Senior Treatment Plant Supervisor Dale Cobler describes the leadership role as a privilege. He is the frontline supervisor for the 10 employees who operate the Two Rivers Utilities water treatment plant in Gastonia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“I favor a servant leadership perspective in my position,” Cobler says. “I understand that the end goal is to provide safe drinking water to our customers.” And he says the best way to achieve that goal is to make sure staff have the training and tools they need to do their jobs.
Cobler is responsible for training each operator in all facets of the water plant’s operation. That includes teaching employees about the membrane filtration system. The Gastonia plant is the first municipal facility in the state to use that high-tech treatment system, so no state or local officials could help Cobler learn the ropes. Instead, he had to learn from the supplier, visit water plants in other states and attend in-person and virtual conferences with others who use the membrane system.
Those who nominated Cobler say he “takes a hands-on approach to his supervisory role” and has “excelled at training even our most senior operational staff.” Cobler gives each employee a physical tour of the plant, teaching how the components function and how to troubleshoot problems. He provides manuals and 3D models, and he also develops individualized questionnaires for each staff member to help them pass state certification exams.
The award nomination says it’s not just what Cobler does as a leader, it’s how he does it. He develops strategies to enhance each individual employee’s strengths and help them gain confidence. He involves operational staff in the decision-making process, which has resulted in “large strides in improving plant morale.” To show his appreciation, Cobler periodically provides lunch for the operational staff, at his own expense. The nomination says, by involving employees in all aspects of plant operation and maintenance, Cobler’s approach to leadership “has greatly increased the motivation and self-worth of our staff.”
Cobler deflects any praise and commends his staff instead. “I am lucky to have a team that has embraced new technology and are willing to use it to better understand their jobs,” he says. Cobler is described as having a very positive attitude toward others and his work and making himself available to employees at all hours. All this while he is enrolled at N.C. State University and will complete his master’s degree in environmental science this spring.
Cobler has worked for the City for five years. He says the best part of his job is the people he works with and being able to share knowledge with each other to build an even stronger team. He says he was “surprised and humbled” to receive the award.