The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

The Top 50 Traits of a Great Fleet Manager

What traits and skill sets are necessary to become a great fleet manager? To find out, AF surveyed more than 200 seasoned fleet professionals, including fleet managers and fleet suppliers. They identified these 50 traits.

April 2012, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

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:

1 - 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.

2 - 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.

3 - 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.

4- 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.

5 - Lifelong Learners. Great fleet managers never stop learning. They regularly attend fleet management seminars and read industry publications 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.

6 - 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.

7 - 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.

8 - 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.

9 - 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.

10 - Possesses 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.

11 - 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.

12 - 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.

13 - 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.

14 - 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.

15 - 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.

16 - 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.

17 - 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.

18 - 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 the “status quo.”

19 - 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.

20 - 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.

21 - 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.

22 - 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.

23 - 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.

24 - 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.

25 - 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.

Read page 2 for the next 25 traits...

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  1. 1. j beiler [ April 09, 2012 @ 05:01AM ]

    what an awesome article, I got a ways to go. keep up the good work.

  2. 2. Hugh Sutherland [ April 11, 2012 @ 12:06AM ]

    I totally agree with j beiler, this article has been brilliantly structured and Mike Antrich has what it takes to be a great author of core editorial for fleet managers.

    Having said this, I would like Mike to follow through with this topic and survey the fleet industry to establish how many fleet operators rate their fleet manager's score cards [assessments] on these 50 traits, if any?

    Once again, thanks Mike for this excellent article. Hugh.


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