Oswald Letter

Dredging: the invisible—but critical—task of all managers

Dredgerby Dan Oswald

When I was a little boy, I had a book that was filled with pictures of heavy equipment. Like many boys, I was fascinated by the large bulldozers, cranes, and trucks. There was one piece of equipment that intrigued me because I had never seen anything like it. It was a grab dredger.

A grab dredger has a large clamshell bucket on the end that allows it to excavate underwater materials. The purpose of a dredger is to remove sediment from the bottom of a body of water and dispose of it elsewhere. A grab dredger scoops up whatever is at the bottom of the water and gets it out of the way so boats and ships can pass. Dredging can be used to create a new waterway, keep waterways navigable, or deepen existing facilities to allow larger ships access.

And there are reasons I had never seen a grab dredger as a boy. They’re most commonly found in areas frequented by large shipping vessels, and they do their work offshore. So if you didn’t grow up in a port city, you were unlikely to see a dredger. And even then, you’d probably have to go looking if you wanted to see one. But their anonymity doesn’t make their work any less important.

Not many of us give much thought to the dredging projects that are going on at all times around the world. They’re out of sight and out of mind. Their important work is virtually invisible to us. Yet without dredging, the world economy would grind to a halt. Without dredging, major shipping ports would become inaccessible and critical shipping passageways would soon become impassible. Dredgers allow the ships that carry people and goods to do their work.

The work of a dredger is much like the work of a manager. A manager must clear a path so her people can do their work. And like a dredger, much of the work a manager does can be invisible. But just because you can’t see the work a manager is doing to remove those obstacles doesn’t make it any less important. Like a ship that couldn’t pass if it weren’t for the work of the dredger, a team member can’t achieve his goals if his manager isn’t working behind the scenes to allow him to succeed. Without a dredger, the world’s ships would literally get stuck in the mud. The same would be true of many workers without an effective manager clearing the way.

There may be times when you think your work as a manager is thankless. There are times, I’m sure, when you feel like everything you do goes unnoticed. It’s at those times that I want you to think about the dredger and all it does to aid world commerce without so much as a bit of recognition. Then take satisfaction in the knowledge that without you clearing away the obstacles for your team, they wouldn’t be able to achieve all they do. Like a dredger, people may not always recognize your contributions, but they surely would know it if you weren’t there to do your job.