Trucking’s crisis in leadership

by Al Goodhall

The accepted wisdom within the driver pool regarding the driver shortage is that there is no driver shortage. Large numbers of people who obtain their commercial driver’s licence discover it’s simply not their cup of tea after spending a few months on the road.

But is it trucking, or the culture of the trucking industry, that is turning people off? I ask this question because it is not only the newly minted driver that is being turned off; it is also the seasoned drivers that are experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction at present. That dissatisfaction is expressed across a broad range of issues drivers face every day. We don’t have a driver crisis in the trucking industry, we have a leadership crisis.

I’m defining leadership here as the movers and shakers that steer the Top 50 Canadian trucking companies. These are the people that influence and guide policy in our industry. With each passing year these large companies continue to grow, primarily through mergers and acquisitions. 

The trucking landscape is becoming more homogeneous. These large companies often share resources and follow the same fiscal policies and “best practices.” Return on investment is the driving factor for the majority of these companies. So even if you are not employed by one of these companies as a driver, they have an influence over you and that influence continues to grow.

Drivers are dependent on the guidance and the vision of this crop of leaders. There are three broad areas in which drivers’ needs are not being met: trucker lifestyle (culture), trucker health, and trucker training.

The trucking lifestyle, the culture of trucking, is a delicate thing. It takes a special type of person to do this job day in and day out over the course of a lifetime. It requires a degree of passion. You don’t do long-haul trucking just for the money. That never works out. It’s very difficult to list the qualities that make up a trucker, but along with passion goes independence.

That independence is key to the trucking lifestyle. That independence is being eroded by the methods our leaders are employing as they adopt new technologies. The preferred method seems to be one of control and restriction which is a method loathed by drivers. Adopting new methods and technologies is a must, but they have to complement and strengthen the characteristics of a professional driver – not create undue stress and limit the driver’s performance.

Trucker health is an issue that is getting much more attention today than it has in the past.

But a driver’s health goes far beyond simple physical well-being.

A driver’s mental health and emotional health is key to a happy, safe and highly motivated driver.

For far too long, leaders in the trucking industry have been dragging their feet on some of the simple issues related to health and safety. These include safe havens for truck parking and well-equipped rest areas for drivers, especially in remote areas through which we travel frequently.

Adequate rest is the hot button issue for an aging demographic that makes up the majority of the driver pool.

We spend very little to no time at all dealing with the effects of aging and how it is affecting seasoned drivers.

How drivers are compensated falls into the health category. Income is not keeping pace with the cost of living; in fact we are moving backwards. Drivers are “at work” for most of their lives.

The ability to step away from work on a regular basis to deal with burn-out and fatigue is a must. Drivers cannot do that unless they are compensated adequately.

Driver training is not an entry-level issue; it is a cradle-to-grave issue. The driving culture and a driver’s health are dependent on the quality and consistency of driver education. Ongoing training for drivers does not exist within our industry.

This is our leaders’ biggest fail.

How can you possibly attract new blood to an industry that does not even have a system of recognition for driver qualifications across different platforms?

On this file everyone seems to operate on a different page. Stories abound within the driver rank and file of new drivers that are hired on with minimal training at the same rate of pay as seasoned veterans with proven safety records.

How can you possibly develop and maintain a culture of workplace safety across the industry without a system of universally accepted workplace training in place? Perform a few queries on the Internet and you will find truck driving is consistently among the top 10 most dangerous jobs. Thought that was firefighters and police? They don’t even make the top 10 list.

The crisis in leadership is the fact that professional drivers, the backbone of the Canadian trucking industry, continue to be reduced to nothing more than numbers on a spreadsheet.


Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.

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  • Superb article! Having worked in several fields over my many years, I have seen my share of serious leadership problems. Simply because you were once a driver and you’ve worked your way to the top and now you are at the helm does make you a great leader. I’ve seen many my colleagues promoted to top management positions simply because they demonstrated excellent talent and skills…but few of those attributes makes for a great leader. Look at our countries leaders. Are they truly leaders or just skilled debaters?