The Right Facility Manager Will Help Enhance the Learning Experience
By Dan Ringo
When you think of a competent and successful school district facility manager (FM), there are a few qualities that immediately spring to mind. For example, a facility manager should be a skilled and experienced maintenance person with a strong knowledge of industry standards for operational elements like safety, energy efficiency, sustainability and construction.
Most FMs aren’t economists, mathematicians, or accountants. But budgeting and financial planning are nevertheless important parts of the job. FMs need to know the organization’s key metrics and how to plan and prepare based on the data.
The FM will also need to know your school’s specific vision, values, goals and how their roles fit into the larger instructional picture. To assist the school/district in creating a learning environment that differentiates itself in the market, FMs provide a strategically chartered path to consistently provide clean, safe and healthy learning environments. In addition, a good facilities manager should work closely with a district’s IT and curriculum professionals. Changing classroom configurations, creating professional grade working computer labs, and imagining creative learning spaces are all part of a modern facility manager’s duties.
The following are traits every FM must possess in a school setting.
1 – Good facility managers will put fires out on a day to day basis and great ones will constantly be thinking about prevention.
Great facility managers will be organized with their entire team. They’ll have a running log of all their work for clients and can precisely answer, what are my next major tasks, how much time/money am I spending, and how can we improve our workflow. At the end of the day, good facility managers want to move from reactive to proactive mindset.
2- Good facility managers place the needs of the student first.
Learning needs are constantly evolving. A good facility manager is well-versed in building changes that can enhance learning environments and is networked in with other facility managers who are like-minded and work aggressively to meet a district’s changing needs.
3 – Good facility managers will have a team of technicians that they oversee, GREAT facility managers will allow their team to be autonomous and constantly strive for being better.
What should organizations look for when selecting their facility manager? Since FMs are not usually interviewed by other facilities professionals but rather academic leaders, this question should be on the minds of superintendents and board members. The key is whether they are proactive or not. Seems simple and it is simple.
Selecting the right FM is essential. Here’s what you should do.
Most school districts hire based on impressive resumes which can be difficult to confirm or verify. Often times, professional facility managers will claim success or knowledge of operations solely from being in close proximity to the action that took place, even if they were not directly involved or responsible for the results.
Executive titles overseeing facilities operations included in their portfolio does not necessarily indicate competence. Facility managers must possess the proven skill set and requisite knowledge to synthesize the systems required or existing to deliver the best results for the staff and students. The FM must be able to select and build a team that can function at or above their level. The FM must be a macro thinker and consensus builder to get results accomplished.
As part of the evaluation process FMs should be required to answer essay questions in a controlled environment. The questions should require extensive knowledge and be experienced based that forces the FM candidate to provide the hiring committee insight into their thinking about how they address operations.
An oral interview should also be required. In interviewing FMs, apply the Socratic method of inquiry. Questions should lead the FM candidate into more a candid conversation about the information presented to verify alignment with the responses they provided in written form.
Questions should allow a candidate to demonstrate proficiency of the following topics. Someone with no experience in facilities but extensive overall management experience should be avoided. For school districts the learning curve often is too large
- Quick & Composed – A facility manager needs to think on the go. The day to day activities can throw a variety of challenges & the FM has to react quickly, effectively with minimal pressure to address the concern. Handling stress situations is a crucial skill for the FM.
- Good understanding of the premises & numbers – Facility manager needs to know every inch of the facility or be able to quickly gather and synthesize the information needed to make a decision. The FM needs to have a keen knowledge of costs, consumption patterns, expenses, budgets, & trends. Critical thinking along with analytical approach goes a long way.
- Process oriented – Process oriented approach makes it easier & faster to deliver a product or service. Increased traceability, metrics & quicker decision making are natural outcomes.
- People & vendor management skills – The FM is required to manage his people & also many vendors to achieve the necessary services. Effective communication, good knowledge of the subject along with people skills can motivate the team. The facility manager has to actively engage with the staff to bring out the best performance.
- Risk management– Facility management is the pillar stone for several other functions and businesses. Managing & active mitigation of risk along with business continuity planning assures smooth operations even in critical situations.
- Eye for detail – It’s extremely important to have an eye for detail which helps identify any item, process or services that could become a risk or an issue.
At the end of the day, the district’s facility expert is a manager. They will be expected to manage a department, a team and operation that will require good leadership skills. A lot of leadership is intuitive, but good instincts can be learned. Based on the current environment and the direction the organization sees itself going, what personality should your FM possess? Should they be generally easygoing? Or should they have an edge? Either one may work well in different situations, but flexibility is an especially valuable trait for successful school district FMs and/or providers. Facilities Management is a dynamic profession. Every day is different, and problems pop up without warning.
About the Author
Dan Ringo is a former director of engineering, general manager, district manager, vice president of operations, senior vice president of operations, chief operations officer, and CEO of various facilities management firms. Currently, he is the principal of OPIS LLC, an instructor at HVAC U LLC, and the deputy director of Public Works for the City of Pontiac, Michigan. Ringo is the author of various books on facilities management and power plant operations and is a trusted subject-matter expert on business operations and operational improvement. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum