It Takes a Team: Collaboration and Respect are the Keys to Keeping the Wheels Moving

As a professional truck driver, you know that you can’t do it alone. Success depends upon a team to keep the wheels moving.

That’s where your fleet leader comes in.

What is the most important element to that relationship? To the three Transport America fleet leaders interviewed for this article, the answer is two things: collaboration and respect.

Sarah Drury has worked at Transport America for eight years. She started in customer service, and about a year ago, became a fleet leader, overseeing a small group company drivers and one owner-operator.

Fleet Leader-Drury

Her day starts at 6:30 a.m. when she sends out the daily safety message to her team. And throughout the day, she’s constantly sending updates and directions to alert drivers about bad weather or traffic jams that could delay her drivers. She also adjusts schedules for drivers who need to be home for specific events.

“I know every one of my drivers by their first name,” she says, “because it’s that important. We’re a team, and I want each of them to know that I’ve got their back.”

Sarah grew up on a dairy farm in Sebeka, Minn., a small town in central Minnesota. She didn’t imagine she’d be working for a trucking company growing up, but as a farm kid, she’s comfortable around big trucks, truck drivers, and hard work.

“To my drivers, the most important thing is family,” Sarah says, “A tough day is when I don’t have a load waiting for one of my drivers. They don’t like to be sitting around. They want to keep moving so they can be home for their families.”

How does she make it work?

“I think it’s about listening really well,” she says. “My drivers don’t like to be micromanaged, so that’s where we work closely together. I listen to them. They listen to me. And we say ‘thank you’ a lot. That’s when I know I’m doing my job well — when one of my drivers thanks me for the work I’m doing.”

Walking in the Driver’s Boots

With more than 40 years of experience in the trucking profession, Jay Klein has been around the bend a few times. He spent eight years as a driver before moving over to the desk side. Today, he oversees a group of fleet leaders at Transport America, as well as a team of 15 Transport America company drivers.

Fleet Leader-Jay Klein

“Because I drove, I understand that it can be a lonely business for our drivers,” says Jay. “And that’s what I try to convey to our fleet leaders – we’re their human link. We’re the voice on the other side of the Qualcomm.”

To Klein, the team of Transport America drivers that he oversees are counting on him to keep them going where they need to be going.

The key to this collaboration, says Klein, is working together and good listening skills.

“We work with our drivers. They see things from their perspective, and we see things from our perspective, and together, we lay out the problem and come up with possible solutions,” Jay says. “Together, we’re empowered to make decisions that keep the wheels moving.”

Klein adds, “that’s why I’m with Transport America — they empower us. That’s at the very heart and soul of this company.”

Baptized by Fire

Paul Dalbec graduated from college in 2013. Today, he’s leading a team of 29 owner-operators who are driving throughout the continental US.

Fleet Leader Dalbec, 2

What attracted him to Transport America was its culture.

“To me, it’s about mutual expectations,” Paul says, “My drivers are expecting me to hustle for them.  Likewise, I’m expecting them to tell me where they are at and how they’re doing. It really does boil down to lots of open communication.”

To get to know his drivers better, Paul takes his drivers out for lunch at Wildcats, a local restaurant near Transport America’s Eagan support center.

Known by some of his drivers as “Junior,” Paul says those face-to-face meetings help him understand what motivates his drivers.

“Every one of my drivers is unique and different. They all have different needs,” he says. “For some, what matters most is taking home a big paycheck. For others, it’s about being home for their families. But regardless of the differences between drivers, they all want to be respected, and that starts with listening and taking the time to get to know one another.”

Building strong relationships with his drivers is important to Paul, because he realizes that not every day goes as planned.

“We’ve all had them. There are simply some days that just don’t go well. Those are the days where you feel baptized by fire, such as when a driver’s truck goes down, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or we don’t have freight ready for a driver,” Paul says. “When you have strong relationships with your drivers, and they see that you’re doing everything you can for them, then it makes those moments a little more bearable.”

“And then, there are days when everything goes right, and that’s what makes it all worth it,” he adds. “Those are the days when we’re cheering each other on. Those are the days I love.”