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A leadman or a lead worker is an employee who runs a team of coworkers. A leadman doesn't have the same authority as a supervisor. The leadman can't hire, fire or promote the team, and the supervisor can overrule the leadman's decisions. Lead workers direct how a job is done, but the supervisor or foreman decides what the job is, who's on the team and what the result should be. Team leaders are needed in multiple industries, so the exact duties and the pay of leadmen will vary significantly.
What a Leadman Does
The one thing that leadmen in all industries and occupations have in common is that they lead others. Depending on the job, they may be in charge of one other worker or of several other workers. What are they leading their team to do? That depends on the field they're in. Suppose it's a construction job, and the foreman has a leadman taking charge of the construction crew. The leadman:
- Sees that the crew follows all of the required construction methods.
- Checks that the project is proceeding according to the construction plans, and that each job is done in the proper sequence.
- Helps with any necessary technical training or re-training of crew members.
- Understands the safety procedures and keeps the crew following the rules, even in a time crunch.
- Helps keep the work environment safe.
- Oversees the various aspects of the project such as digging footings, framing walls, installing windows and finishing the trim.
- Looks ahead, ordering needed supplies ahead of time and ensuring subcontractors are scheduled in advance.
- Keeps the team in line, seeing that workers show up on time and that they keep the job site clean.
- Participates in training programs, sometimes running them.
- Handles the site foreman's duties when he's absent.
- Takes care of paperwork.
The duties and responsibilities are completely different, if the leadman works in film or TV. Each production has a set decorator in charge of "dressing" the set, bringing bare walls and empty spaces to life with props, art and furniture. The leadman is a member of the art department assigned to lead the set dressers in arranging the decorations before a scene and clearing the set afterwards. In that scenario:
- The lead person ensures that the crew dresses the set in accordance with the decorator's designs and the art director's style.
- The leadman has an inventory list showing what items should appear in each scene and at each location. They use this to instruct the crew in placing everything.
- The lead person arrives at the soundstage before shooting starts to see that everything is set up in advance.
- The lead person organizes the crew to make the director's last minute set changes to make them happen.
- The lead worker sees that the crew clears up all decoration and props, storing these properly, once the scene wraps up.
- The leadman makes sure that the crew restores decorations as they were in the original layout, if a scene needs to be reshot.
An electrical leadman plans, schedules, assigns, and participates in electrical work. They ensure that linemen and electricians work according to the project schedule and without wasted time.
In any project, any job, any field, the lead worker has someone over them. It may be a foreman, meaning the supervisor of the construction site. It might the head of the leadman's department. At a small business, the supervisor might be the head of the company. Whoever is in charge, it's their job to check behind the leadman and confirm they're running a tight ship. If the project is going off the rails, the supervisor needs to direct the lead worker in getting things back on track.
Communication between the lead person and the supervisor is essential to getting the job done right. Unclear or inaccurate instructions can steer the lead worker in the wrong direction. If the supervisor fails to point out problems or correct the course, the leadman can't improve. Ideally the supervisor tackles the problems in a one-to-one conversation: they tell the leadman the problem, propose solutions and give them a time frame to fix things. Then they check back to see if the lead worker made the necessary fixes.
A lead person in the construction industry may be on staff, transferring from job to job as each project wraps up. In film and TV, the set decorator's lead worker is usually a freelancer. However, if they get a gig working for a TV series, they may stay with the series for the run of the show, or at least, for a season. A set decorator who likes a leadman's work on one production may hire that leadman or leadmen for other work.
Becoming a Leadman
Because leadmen work in diverse fields, they have diverse career paths. The skills needed to become a team leader in the construction industry and those needed on a prime-time TV set differ. Any given employer may have specific requirements for the position.
That's not to say that there aren't some similarities. A leadman or leadwoman in any industry needs good people skills to manage a team. They need to be comfortable in a leadership role. They need initiative to get the job done, rather than waiting for orders from higher-ups. Being highly organized is essential. And leads must be willing to take criticism and direction from their supervisors or bosses.
Becoming a film or TV leadman doesn't require a specific degree or education. Getting the right degree, such as film production or theatrical design, can give you a good understanding of the production process and the techniques of set dressing. A lead person needs an eye for detail as they have to see the props and decoration placed in exactly the same place every time the production uses the same set. You should be able to lift at least 50 pounds, not be afraid of heights and able to operate carpentry tools.
Usually, before becoming a lead person, you'll need to prove yourself in lower level jobs. Start by working as an assistant to a set decorator or props head, or find low-level jobs in the art direction department. This helps you make connections who may promote you to leadman, and it gives you some hands-on experience developing the skills you need.
If you wish to become a leadman in the construction industry, you probably don't need a college degree. Employers might require a high school diploma or a GED, but they might not request these, if you have a solid track record in the industry. Experience in building construction is a must, and employers may want certifications or licenses, as well.
Just as with getting a job as a TV leadman, a construction leadman must work up to that position. You start by proving yourself as a regular construction worker, whether in framing, carpentry or in some other skill. Once you know the industry, and you develop some familiarity with the world of construction sites, you can push for more responsibility. Some companies lay out specific career paths for workers who want to become a lead person. The path can include seminars and classes, followed by on-the-job training. The latter could include having the aspiring leadman give directions to the crew; double-checking that the time sheets are filled out properly; and managing tools and equipment.