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4 Fundamental Steps of Basic Supervision of Volunteers 4 Fundamental Steps of Basic Supervision of Volunteers
Basic Supervision of People and Volunteers Strong, solid, organized supervision of people, especially volunteers will ensure your cause or project is a success.  In... 4 Fundamental Steps of Basic Supervision of Volunteers

Basic Supervision of People and Volunteers

Strong, solid, organized supervision of people, especially volunteers will ensure your cause or project is a success.  In this article, I will explain the military and the fire service simple four step process for successful supervision:
• Plan
• Organize
• Direct
• Control

Plans should be written down for three reasons: 1) to have a written copy/record of what was done;  2) to make sure you covered all the bases; and 3) in case someone else has to step up and take the lead.

PLAN: A common saying is “plan your work, and work your plan.” In other words, have a plan and use it. A plan is a scheme or design to get something done or make something happen. We might also call it a detailed layout of steps necessary to accomplish a goal.

ORGANIZE: Getting your “crew” together is the next step. This is also referred to as “staffing up.” You staff up to fit the need of your project, then organize your staff into components and sub-leaders to better get the job done.

DIRECT: You orchestrate and lead the project to ensure that your staff and troops are getting the job done the way you envisioned in the plan, and as per your organization and goals.

CONTROL: You set measurements and feedback mechanisms to ensure the plan is being met and the goals are being accomplished. You make adjustments as things go haywire – which they usually do at some point. You renew (revise) your plan as things go well or poorly. You control the outcome of your effort by adjusting your plan as needed.

Now let’s get into more detail on the concept of Plan, Organize, Direct and Control.


A good plan with some simple organization leads to a great day of trail work.

Let’s talk about planning as if you were the boss/leader. Make sure your plan is well thought out and fits the situation. Put together a small planning team – three or four folks – to help you develop your plan.

Your job is to communicate your vision clearly to your planning team so they can help you formulate a plan. You, the boss or Incident Commander (IC), do this by setting a vision; laying out goals; specifying objectives; and providing them expectations. We will discuss this more shortly.

It’s important to know that a good plan has a good chance of making a good project. Lack of planning will lead to feeling a lack of accomplishment or lack of productivity.

Step one is to make sure your planning team is clear on the mission or goal of the project, to include your goals, objectives and expectations.

Goals, Objectives, and Expectations
Goals are usually broad, while objectives come with targets and timelines. Expectations give us the rules of the game. The goal of a football game is to win, right? Objectives would be the individual touchdowns and yardage gains.

Making sure the goals, objectives and expectations are clear within the group.

The boss/IC might relay the mission or overarching goal like this:

“Our mission is to complete the list of repairs given us on the two miles of trail (from A to C on the map) assigned to our crew by the end of day two.”

Expectations are more personal or individual. They might sound like this:

“I don’t like surprises, so please keep me informed of any issues that might affect completing our project on time.”

Here’s another of my personal expectations: “A complaint is never legitimate until it’s voiced to someone who can fix it – – not at the office coffee pot.”

TIP: If it makes you smile, write an expectation to achieve it. If it makes you frown, write an expectation to avoid it.

Next we need to take our plan and build an organization to make it happen.


Common management science says that any one supervisor can handle five to seven subordinates effectively. Beyond that, things get a little fuzzy and messy; communications break down quickly.

So, you want to break up your staff into elements, crews or teams – kind of like the Army uses squads and platoons.

You can assign team leaders to various functions or even geographical areas. But foremost is that there is one overall boss. There should be only one boss – the Incident Commander (IC).

Set up your teams and crews with a clear chain of command and an work assignment. Don’t forget to include cook crews or paperwork teams as part of your organization.



Don’t forget to include a cook crew/team in your organization if appropriate for your project.


To “direct” the incident simply means to ensure the goals, objectives and expectations are being met in order to accomplish the mission. It means giving instructions, coaching volunteers, and following the plan.

To be a volunteer boss, without the advantage of the patches and badges of authority, you must learn to coach and nurture. You need to practice the techniques of garnering willing cooperation from your volunteer work force. It is a three-step process.

→First, make sure you understand the task at hand and are in communications with your boss (club, Board of Directors, etc.) – that there is no confusion about your job, the task, the expectations, and the job you’re about to supervise.

→Second, clearly communicate the plan to your volunteers; make sure everyone has a job; clearly relay the expectations and objectives; draw pictures in the dirt where necessary; and let your crews know your job as their boss.

→Third, watch for idle hands or confused/frustrated looks in your volunteers. When you see someone seemingly without a job, ask them what’s up. Use a coaching or asking type voice and approach. Don’t slam them with a “get busy” command.

Make sure everyone has a job and the right tools!

But rather say something like, “Do you have a handle on what we’re doing here?? This leaves you an opening to further explain the project and the expectations or whatever is missing from their understanding. On the other hand, they may have a better solution to the task at hand and are just waiting for you to ask them. Make things happen; don’t just let things happen.

As a boss, try not to spend too much time on the end of a tool rather than the end of a pen or clipboard. Many of us have the tendency to “do something” rather than supervise something. If this is you, accept that fact, and work on getting over it.

To be a good volunteer supervisor who gives people a reason to stay in the game and enjoy keeping our sport alive, “you gotta supervise!”

I’m not suggesting that a trail project supervisor or an event coordinator can’t get their hands dirty or jump in and help where needed. But one person working gets one thing done; one person supervising seven people gets seven things done.

To “direct” means to guide the course of action to accomplish the plan. A lot of how you do this depends on using the coaching techniques mentioned above. It will make a big difference in how much control you have.

To “control” means to have mechanisms in place that tell you how things are progressing and whether you’re on track. It means having measurements or time checks, as well as control points. In the simplest of examples, if you have two miles of road with the workload equally spread out along the entire length of the road, at the one-mile mark you should still have half your allotted time left. This is a control mechanism that tells you whether you’re on your time schedule and will accomplish the mission.

Happy volunteers have real jobs and clear expectations, and big smiles.


In order to effectively “control,” you have to be observant of the time schedule, the work progress, and the productivity of your volunteers. To be a good boss (in control), you then adapt to the situation and make adjustments in the work plan in order to fulfill your mission.


If you plan your work and work your plan, you have a greater chance of success. Developing an organization that fits the job at hand is critical to making sure everyone has a boss and a job. Directing the actions just ensures the project will get done. And by adding control measures, you further increase your chances of getting the job done on time.

Del Albright Ambassador

Internationally published author; WorldWide ModernJeeper Abassador and 2014 Inductee of the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. Del has been involved in the Jeeping Lifestyle for longer then most of us can count. His educational and mentorship programs have helped developed warfighters in the ongoing battle to keep Public Lands Open to the Public.

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