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6 Essential Truck Driver Skills to Help You Succeed in Trucking

September 12th, 2023

Robert Powell

Robert Powell

Robert has been in the trucking industry for more than a decade. He's been a flatbed driver at ATS since 2021.

What’s the difference between a good truck driver and a great truck driver? What takes a decent driver over the edge and makes them great, helps them become a top earner and helps them become a million-mile driver at the company they’re driving for? 

Well, it’s not just one thing. It’s actually a list of six essential skills. Some of these skills may come naturally to you, but some, like patience, you may really need to work on. Without these skills, being a truck driver can be a pretty difficult job for you.

I’ve been driving for over a decade and I’ve been with Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) for more than two years. I’ve seen my fair share of great truck drivers and those who had a lot to learn but thought they knew everything (I was in that place for a while too). I’ve learned a lot in my time as a driver, especially during my tenure with ATS. I’ve been challenged and I’ve adapted to hone my skills. 

When you work on developing and strengthening the following skills, you’ll find it easier to succeed in the trucking industry:

  • Patience
  • Eagerness 
  • Adaptability
  • Strong communication
  • Responsibility
  • Safety-minded

Let’s talk about why these skills are so important. 

Truck Driver Skill #1: Patience

Whether you’re a new driver or you’ve been in the industry for a decade, you need to be patient. It can be extremely difficult to have patience out on the road, so it’s something you might really need to work at. You’re trying to get good loads, waiting to get loaded and unloaded, dealing with normal traffic out on the road — it can really get to you. 

If you let the annoyances throughout the day — big and small — build up and fester, you won’t get anywhere. You might, however, become easily angered. You might have road rage and you could start blowing up at customers and your driver manager when you encounter any slight inconvenience.

Patience is key to your success. You’ll find yourself waiting around a lot as a truck driver and dealing with frustrating scenarios outside of your control. If you can’t handle waiting, you’ll probably really struggle with the career.

Woman driver parked and using the GPS mapping device in the cab of a commercial truck.

Truck Driver Skill #2: Eagerness to Learn and Improve

You can’t do this job all on your own. It’s very difficult. There’s going to come a time and a place where you’re going to have questions or an issue and you need to look to someone for help. 

Build good relationships with the people around you and consider getting a mentor who you can learn from. I both work with a mentor and mentor other drivers and I strongly recommend having that support system in your life. 

Work on your ability to rely on others and it’ll make your job a lot easier. If you’re not willing to listen, you’re not willing to learn. You shouldn’t just be willing to learn in this industry; you should be eager to learn. There’s something new in this industry to learn every day and a way to grow your skills.

Closely tied to eagerness to learn is dedication to improving. You need to be willing to work hard and put what you’ve learned into practice. In the trucking industry, you don’t automatically start at the top. You have a lot to learn and practice before you can work your way up to hauling the largest, heaviest loads. Again, you need to be patient as you work your way up.

Truck Driver Skill #3: Adaptability

You won’t grow as an individual in this industry unless you can adapt. I used to think I knew everything when I hauled lumber and steel. When I Googled heavy haul companies because I wanted a change, ATS popped up. 

I didn’t know a thing about hauling flatbed loads. I didn’t know about securement or tarping. I had a lot of learning and adapting to do in order to work my way up to where I am in the industry now. 

You’ll encounter something new every day on the road; you need to be able to troubleshoot and work through tough situations. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. 

If you want to grow as a driver, you have to be able to adapt. Especially here at ATS as a flatbed driver, I’m always getting different loads. I have to adapt to improve my skill set. ATS always pushes me to go outside my comfort zone, but they support me the whole way.

Truck Driver Skill #4: Strong Communication

Even though we sit in the truck for hours on end every day, you have to be a bit of a people person as a driver. At the very least, you need to be an effective communicator. 

Sales do the legwork and find the customers for us to haul products for, but every driver on the fleet is the face of the company they work for. When you get to the shipper, if you’re argumentative or have a bad attitude and can’t communicate, it can impact the relationship with the customer. The company could lose that customer and their freight entirely. 

Communicating is vital to your success. Not only do you need to be able to communicate your wants and needs to your dispatcher, but you also need to communicate with customers to set up appointment times and work through load details. If you don’t communicate, you can miss appointment times and delay load and unload times.

I’ve never had a lot of problems with my dispatchers because I’m upfront about how I’m feeling and I’m respectful. For instance, a load delivery overlapped with my home time recently. It wasn’t a huge deal — I was able to adjust my home time by a day — but I talked to my driver manager about it right away. Instead of yelling at her, I calmly explained the situation and my frustration. 

In other words, I communicated effectively. If I’d yelled at her and had a poor attitude, the situation would’ve gone a lot differently. 

Two truck drivers working together while they review something on a tablet screen. They stand in front of a row of parked semi-trucks.

Truck Driver Skill #5: Responsibility

Because being a truck driver requires so much independence, you also have to be responsible. Responsibility comes in many forms, and it includes being responsible with your time and money. 

The current down market is a great example of why financial responsibility is crucial to truck driver success. We all know the market isn’t great right now and a lot of loads aren’t paying well — contrary to what we saw during the height of the pandemic.

The most responsible and successful drivers didn’t buy toys and didn't overextend themselves when the freight rates reached a market high. They saved their money. 

The ones who weren’t so money-minded are struggling now because freight rates have taken a dive and all their money is tied up in payments on their toys. They have nothing in their savings accounts. Responsible drivers are conservative with their money during the busy season because they know tough times are coming. 

You also have to be responsible with your Hours of Service (HOS), manage your schedule effectively and manage paperwork to make sure you get paid on time.

Truck Driver Skill #6: Safety-Minded

It can be tempting to drive with your emotions. It can be tempting to speed or break a few rules to get to your destination faster. But doing so won’t help anyone. It won’t help you and it won’t help the four-wheelers on the road you might be endangering. 

The most successful truck drivers always make safety a top priority. They take it slow and steady and maintain a safe mindset. One wrong move can end your career. 

Being a safety-minded driver is about more than driving a safe pace and maintaining the proper following distance; it also includes servicing your equipment and doing pre-trip inspections to prevent the occurrence of dangerous breakdowns while driving. Even if you don’t own your truck, you should treat it like you do and take good care of it.

Commercial truck driving through farmlands

Work with the Best Trucking Company

In the trucking industry, the difference between a good truck driver and a truly exceptional one boils down to mastering six essential skills. 

Patience prevents frustration from morphing into obstacles. Coupled with an eagerness to learn and an adaptable mindset, you can weather the ever-changing industry and find avenues for growth.

At the heart of success lies effective communication. It's not just a matter of relaying information; it's about cultivating relationships, fostering trust and becoming the face of the company. 

Responsibility, intertwined with time management, underscores the independence inherent in the trucking profession. But the foundation of it all is safety-mindedness, a pledge to protect yourself and others on the road.

By mastering these skills, you can embark on a journey towards excellence. 

To succeed, however, you also need to find a great company to drive for — one that supports you. That’s something that ATS has always done for me. 

See for yourself if ATS is the right company for you or check out this list of the best trucking companies to drive for.

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