Updated: May 4
For an owner-operator to be successful in the trucking business, they have to do a lot more than just pick up and drop off loads. They have to focus on safety, maximizing uptime, truck maintenance, cutting costs, and preparing for taxes. On top of all that, a successful owner-operator understands the importance of maintaining good relationships. Communication and relationship building skills are a big part of running a successful trucking business.
I ask many owner-operators “How good is your communication with your driver manager?” I also ask, “How good is your relationship with your driver manager?” Building this relationship and level of communication is not easy and will not just happen overnight. Many owner-operators could improve on their communication and relationship with their driver manager.
At ATBS, we review each driver’s financials with them in person or over the phone. Drivers with good attitudes commonly have good miles and good settlement checks. Likewise, many drivers that have very negative attitudes usually have low miles and a lower overall income. Many drivers who change carriers blame the dispatcher or driver manager as the reason for their switch. However, these drivers seem to encounter the same problems at their new carrier. Successful owners work through problems and develop a plan to resolve it rather than abandoning it.
I interviewed a driver that left his carrier because he couldn’t get along with his driver manager, and there was an incentive to sign on with a new carrier. He said that once he got there he had the same problems and headaches as before. He admitted that he needed to develop a better relationship with the people that help to him keep moving. The grass is not always greener on the other side! Once he came back to his original carrier he had a greater appreciation for what his driver manager and load planners were trying to do for him. He now tries hard every day to make their job easier, and they have a much better working relationship.
Having a good attitude doesn’t just apply to the drivers. Dispatchers, driver managers, and load planners also need to stay positive and listen to the drivers. Turnover in trucking is high because drivers feel like they can do better somewhere else. Carrier employees should work hard to develop strong working relationships with every driver. If a driver is unable to build a good relationship with their driver manager, they should meet with them to find out how to resolve their issues. It is possible that a different fleet or different driver manager may have a personality that will be better for them. This would be a much better solution than leaving that carrier.
I asked a driver manager what his owner-operators could do to help improve their relationship. He said, “Early communication of any and all problems.” A lot of drivers say “I am not going to do your job for you and you should have already known there was a problem.” This may be true if a driver manager only looks after a few trucks. Keep in mind that the driver manager may have 45 to 50 trucks to focus on, while the driver has one to run. Drivers should not feel like they are working “for” a driver manager but rather working “with” them. With proactive communication many problems can be avoided. Once a good line of communication is established, the driver manager knows what to expect from each owner-operator, and therefore the owner-operator knows what to expect from the driver manager.
There is not a button that a driver can hit to be successful. They need to juggle many different things to ultimately succeed. Safety, time management, minimizing operating costs, and building a strong relationship with key people inside the organization will help a driver have a long, successful career.