reasoning behind things. “Here’s why this order is important.” or “Here’s why we need to keep the ink buckets clean”.

Can your candidate get your staff to get out of the silo mentality?

Action Messages

Production managers are in charge of the scheduled chaos. To get orders shipped on time, with quality and at the lowest cost possible, you need someone that can be the catalyst for action.

Everybody has different ways to deliver the “Hey, you need to do this” speech.

How is your candidate at delegating tasks and responsibilities?

Do they have a proven track record of success?

They Are Trustworthy

This is crucial.

By hiring or promoting a production manager, you are essentially giving them the keys to your shop and customers.

“Hey, here you go!”

Does your gut tell you that’s ok?

It’s a level of trust that is earned and not easily given. Even if you don’t know the candidate personally there are a few points to consider.

Trustworthiness Basics

Trustworthy people don’t let you down. They do what they say.

Ethics matter.

That queasy feeling in your gut that happens during a discussion or the interview? Those may be alarm bells going off as you start to spot the slimy character.

High-character people are humble. They are authentic. There isn’t an excuse or coverup.

They have integrity. It shows.

The Learning Never Ends

Trustworthy people will tell you they don’t know everything. The learning is constant.

They know that they can always get better and are resourceful enough to solve problems.

“Trying something new” is a story that repeats itself often in their career and work stories.


If you look back over time with your candidate, you should see a consistent pattern in how they work.

Trust happens when things are predictable. They always come in early. That important job went off without a problem. Emotions are even-tempered.

The bottom line is that you know what to expect from them. Do you have that with your candidate?


Good managers can put themselves in others’ shoes. They wouldn’t dream of treating others badly because they don’t want to be treated that way themselves.

It’s not always about them.

They aren’t selfish and want what’s best for their team and the company.

When your crew knows that their manager is always looking out for them and has their best interest at heart, motivating them to do what is right is easier.

Hiring or Promoting a Production Manager

Finding the right production manager to lead your team is an extremely important decision. After all, their daily decisions may have a tremendous impact on your company.

It’s no wonder that many owners are a bit nervous about this step.

During the hiring process, keep careful notes after each conversation with the candidates.

If you are interviewing several people, you may want to take your time. Even if you need to have a few interview sessions with the top choices, that’s ok.

Hire slow.

“An employee’s motivation is the direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager.” – Bob Nelson

“For a manager to be perceived as a positive manager, they need a four to one positive to negative contact ratio.” – Ken Blanchard

“The one word that makes a good manager – decisiveness.” – Lee Iacocca