HAVERHILL — Supervisors can make or break a company, according to Joseph Ryan, who teaches a new course in supervisory/management skills at Northern Essex Community College.

Poor supervisors have been known to drive away good workers while an enlightened boss will motivate his or her subordinates to be productive – and stay with the company, Ryan said.

"The quality of leadership has everything to do with the success of an organization," said Ryan, who worked in management in manufacturing companies before switching to academia.

The Art and Practice of Effective Supervision is not a typical college course. Most of the students are over 30 and are working full-time jobs. Some have college degrees, some do not.

Their companies sent them to Northern Essex to receive this training. They are not taking the course for college credit, but rather to become better leaders of their fellow workers.

Ryan said he urges students to embrace the idea of "servant leadership" and encourages them to ask the people they supervise, "What do you need from me?"

Patrick Nolan, of Haverhill, is among the students enrolled in the course. Nolan in employed by Neuco, a Lawrence company that installs natural gas pipelines.

Nolan probably knows everything there is to know about installing gas lines. A graduate of Whittier Regional Technical School and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he's been doing it since 1978, when he went to work for what was then the Haverhill Gas Co. Today it's part of National Grid.

He began working for Neuco in 1988 and has advanced through the ranks, from foreman to supervisor of six crews. While Nolan knows how to safely install or replace gas lines – he pointed out the job requires several certifications – he said he never had any training in supervising people.

"This is new," he said about his recent promotion to his current job. The course, he said, is giving him "the knowledge to lead people."

He's learning to work more effectively with the different personalities that make up the crews he oversees, he said.

Kelly Galante is the international customer service supervisor for Charm Science Inc., an Andover firm that manufactures food quality and safety diagnostic testing equipment. The company's product "makes sure our food is safe," she explained.

Galante, who earned a biology degree at Framingham State University and has been with Charm Science for 21 1/2 years, said the course has given her a "fresh perspective" on how to lead people.

She has learned to adjust to the different personalities in her company. Some of them are happy to chat for a few minutes while others prefer fewer words, she noted.

"The people I work with are amazing," she said.

"Joe is awesome," she said of Ryan. She described him as "engaging" and "hilarious" – good traits for an effective supervisor, she said.

Galante said the course has reinforced her thinking that employees appreciate being appreciated – and perform better when their bosses recognize their efforts.

Carrie McIver, who works with Galante at Charm Science as a quality control supervisor, said the course has taught her to be more mindful of nonverbal cues when talking with her team. Rolling the eyes, sighing, grimacing and other expressions of annoyance do not bring out the best in people, she said.

Ryan, who graduated from Northern Essex in 1979 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Amherst College, said much of what he teaches "isn't rocket science." Yet many organizations do not encourage supervisors to use effective techniques, he pointed out.

One Merrimack Valley example of effective supervision, he said, is the Market Basket supermarket chain. Owner Arthur T. Demoulas pays his workers well, provides good benefits and treats them with respect, he said. Managers and supervisors are expected to follow his example.

So what happened three years ago when Arthur S. Demoulas tried to take over the company? Workers stopped working, customers boycotted the stores – and Arthur T. prevailed, Ryan noted.

The four-hour supervisory/management skills classes are taught once a week for 10 weeks. For more information, contact Kathryn Ronaldson, program manager for corporate education at Northern Essex, at 978-659-1237 or kronaldson@necc.mass.edu.

The course is paid for by a Workforce Training Grant from the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

"When employees feel valued and respected, their engagement and performance will grown and everyone benefits," Ryan said.

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