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Skillsets Needed to be a Best-in-Class Fleet Manager
Oct 1, 2022 | This article was originally published on Automotive Fleet by Mike Antich
There isn’t a single trait that epitomizes a great fleet manager; rather, it is a multitude of traits interacting with one another. To identify those traits, AF recently surveyed 200 fleet professionals, both fleet managers and fleet suppliers.
Here’s what they told us.
Goal-Oriented Fleet Management. Great fleet managers are goal-setters. They are goal-oriented in all aspects of fleet management and employ metrics to continually benchmark productivity, vehicle downtime, fleet utilization, and effective management of both fixed and operating costs. Great fleet managers are committed to achieving specific results and govern their operations with these results in mind. It is this results-orientation that pushes a great fleet manager to be creative in addressing daunting challenges.
Adaptable to Change. The fleet manager role has changed over the past 20 years as fleet department staffs disappeared, outsourcing became more prevalent, and procurement groups began playing a greater role in fleet sourcing. While good fleet managers adapt to change, great fleet managers thrive because of it and are willing to recommend change — even if it impacts them negatively. Fleet is ever-changing and great fleet managers adapt to the change instead of fighting it.
Ability to Multi-Task. The best fleet managers are “jugglers.” They need to balance everything to make the fleet program work efficiently. Drivers want one thing, suppliers suggest something else, management has a variety of focus areas (fuel economy, safety, depreciation, image, etc.), and everyone is an expert about which manufacturer makes the best product. The great fleet managers are those who are able to juggle these demands. As one fleet manager said, if you are not capable of juggling 18 chainsaws at once, your time as a fleet manager will be limited.
Metrics-Oriented. Measure everything. Great fleet managers understand that what gets measured gets managed and hold themselves and team members to goals. They are results-oriented and understand metrics. These fleet managers drive for continuous improvement to achieve specific business results. For them, there is no such thing as “status quo.”
Understands Company Goals, Products, and Services. A great fleet manager fully understands corporate products and programs. They know their company’s business. They have a willingness to manage at a level that is “company impactful” rather than simply “fleet impactful.” Learning more about each department that utilizes fleet vehicles ensures fleet meets the real business needs and demands of the company. A great fleet manager has the ability to link strategic business objectives to the management of the fleet.
They understand what “support” means to their company. They embrace company goals and philosophy. They are customer driven. They have the ability to effectively connect the dots between company, organization, department, and individual objectives.
Focused on the Internal Customer. A great fleet manager recognizes their primary goal is serving end-user departments and drivers. They establish a cooperative, working relationship with all internal departments associated with fleet operations and are proactive with their needs. Great fleet managers understand that the managers and drivers they support are key to their success. They are service savvy. They keep their sights set on the end-user and the board of directors, as well as everyone in between.
Good Time Management Skills. A great fleet manager must be a master of time management. A fleet manager’s customers range from upper management to drivers in the field. You have to manage your time to satisfy corporate and driver needs, while completing your own work to keep the fleet running smoothly. A great fleet manager has the discipline in day-to-day tasks to focus on the important without being consumed by the urgent.
Good Stewards of Corporate Monies. Most fleet managers struggle to do an ever-increasing job with static budgets. Great fleet managers are creative in cutting costs and, somehow, someway, succeed in maintaining the same level of service.
Business Acumen. Great fleet managers know how to read and interpret P&L sheets and other financial documents. They have strong accounting skills and financial aptitude. They not only have the ability to present the “numbers,” but know where the “numbers” come from and their importance to fleet. They have the capability of performing higher levels of cost analysis, which is important because there is high turnover in corporate procurement. As a result, great fleet managers are capable of conversing and working with new procurement people and share ideas, because of their strong business skills.
Excellent Communication Skills. This trait involves a high level of communication skills that allows the fleet manager to clearly communicate at all levels — both written and oral. In terms of writing skills, this includes the ability to be brief and to the point, which is especially important for senior management presentations.
Great fleet managers have the ability to conceptualize an idea and communicate it. They can persuasively articulate thoughts to others, at any level of management. They have senior management’s respect, because they can communicate a strong knowledge of fleet management, which gives them credibility when proposing new programs.
Receptive to Technology. Great fleet managers embrace new technology though remains realistic about it. They know how to use technology to communicate to drivers, enhance fleet safety, and improve driver productivity. These fleet managers use data to drive decisions. They use technology to establish scorecards to measure performance of suppliers and the fleet.
Leadership. A great fleet manager is able to lead and coach not only the fleet team, but also drivers and multiple management levels. Being a fleet leader is more about serving than being served.
A leader does not fear change. A great fleet manager is committed to leadership by example. A great fleet manager is able to inspire a team toward a common purpose or vision. In addition, they must possess a passion for success and understand they are a role model.
A great fleet manager values ideas, respects team member contributions, and creates a learning atmosphere within their organization that rewards individual accomplishment.
High Ethical Standards. To be a great fleet manager, you must maintain very high ethical standards. You need to be honest to the core, even if it means acknowledging a mistake, which could cost your job. Fleet managers must be ethical, fair, and value each team member’s occasional challenges to their authority. These fleet managers are identified by everyone who deals with them as having unwavering integrity.
Possesses a Thick Skin. A great fleet manager has a thick skin. No matter what you do, somebody won’t like it, and they’ll be sure to let you (and others) know. You must possess the ability to absorb constructive criticism; because, when you’re overseeing an asset that is used by other departments, there will be a lot of second guessing about your decisions.
Good Listening Skills. A great fleet manager is a good listener. Obviously, you must listen to upper management, but you must also listen to your drivers, which isn’t always easy. A good listener is balanced, open to opposing perspectives, has an attitude that they can learn from others, and is open to new ideas. Listening is often an underutilized part of communication. Listening intently and devoting your time to people’s concerns or opinions goes a long way in building a great team and outside support for the fleet department.
Ability to Make Decisions. Great fleet managers possess the ability to make decisive decisions, large and small. When on the spot, they have the confidence and knowledge to make those decisions. Daily phone calls and e-mails bring numerous small problems that need to be resolved, requiring a fleet manager to have the ability to think on their feet, make decisions, and act quickly. They make quick, calculated, cost-effective, and fact-based decisions and do not look back. In the corporate world, not everything is black and white. These fleet managers can make decisions when faced with ambiguity.
Lifelong Learners. Great fleet managers never stop learning. They regularly attend fleet management seminars and industry conferences to keep pace with best practices. They are active members in industry associations. Plus, they are motivated to attain professional certifications. They not only focus on professionally developing themselves, but also their direct reports, customers, senior management, and team members in fleet management and industry best practices. A continual learner has a constant thirst for knowledge and does not hesitate to share new-found information with colleagues.
People Person. Great fleet managers have the ability to interact with people at all levels of a company. They have a great rapport with every level of management. To be a great fleet manager you must have excellent people management skills. Fleet is a people business and there are many different personalities and levels of management a fleet manager will deal with each day. Fleet is obviously asset management, but it is also a customer-service job.
Sense of Humor. A great fleet manager must have (or will quickly develop) a sense of humor. You’ll hear excuses from drivers that the writers for Jay Leno couldn’t come up with. This also means being “fun.” All of us have seen that fun fleet managers seem to get best practices from others, because people like dealing with that fleet manager.
Professionalism. Great fleet managers always conduct themselves in a professional manner, both inside and outside of their fleet operation. It is rare to hear negative comments from these fleet managers. They invariably have a “can-do” attitude and disposition.
Diplomatic Skills. A great fleet manager is a “diplomat.” Being a diplomat also involves having tact, which you’ll need when the VP of finance gets a second speeding ticket in six months.
Ability to Effectively Present to Senior Management. Great fleet managers have strong presentation skills, both in putting together effective reports and delivering them to keep upper management informed. If you wish to be respected within your corporation, this skill is a requirement in corporate business. If you can’t present or effectively report to senior management, your value will never be recognized by them.
Innovative. Great fleet managers are innovative and use out-of-the-box thinking to develop new ideas. Fleet managers need to think beyond today into the future. They must be able to anticipate both challenges and opportunities, and be prepared to react to them accordingly. This requires a unique combination of analytical and conceptual abilities. Great fleet managers implement innovative initiatives to drive cost out of fleet operations and establish metrics to monitor performance. These exemplary fleet managers rise above the level of simply managing day-to-day work. They are proactive and anticipate change.
Ability to Influence and to “Sell” Ideas. A great fleet manager is persuasive and an educator of management to ensure their support. They have the ability to gain their respect and support. These fleet managers are able to influence others who can drive change in their organization. They have the ability to “sell” ideas and are viewed as influential within the company. They are able to mobilize others to help facilitate organizational transformation where needed. They are effective in working with peers, partners, and others who are not in the line of command to positively impact process improvements and overall business performance. This skill allows them to prove their value to management.
Capacity to Handle a Heavy Workload. In an era of doing more with less, great fleet managers are able to shoulder the burden of more work without skipping a beat. They know how to turn strategies into tactics.
Accountability. Great fleet managers must be accountable for the programs, vehicles, and policies put in place. It’s imperative you understand the importance of your role as a fleet manager in the success of your corporation. Great fleet managers take their responsibilities very seriously. Fleet managers are the stewards of expensive assets and people’s lives. They create a culture that stresses accountability and lead by example.
Organizational Skills. Great fleet managers are adept at project management. They have strong organizational skills. They deliver on goals, yet never rest on what’s been accomplished. These fleet managers pay attention to detail and are task masters.
Strategic Vision. A great fleet manager is a strategic thinker and visionary. This is the ability to develop and communicate a strategic vision that is based on data analysis and total cost of ownership. When you are doing something nobody has ever done, you need to be able to clearly “see” the results in the future and verbalize what the end state will look like. A great fleet manager is long-term driven.
Enjoys What They Do. Great fleet managers find personal gratification in their job. They enjoy what they do. They are passionate about their job and responsibilities. They may wince and groan at “doing more with less” and constant new challenges, but, at the end of the day, a great fleet manager has a deep flame of job satisfaction that is hard to extinguish.
Fleet managers who have passion about their work inspire others to take on new challenges. They have the ability to “light the fire in the bellies” of their staff.
Self-Promotion Skills. Great fleet managers know how to promote themselves without being perceived as a self-promoter. They use their self-promotion skills so others in the company know what they do and how well it is done. They promote the fleet department’s accomplishments.
Analytical Skills. Great fleet managers are “pre-wired” to strip away the sales hype and identify fact from embellishment. This skill transcends all strata of what they do each day, from vehicle options and content to vendor relations to fuel and tires, etc.
Persistent. A great fleet manager must be persistent. It’s tough to stick to the message when other vehicle “experts” in the company have other ideas. Persistence gives you the skills of knowing how to survive and possibly excel in challenging times as it relates to shrinking budgets and reductions in work force. Every fleet manager must have this skill to keep up with the consistent workload dealing with all the changes in the fleet industry.
A great fleet manager has tenacity and the ability to creatively find solutions in a changing environment. In many ways, they are fearless, willing to make a difference in their organization.
Empathetic. A great fleet manager is capable of empathy. Imagine yourself driving 3,000 miles a month in that company vehicle — drive a mile in the salesperson’s shoes. An empathetic fleet manager is tough, but fair.
Problem Solver. Great fleet managers are resourceful. They take the initiative. They have superlative problem-solving skills, including the ability to find the root cause and solution.
Open-Minded. A great fleet manager has strong industry knowledge, an open mind, and insightful analytical skills. They are open to new ideas. You may be the fleet expert, but someone else may have a better idea. Be open to ideas from anywhere, which includes peers, suppliers, drivers, employees, etc.
It is critical to be open-minded because fleet is an ever-changing industry. You need to be willing to explore all service channels available in the industry. You must be open to new possibilities. This leads to innovative approaches in fleet management. However, open-minded doesn’t mean being open-headed. You must listen and entertain new ideas, but also temper such a practice and attitude with pragmatism, wisdom, and sensibility.
Involved with the Industry. A great fleet manager is connected to the industry at large. They become involved with industry associations, such as NAFA and Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). They read fleet industry publications. The more widely read and knowledgeable you are, the less the likelihood you might be seen as a “one-trick pony.” Be knowledgeable about the major trends in the overall auto industry so you are conversant with both your bosses and the OEMs.
Computer Skills. Nowadays, exceptional computer skills and data analysis skills are crucial. This includes having strong Microsoft Excel and database management skills. All good fleet managers are technically proficient. Great fleet managers are fact driven — and understand every aspect of the facts as it relates to fleet.
Team Player. A great fleet manager builds strong relationships from the top down and the bottom up. Each day, they put on the managers’ or drivers’ “shoes” and ask the questions they would pose. Great fleet managers are not viewed as self-centered or a self-promoter. Rather, they are viewed as the consummate team player.
Management Skills. Many great fleet managers are simply great managers who happen to manage fleets. People skills, creativity, and an incredible amount of drive tend to be common denominators. Great fleet managers are also good delegators.
Effective Networking Skills. Great fleet managers recognize the importance of relationship building. They maintain excellent relationships with internal and external business partners along with and senior leadership. They continually network with industry peers and suppliers, attend national fleet meetings to enhance knowledge, and participate in organizations supporting the fleet industry. They take advantage of networking opportunities to learn as much as they can and maintain an open-door to industry suppliers who are often excellent sources of information.
Patience and Flexibility. Patience is a virtue in all aspects of life, but especially so if you are a fleet manager. Those fleet managers recognize that it may take time for others in senior management to recognize their contributions, especially if they may be new to the position.
Great fleet managers are also very flexible. They have the flexibility to adapt to changing industry trends with a focus on strategic planning. They are able to switch directions at the drop of a hat. They maintain a positive attitude when decisions have been made with little to no input from them. As many fleet managers will tell you, flexibility is the key to career survival. You must be able to change as required to get the job done. Nothing stays the same, and you must constantly be ready and able to move in a different direction, and not always the way you expected.
Collaborative. Great fleet managers have the ability to collaborate with stakeholders and develop an internal value proposition that promotes continuous improvement, particularly through new technology. This includes the ability to elicit commitment from diverse business stakeholders, companies, and personalities.
Confident. A great fleet manager has confidence about their abilities. You are the expert in fleet management; everyone else is a car buff.
Agent of Change. This is the ability to challenge tradition when there is clear evidence that changing the way something has always been done will result in a positive customer and/or employee experience and/or savings. A great fleet manager must become an agent of change, always supporting their position with empirical data. They take the emotion out of the discussion and decision-making and know their data backwards and forwards. Be prepared to speak and rationalize the change that you encourage. Be prepared to defend your position, and, most importantly, be prepared to show objectors the direct benefits to them and/or their departments in making this change. Great fleet managers are advocates of change and embrace new technologies. Fleet managers who are agents of change continually strive to do better. There is always something new coming along that needs to be examined and, perhaps, implemented.
Negotiation Skills. Great fleet managers have excellent negotiation skills with both internal customers and external suppliers.
Mentorship. A great fleet manager often serves as a mentor. They serve as a teacher or educator to others in their company and the industry. Great managers are mentoring whenever the opportunity arises.
Consistent Performer. A great fleet manager produces consistent performance and results. They foster a climate within a fleet operation that is known for taking prompt action and doing what it says it will do. A great fleet manager promotes continuous improvement.
Detail-Oriented & Self-Motivated. Great fleet managers are very detail-oriented and self-motivated. You must possess both of these traits because you are often the only fleet employee in your organization and usually the only one who knows all of the moving parts that make up a well-run fleet.
Giving Back. Great fleet managers give back to the industry by getting involved with industry associations such as NAFA and AFLA. They become an interview source for industry publications to share their knowledge and expertise with others in the industry. They volunteer to be industry speakers at conferences and actively network with those new to the industry. Great fleet managers are viewed as leaders inside and outside of their organization.
Knowledgeable About Automotive Trends and Equipment in the Fleet. These fleet managers know when totally redesigned versions of the cars and trucks on their selectors will debut so they can cycle out as many of the “old” models to optimize resale. This fleet manager is up-to-date on the status of their fleet. They instantly know how many of what type of vehicles are located where and why. They are also in tune with how the driver base, HR, risk management, finance department, and driver management view the fleet operation, and are proactive to rectifying concerns or misperceptions.