How managers can move their organization from reactive emergencies to planned activities
Angela Testa, senior vice president of operations at American Campus Communities, strengthens operations without compromising a healthy work environment
As a facility manager, technical efficiency and business savvy go hand in hand. For that reason, new FMs starting a career in facilities management should be aware that it’s a complex profession. We’re often referred to as “jack of all trades,” because there are so many things to learn about and understand. There’s HVAC, plumbing, electrical, mill work, security, information technology, shipping and receiving, construction, finance, emergency management, project management, vendor and contractor relations, management, team leadership, and so much more. To be a highly effective facility manager, you have to learn, study, practice, and execute so many different skill sets to perfection.
Curiosity about anything and everything involving facility and operations management is one of the biggest personal attributes an aspiring FM can have for a successful career. However, realistically as a young facility manager, interest in facilities may not be there initially. Sometimes it’s tough being young and inexperienced in an industry, but it’s important that young FMs build momentum with non-stop forward motion in the facilities game. The game that’s played is largely about what we can learn and apply to real situations. The maxim “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready” directly applies to how important the role of curiosity plays in this field. Curiosity will lead to learning, learning leads to comprehension, and comprehension leads to application. The proactive assertiveness an FM puts toward being prepared for when an opportunity comes is how they set themselves apart from the pack. There’s no special formula, and it’s definitely not magic. It’s simply about being curious, asking questions to learn and understand, and putting in the work to hone the skills needed to be an effective facility manager.
Every FM’s journey is different but there is common success in being curious about everything that facilities management involves. Having an understanding that as an FM you will be asked to learn about this, that, and the other thing — and then more of this, which was different from that, and then completely different from everything else. As daunting as this may seem, that kind of randomness is very common and does help tremendously with learning to be very flexible in the field. A great majority of people that come into the industry don't know what they're getting themselves into, but they quickly learn they will be required to do a bit of everything.
Without knowing exactly where you’re going on the FM journey, it’s crucial to keep an open mind for opportunities to be taken head on. Once more, being open-minded allows you to see how the skills you’ve developed can contribute to other areas in the operation you’re a part of or facilities management as a whole. Some things will involve using your hands and fixing things. Some will involve not knowing something, but being will to ask, or finding the language well enough to communicate to a contractor and ask the right questions. And other things will involve being able to sit down and figure out complex problems that aren’t mechanical, but instead fall under the category of the traditional business side. This could include gathering financial information to properly prepare facilities department budgets, as well as managing and effectively communicating with employees to guide them toward the success they seek and that they see for themselves as well. Of course, on other days, you’re going to be climbing a ladder into ceilings to assess a fire sprinkler issue, and then attending a meeting with the CEO, followed by a chats with the custodial staff, a plumbing contractor, an HVAC technician, and the coffee service salesman. Establishing, building, and maintaining healthy relationships with all vendor and contractor representatives, looking over contracts and agreements to identify the best bang for the buck, and having outstanding customer service skills is what will launch an FM to a Tier 1 level.
The FM must be well-rounded, or at least want to be well-rounded within what is asked of them on a daily basis. Of course there are some FMs who are skilled in one particular specialty, and never branch out from that. But if you want to make real noise as an FM, expanding a great amount of curiosity into different skills and disciplines is a requirement. And that curiosity must come with a great deal of courage in regards to not being afraid to ask questions. The key is to be a sponge and soak in every piece of information possible. Reading the books and articles, attending seminars and conferences, enrolling in courses, reaching out to seasoned FM veterans for meetings is all part of being curious and having the courage to put yourself out in the open and get educated. When the questions aren’t asked, when the eyes & ears & minds aren’t open, even the most naturally gifted FM’s are dwarfed in the progress of becoming an even more elite facility manager.
The further you move into your career with the mindset of being a jack-of-all-trades and curious about everything, the more opportunities will come. You must also be able to adapt and communicate well in both the blue- and white-collar environment. If you do these things, there is no limit to your potential success, and the value you bring to your organization will be vast.
Charles M. Thomas (email@example.com) is a Facility Operations Consultant with LACE Management Services. He has 10 years of facility operations management experience working among the research, education, financial, and public relations industries, with skills in operations, strategic planning, project management, and office community relations.