What It Takes To Be A Top Tier Driver

by Old School

red flatbed top tier driver

Recently I overheard a phone conversation between my dispatcher and someone in upper level management as my dispatcher was attempting to get one of our drivers approved for a pay increase. I thought it was interesting to hear the way my dispatcher argued his case for the driver. I'm going to lay out for you the reasons he gave as why he thought this driver deserved a raise, and then I'll elaborate a little on each point he made. Here are the things he listed as why he felt the driver was worth an increase in pay.

  • He is always on Time
  • He never complains
  • He is willing to take loads that no one else wants
  • He knows how to work his clock
  • He is just easy to work with

We teach these things all the time here at Trucking Truth, but I found it really amazing that my dispatcher would lay out the same reasons, almost word for word, that we teach people all the time. I wanted to show it to you from a dispatcher's perspective. For some of you it may help it sink in a little better. Let's start with his first point.

Always Be On Time

This driver is always on time. Being on time does so much for a driver. It sets him up as an excellent representative of the company. It provides excellent customer service to the customer. It saves the dispatcher from those embarrassing calls he gets from upper level management asking questions about why he can't keep his drivers on point.

Someone with a rock solid reputation of being on time is one less driver on a dispatcher's mind as a problem child that needs to be constantly monitored or hand-held. No dispatcher enjoys having to stay on top of a driver. He already has more on his plate than he can manage and a driver that needs constant coaching and monitoring is a real drain on his energy. It is understood that all new drivers need some help, but at some point a driver has got to show that he is motivated and capable of being trusted.

Another big benefit of having the reputation of always being punctual is that it places one in a small group of well trusted drivers whom the load planners can go ahead and pre-plan assignments. When the planners know that a driver will not mess up their schedule, they keep up with that driver so they can keep him busy and therefore making money for both himself and the company. Remember everybody in this management chain is measured by performance. A driver may be at the bottom of the chain of command, but he is just as critical a team member as anyone else, and needs to be counted on by the others.

Never Complain

His second recommendation concerning this driver was that he never complains.

If you've been around many truck drivers then you know that one aspect alone sets him apart from many of his peers. We drivers are almost obsessive with our complaining. I can't spend even five minutes at a company terminal's driver lounge without hearing some driver complaining. Not only will you hear at least one or more driver complaining, but you will soon see the attitude spreading among the other drivers sitting there with them. Complaining shamelessly spreads faster than the flu during winter time.

Often times drivers will just complain amongst themselves, but many of them will constantly complain to their dispatcher. Most dispatchers know how tough this job can be, and they do what they can to help their drivers succeed. The last thing they want to hear is their drivers complaining about each and every assignment they give to them. Take your loads and get them done. If you aren't thrilled with the assignment just get it done and move on to the next one.

We are drivers, we move freight. We can't expect every load assignment to be cushy and comfortable. Our dispatchers get to know us and they actually enjoy giving us something we like, but they are more likely to assign desirable loads to those who don't moan and groan about each and every load that comes their way.

Take The Loads That No One Else Wants

Thirdly the dispatcher touts this driver as being worthy by saying he is willing to take loads that no one else wants.

I've received this very compliment myself. This is something that a dispatcher really appreciates. He has loads that need to get accomplished. He has drivers he needs to assign loads to. There is a certain load on my dedicated account that has around 1,500 miles on it each week. We do this load about three times a week, and the driver gets assigned a back-haul load that brings us back somewhere near the plant. That means if you can get put on that load then you will average a 3,000+ mile paycheck each week. Guess what? Nobody wants to do that load during the winter. It goes from Louisiana up into the Northeast, specifically Connecticut or beyond. Out of fifteen drivers there are three of us who do this load every week.

Sometimes we will average close to 3,400 miles on any given week. During the warmer months the other drivers start griping about those three drivers getting all the gravy runs. Here is the way the dispatcher responds:

“You guys won't ever go up there during the snow and ice. Every time I've asked, you've refused. They do it willingly. By God, if they want those loads in the summertime I'm going to do what I can to make sure they get them.”

- dispatcher

Dispatchers have really good memories. Don't be the driver they remember as being unwilling to do the hard work. There are going to be some gravy runs come along, and the drivers who put in the effort and have proven themselves on the hard stuff will surely be the ones who get to do the really fun stuff also.

Know How To Manage Your Time Efficiently

The dispatcher goes on to say He knows how to work his clock.

This is a valuable characteristic in a driver. It means that he not only has a good working knowledge of the rules and regulations, but that he's also creative about making sure he has time available when called upon. This same dispatcher once told me, “I can't stand it when I've got a great load to give a driver and then he tells me I don't have the hours to do it.” We all know what it's like to run out of hours, but top tier drivers tend to think so far ahead that they are managing their time three and four days in advance. It is one thing to tell a dispatcher you are out of hours occasionally, but don't let it be your habit.

A driver who just can't get the hang of managing his own time out here will soon find himself sitting around watching re-runs of CSI in the truck stop driver's lounge. That is no way to make money in this career. You don't want to be doing 34 hour resets unnecessarily, but your dispatcher can see to it that you are if you are constantly complaining you are out of hours. Any driver who is out of hours needs to have had a really strong week behind him, showing that he is both useful and productive.

Be Easy To Work With

The crowning glory ascribed to this driver by his dispatcher is that He is just easy to work with.

This is almost like code language among trucking company management personnel. They all know and talk about drivers who are a pain in the neck to work with. When they find someone who is easy to work with they are elated. We as drivers have a lot of work to do in this area. Somehow some of us have gotten the idea that these trucking companies cannot operate without us, and therefore we can act like little trucking tyrants and get away with it. Don't be fooled by this modern day train of thought.

I am a quiet unassuming driver who keeps my head down and gets the job done. I remember another driver on our fleet who had this little discussion with me one day where he told me that I was having to do all the hard stuff because I didn't stand up for myself. He went on to explain to me why I always had to do those runs to Connecticut. Remember that great run I was talking about earlier? That's the one he was referring to. I didn't even know this guy, but he interjected himself into my life one night at the plant while we were there together picking up our loads. I found out his name and determined to ask my dispatcher about him next time I had the chance.

This driver also went on to inform me that he had family in management at the SAPA plant, and because of that there was no way that our dispatcher could fire him. Two weeks later I got the chance to have a sit down with my dispatcher and I asked him about that particular driver. The dispatcher acted like he didn't even know who I was talking about. Then after describing him in more detail, and repeating his name, the dispatcher said,

“Oh I know who you are talking about. I had to fire that guy about a week and a half back. He just got to be too big of a pain to deal with anymore. He seemed to think he could get away with murder around here and I finally put a stop to it.”

- dispatcher

So, there you have it. I hope by seeing how a dispatcher measures up those he considers to be the Top Tier Drivers on his team, you'll have a better understanding of what it takes to set yourself apart out here. Trust me, it's not that hard to get yourself up at the top of the food chain out here. Most of your competitors will make it easy for you. Where it really starts to get tough is keeping yourself at the top. There are always a few good competitors out there vying for your position once you get established. If you want to play the game successfully and make some good money out here then you've got to keep yourself on top.

I'll see you at the top!

Terminal:

A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

EPU:

Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

by Brett Aquila

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