roofer with safety harness
Contractor Resources

The Importance of a Roofing Foreman


A roofing foreman is the leader of a roofing work crew. Roofing supervisors direct work, manage employees and liaise with the homeowner. Men and women can both be roofing foremen, but the term roofing supervisor hasn’t caught on everywhere. As supporters of women in roofing, we’ll use both terms interchangeably.

In small companies, the business owner may do all the supervising on the roof and have no need for a roofing foreman. However, most business owners can benefit from the support of another on-site supervisor, especially as they grow their business and start to take on multiple jobs at once. In larger roofing operations, multiple foremen are necessary to ensure the safety, productivity, coordination and work quality of the employees in each crew or team.

As they play such a critical role in overseeing roofing work, quality roofing foremen can be a significant asset to the company, while less skilled foremen may be a risk. Poor supervisors may undermine the quality of work and change company culture for the worse. Exceptional supervisors may take their valuable skills elsewhere before you can replace them.

Understanding the importance of a roofing foreman, and the benefits and risks he or she could bring to the table, is critical for your success as a roofing business owner. We’ll discuss what you should consider when assessing your foreman below.

The Responsibilities of a Roofing Supervisor

What does a roofing foreman do? As the business owner, the job description of your supervisors is up to you. In every company, a roofing foreman may take on slightly different tasks. However, the most basic responsibility of a foreman is on-site supervision of other employees as they complete the roofing work. Quality roofing supervisors have several years of experience performing roofing work and now have the skills to direct other people to do that job. Their tasks usually include:

  • Direct workflow: While all roofers will have training about how to perform their tasks, the supervisor will ensure that employees complete those tasks correctly and in the proper order. The foreman helps ensure that the team installs the roof properly and meets its deadlines. An adept foreman will have their own management style, but will also adjust their approach slightly for the needs of each person they are responsible for.
  • Manage employee time: When should employees break and for how long? Foremen ensure that roofers stay productive by managing their time. Ensuring proper break schedules may also be a matter of health and safety, especially to mitigate the effect of high heat conditions on employees.
  • Correct errors: Mistakes happen in even the most experienced and careful roofing teams. It is the roofing supervisor’s job to catch those mistakes and correct them, to ensure you’re delivering a quality roof and to help roofers refine their skills.
  • Ensure employees follow safety standards: A quality roof foreman will have safety as a top priority. While roofers should receive safety training, it is easy to become lax in safety standards, and supervisors can ensure compliance even when roofers grow tired of following them. A strong supervisor will create a culture of safety, where best practices become habitual.
  • Deal with unexpected circumstances: What happens if the team finds asbestos on the roof, the homeowner’s dog gets loose, or it starts to pour rain? Your roofing supervisor is the experienced person whom you can trust to make the right call and rally other roofers to do the same. Although, they should also know when unusual circumstances require your input.
  • Inform you: It is easy to get stressed as you start to spend less time working on the job site and more time managing the business. A quality roof supervisor will keep you up to date with progress reports and other important information, such as employee injuries or customer feedback. Over time, as trust builds, and you both communicate better, what you’ll want them to update you about will likely change.
  • Communicate with homeowner: Foremen may alert your customer when they arrive on the job, how the work is going, and when it is complete. They may answer customer questions and even participate in the roofing sales and follow-up processes.
  • Ensure employees clean the property: Roofing supervisors will look over the job site after the work is done, looking for stray nails and debris to clean up.

woman working on roof

Rooftop foreman responsibilities are the most essential, but a quality foreman can branch out from these tasks considerably. This is especially true in smaller companies, where your roofing supervisor may be your right hand, following through on other tasks that are unrelated to the work on the roof. Some tasks you may consider adding to your foreman’s plate include:

  1. Schedule employees: Foremen know which roofers work best together and have a more detailed view of what is going on in the lives of each roofer. They may have invaluable input scheduling overtime, time off and work. Other foremen may be capable of handling the task independently and can take it off your hands.
  2. Quote and order materials: You or the sales team may be responsible for ordering materials, but the roofing supervisor can also take on this duty. They have experience with how much material jobs will typically use. That can make them invaluable for quoting and estimating roofing jobs too or just improving your estimating process and passing the responsibility onto your sales team or purchasing team.
  3. Follow up with customers: Your sales team may reach out to former customers to ensure they are happy with the quality of work they received and to encourage them to review or refer your business. However, the foreman is also a great person to place in this role, as they have a detailed understanding of what kind of work was performed on the roof, have likely already had the most direct contact with the homeowners while doing the work and have the knowledge to answer customers’ questions.
  4. Maintain safety equipment: Foremen are well-positioned to take on the role of managing your business’ safety equipment. They know which personal fall arrest system (PFAS) is showing signs of wear and needs to be replaced. They can inspect safety equipment regularly and know how each performs while on the job.
  5. Employee reprimand: Roofing supervisors will naturally be involved in employee discipline while on the job. However, you may also delegate some more formal employee reprimand tasks to them. You may ask them to be involved in, or take ownership of, steps in the disciplinary process you have at your workplace. This may include writing up formal acknowledgements of employee issues, creating plans to help employees improve and escalating performance issues to you or your human resources leader when appropriate.
  6. Employee training: While on the roof, foremen will direct employees and offer them tips and advice. However, they can also play a role in the more formal training process.

replacing rotting roof

With all these potential tasks, it is important to remember to assign foremen those tasks that match their skill set. So, understanding what your foreman is capable of (or should be, if you’re hiring) is critical when defining their role in your company.

The best roofing foreman has skills that balance out your own. For example, if you are a highly supportive employer who has a hard time disciplining your staff, you may want to seek out a roofing supervisor who knows how to be tough and fair. Or, if you know that you could use support organizing your material ordering and delivery, and building relationships with your suppliers, you could seek out a foreman who already has this knowledge, contacts your suppliers and knows how to drive a hard bargain.

Whatever you choose to ask your roofing site supervisor to do, defining their role in writing is critical to prevent tasks from falling through the cracks. Also, this clarity helps employees know where to direct their concerns and prevents crossed wires. Otherwise, you may find employees go to you both with the same concern, duplicating your efforts and the foreman’s, and creating the possibility for you to undermine each other.

roofer wearing hard hat

How Quality Roofing Supervisors Benefit You

You and your business will reap many benefits when you get a strong roofing foreman who performs their job well. Some of the most important ways a roofing supervisor enhances your roofing business include:

  1. Spend your time elsewhere: As a business owner, there are many plates you need to keep spinning. If you must directly supervise every job, you need to perform all of your other business tasks outside those work hours and there may not be enough time in the day for that. By taking over the job of direct supervision, a quality roofing supervisor frees you to spend your time running the other aspects of your business. Choose a foreman you trust and avoid micromanaging them to make the most of this benefit. The more you can delegate to them, the more time you will have for the tasks you have to do yourself.
  2. Gain new perspective and innovation: Your foreman will have years of experience and know why things should be done a certain way. But their experience will be different than yours. Listening to their solutions and bouncing problems off them can help you refine business practices and innovate brand new ones, both of which can make your business more efficient and profitable. There is nothing like a second pair of eyes, especially when they are experienced.
  3. Improve customer service: While not all foremen will serve as the main point of contact for customers, many do. With their advanced communication skills and up-to-date knowledge of conditions on the job site, foremen are often the ideal point of contact for customers. While you might be bogged down with new payroll software or other business tasks, a roofing supervisor’s attention is always on the job at hand, so they can always be responsive and reassuring. This level of customer service can create loyal customers who are more willing to refer your business.
  4. Enhance staff performance: Roofing supervisors can motivate, correct and mentor all the staff working under them, which can lead to significant improvements in staff productivity and performance over time. Further, designating someone who is in charge on the job site, instead of allowing all staff to work as equals, creates a sense of accountability and helps roofers stay on task. Strong leaders will create teams that do more in less time and also produce better-quality work.
  5. Increase safety and awareness: No roofing company wants to let safety fall to the wayside, and a foreman can be a great partner in keeping it top of mind. Not only can a foreman assess how safe employees are while working, but they can also keep up to date with changing safety standards issued by local authorities and new options for safety equipment. Designating some time for your supervisor to brush up on their safety knowledge can be a wise investment.
  6. Mitigate labor issues: Across the industry, roofers struggle to retain quality employees and to recruit new help. Hiring a foreman can help alleviate some of these challenges. Experienced foremen may bring along their own roofing crew. Their skills can also help you attract talent and nurture new talent faster.


How To Measure the Success of Your Roofing Supervisor

While those are the general benefits that a roofing supervisor can bring to your business, if you want to know how much impact your specific foreman has, you may have to dig into the weeds. Foremen have many unquantifiable impacts on the business that can be hard to account for when you assess their value. If you have multiple foremen, comparing the success of their crews can help you assess the quality of the foreman, but only comparatively. If they could all do better or all perform exceptionally, there is little use in comparing them.

There are other ways to assess your roofing supervisor’s success, including:

  1. Reviews: Do the projects your foreman is involved in tend to get better or worse reviews than those they are not involved with? Reviews that mention the supervisor by name are particularly revealing about their impact on customers and overall job quality.
  2. Callbacks and claims: Tracking callbacks and limited warranty claims can alert you to the quality of roof that your foreman is installing or their ability to manage customer concerns and create customer expectations. Many callbacks with no real issues may signal the supervisor needs to communicate better with customers. Callbacks with real issues may mean that quality concerns are slipping past your supervisor during installs and repairs.
  3. Injury rates: Roofing has many inherent safety concerns. Increased injury levels may point to a foreman who rushes roofers or who is lax about safety. Lowered injury levels point to better management.
  4. Productivity: A simple measure of how many squares of roofing the crew lays in a day will help you assess if your foreman is improving the efficiencies of the team and increasing roofer motivation. Ideally, your foreman will increase the number of squares the team can lay per day without impacting the quality of work. You can look at the team’s work yourself or base your assessment of the quality of work on callbacks and claims.
  5. Employee retention: If you have many employees leaving the company in a short time, that can be a warning sign that something is wrong with your foreman’s management style. Conduct exit interviews to understand departing roofers’ concerns so that you can correct anything driving talented staff out the door.
  6. Timeline adherence: Does your foreman tend to complete projects on time, or do they seem to hit more delays and snags than anticipated? Not meeting timelines may indicate your supervisor has trouble motivating staff.

roofers taking picture

The Dangers of Unsuccessful Roofing Foremen

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Across the construction industry, most foremen have about five years of experience with their trade before they start as supervisors. However, that experience may not have prepared them for the role. Those who are used to performing a task very well may end up frustrated when they don’t have the skills to help nurture other people to perform those tasks to the same quality level. The skill set needed to teach, discipline and motivate is very different from the skill set needed to install roofing. Unqualified supervisors are a problem for management in all industries and can cause micromanaging and poor work environments, and can drive away your best staff.

So, it is important to promote and hire those who have the skills to manage people or to provide them with training. Dedicated roofing foreman training is offered by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications may also be helpful. You can further support foremen by offering them more general management training courses. Some of the most popular include Improve, Executive Presence at Work, The Essential Skills of Communicating and ACE: Leadership by Influence.

Remember that a roofing supervisor has a strong role in defining company culture, as they liaise between yourself, the business owner, and the roofers. You won’t be in-person to supervise their actions, but writing strong business policies, like anti-bullying policies and onboarding programs, can help ensure better performance. These policies can also provide consistency as you hire multiple foremen who bring their own unique style to the job.

Plan for Your Roofing Supervisor’s Career

When you have a truly fantastic roofing site supervisor, you may quickly learn to lean on them in many aspects of the business. The problem is that high-quality supervisors are exactly the kind of people who go on to start their own roofing company. It can also be expensive to pay them to keep them around, and supervisors can typically find work with other roofing companies easily, depending on local labor conditions.
So, it is essential to prepare your business for the departure of highly skilled foremen. Ensure that they nurture the roofers under them and develop their skills to make them better candidates for the foreman position if it becomes available. Keeps an open, honest line of communication with your foremen so they feel comfortable telling you when they intend to leave the company. That way, you can make other plans closer to their departure, like starting the hiring process early and freeing up your schedule to take on a more supervisory role for the short term.

The Importance of a Roofing Supervisor

With a combination of technical skills and leadership skills, roofing supervisors bring a lot to the table. While a quality roof foreman can be a large asset to your company, if your company is new, you may struggle to determine if it is time to bring on a supervisor or not. Performing a SWOT analysis for your roofing business may help you make your decision.