What does it take to be a good Field Supervisor? “You have to be a people person,” says Roberta Robertson. “You need to be able to assert authority in creative ways in order to diffuse tense situations. And it’s important to listen–even if someone is chomping you out. Each individual is unique, and you need to be flexible and adapt to different personalities. You have to be that chameleon.”
Last October, Roberta joined Omnitrans as a field supervisor. Previously she worked part time for the City of Redlands Police Department in their community service division. Her full time job was working with probationary kids in a youth facility where she was a safety and security supervisor. She also has 15 years’ experience as a coach operator and drove buses for OCTA for 12 years. Her strength, she says, is conflict resolution and diffusing situations.
“The most challenging part of the job was coming here as an outside hire and trying to build relationships with the coach operators. It took a little time for them to see that I know my job, that I have high integrity, and that I listen to them and treat them fairly. One of my roles is to counsel, but I also have to report things that could be a problem or safety issue. We’re all here for a common goal, to provide the best service we can to our customers.”
Mentoring is something Roberta understands well. She’s devoted much of her life to counseling young adults and encouraging them to reach for their dreams. She’s a volunteer in the “Midnight Hoops” basketball program at the Redlands Community Center which provides a supervised, safe haven for youth. “I grew up in the inner city, where there was a lot of gang activity. We lived in a low income neighborhood where people didn’t have any goals and never knew anything other than the street they grew up in. As a kid I knew early on I wanted something different. I started playing sports and discovered I had a gift for basketball, averaging 30 points a game. It became my ticket out, allowing me to go to college. That’s part of the reason I like talking to kids. I tell them if I can do it, you can do it. But you do have to grab the opportunity when it presents itself. If you’re motivated, a hard worker and have a desire to get things done there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”
Roberta’s work ethic, self-discipline, versatility and personal rapport provide a strong foundation for her role as a Field Supervisor. The job requires wearing many hats, and often supervisors won’t know from one day to the next what their schedules will entail. They might have to investigate a customer complaint or commendation, serve papers, do a write up, handle a special task they are assigned or even drive a bus if the agency is short-handed. Often they are responding to calls, fixing fare boxes, or addressing customer service issues. Sometimes they are needed to set up detours due to construction. Approximately 7 hours of time each day is spent in the field. The safe operation of buses for both passenger and drivers is always a priority, and the bus agency wants customers to be happy with their experience so they will ride again.
“I’m out of my van more than I am in which is a little different for this culture,” says Roberta. “I don’t take complaints on the street—I guide them to our 800 number for that. But I do walk downtown a lot and talk to people. It’s a good way to build rapport with and get information from the riders who use our buses every day. It humanizes the bus service for them and earns their respect. It makes it easier to do my job. And if something goes down where I need help, they might remember me and have my back. I do the same with the operators. When I check in with a driver in the field, I always greet them with a smile and try to bring them a cold water. How you treat people has a domino effect. If you help them have a great day, that attitude spills over to everyone else they deal with.”
Ultimately, a Field Supervisor’s responsibility is to observe and report. Primarily their investigations are driven by complaints or commendations reported to the Omnitrans customer service line. A Field Supervisor may be assigned go into the field to watch what’s going on and take notes or asked to query video to verify the information received. Both complaints and commendations are investigated thoroughly to ensure their validity and to ensure they are connected to the correct driver. This can be difficult to do because often a customer doesn’t have the operator’s badge ID and coach number. They just have an area and approximate time frame, which takes longer to research. If performance standards are down, it is up to the Field Supervisor to figure out what’s happening.
“It’s hard when you know someone’s job is on the line,” says Roberta. “But it’s about being fair and adhering to the process.
The goal of the agency is to change the behavior through education and progressive discipline. Most of the time guidance and mentoring, along with classes designed to help improve customer service and driving skills, is enough to correct the problem.
“Operators have to understand the type of job they have. I was 21 when I started driving. I was such a little skinny chick, it used to scare people. Passengers would tease me and say ‘Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?’” Roberta laughs. “It’s an immense obligation to know that you’re responsible for every person on that bus, for how well you’re driving and for how you talk to people. Anybody could be on that bus at any time. Once a mayor was on my bus and I didn’t know it. You don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize your reputation or the reputation of the company you work for.”
–Juno Kughler Carlson
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