How to Become the Best Reliability Leader for Your Reliable Plant

Mike Dawson

A good maintenance and reliability program is sometimes hard to find. I often wonder why it’s so hard to keep industrial equipment running and producing like it was designed. Like most things, the answer is complex and requires some insight. And the right leadership.

Organizational Matters and Where Reliability Begins

Firstly, most “C-suite” executives do not understand or have never really been exposed to the value of a high-reliability plant. Most production people think maintenance is second class and the only priority is to produce. Maintenance organizations are focused on fixing what breaks as fast as possible — not keeping it from breaking. 
These organizational disconnects can prove to be a real challenge to a reliable plant. 
Then, there is also the complexity of maintaining aging assets while still achieving production targets. Maintenance requires knowing what your assets are and how critical they are to your production. You also must know how they have or will fail, how to keep them from failing, and fix them if they do fail. 
This process includes the basics such as like planning and scheduling, proactive maintenance strategies, computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), and reliability engineering. This is followed by trends and technologies including Condition Base Maintenance, Asset Performance Management, predictive and prescriptive maintenance, AI/ML, data analytics, and more. 
It’s also important to remember that the reliability process starts with design. Reliability, an inherent design characteristic, can only be made worse by our manufacturing, installation, commissioning, maintenance, and operations practices — each of which can cause significant downtime and added maintenance/repair costs. 
Like I said, it can get complex. 
If that weren’t enough, the complexity of supporting business functions or partnerships, such as specialty vendors processes that supply parts, take care of your people, keep up with the money, etc., can further complicate the reliability process. These functions provide a headwind for your maintenance and reliability team and rarely see the impact of their contributions or impediments to reliability.
Lastly, and most importantly, you have your maintenance workforce and their leadership team to consider throughout the process. Are they trained and certified in current best practices of their profession? Do they understand and practice the basic principles of reliability-centered maintenance? 
The answer to achieving a reliable plant is to establish and consistently practice good reliability-centered maintenance with all the systems, tools, processes, and people aligned with this common objective. If all parts are connected and contributing to the goal, the organization’s performance will improve significantly within a relatively short time.

A Reliable Leader for a More Reliable Plant

"From my experience, I’ve found the technological aspects of reliability are easy to nail down, while the people aspects are much harder. Alignment, engagement, and overcoming resistance to change are the Holy Grail."
This brings me to the primary point of this article. To get to this optimum state of maximized uptime and lower maintenance costs, you need a reliability leader savvy in all the above, a certified CMRP, CRL, or equivalent with sustained C-Suite support. This leader must be technically competent and comfortable interacting with people in all facets of the business — from maintenance craft to the board. 
The leader is constantly listening, teaching, mentoring, and breaking down barriers to move the reliability forward. They engage the maintenance workforce to align them with the company’s goals and to make sure they know the importance of their contributions. 
The leader should be OSHA 30 certified and a zealot for safety, helping workers and contractors spot and avoid hazards and not be schedule driven at the expense of safety. Sponsoring and empowering an employee-led safety committee is a good way to inspire the team with your safety-first attitude.
After all, a reliable plant is a safe plant.
The reliability leader should be obsessed with failure — tracking it, understanding it, and eliminating it. His team must have the same attitude. Many plants do not have effective Root Cause Analysis and Defect Elimination and, therefore, have repetitive problems that can oftentimes be avoided.
It takes discipline and organized leadership to make sure a good RCA program is in place.
From my experience, I’ve found the technological aspects of reliability are easy to nail down, while the people aspects are much harder. Alignment, engagement, and overcoming resistance to change are the Holy Grail. The leader should be trained and certified in organizational change management and have their teams trained in the various roles needed for effective change. This is crucial to align the workforce and implement new tools and technologies
To be truly effective, the reliability leader must develop trust from the workforce by being trustworthy. This can be done by fostering consistent communication often through newsletters, emails, town hall meetings, and most importantly, by getting out into the plant.
Your people need to see you celebrating their achievements and solving their problems. They need to see you push back on management when it makes sense and hold the line when you need to. 
This builds respect and open communication within your teams. By listening to and encouraging input from your teams, the workforce can become part of the solution as the organization implements change and establishes better reliability.

Be Your Company's Franchise QB

True reliability leaders play a vital role for the company and workers. The truly effective leaders are good communicators and move fluidly from the plant floor to the board room with confidence and charisma. 
If you want reliability excellence in your plant, you must do all the things outlined here and more. And you must do them well. True reliability leaders are as valuable as the franchise quarterback for an NFL team. Although they may be rare, with the right development and prioritization of organizational processes, these leaders can inspire their workforce to rise to their optimum level and ensure the company’s success in profit and reliability.
Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author