The NAFA Fleet Management Association recently launched a campaign to promote and acknowledge the multiple roles of fleet managers and the importance of the work they do. In many organizations, a single individual is responsible for creating selector lists, buying vehicles, dealing with fleet vendors, reviewing data from an information management system, determining lifecycles based on total cost of ownership, maintenance and fueling, managing risk, and, eventually, remarketing the vehicles.
These tasks are further complicated by today’s challenging economic environment and high expectations of internal customers and senior leadership alike. All of this means that fleet managers must arm themselves with all available tools to deliver safe and efficient services to their organizations.
The factors driving today’s fleet operations include:
- Unstable fuel prices. The price of fuel is one of the main concerns expressed by fleet managers over the past three years. After depreciation, fuel is the largest fleet expense and a small increase in prices can result in a significant impact on large fleet operating costs.
- Market trends. Toyota finished the first half of 2012 in first place in terms of global car sales. Almost one-third of Ford’s global sales in 2012 were to fleets. An informed fleet manager must be able to interpret these facts and understand their potential impact on fleet pricing and residual values.
- Regulatory environment. Environmental standards, driver licensing requirements, and commercial vehicle restrictions may vary by country and even by state or province. Fleet managers must be aware of existing and pending legislation and take action to mitigate any liability exposure for their organization.
In addition to the ability to understand and deal with a host of complex issues, the fleet manager has to meet the expectations of his or her customers and leadership. Fleet customers vary — and may include business units, departments or divisions in an organization, or the drivers themselves. Fleet managers are there to ensure these internal customers have the vehicles they need to perform their primary mission and are influential decision makers in the areas of vehicle selection and specifications, lifecycle, personal-use benefits, reporting, and maintenance schedules and services.
The relationship between a fleet manager and senior leadership requires consideration. In many organizations, leadership is not fully aware, or appreciative, of the role that a professional fleet manager occupies. The first task for the fleet manager, then, becomes to educate senior leadership and build a relationship based on trust and understanding. Another key ingredient to this relationship is a reporting structure and matrix. Fleet managers have to decipher what company leadership wants or needs to know, and then deliver it in a format and at a frequency that meets that requirement.
Professional fleet managers are more than up to these complex challenges, but only if they stay current on a wide range of topics and seek constant improvement. Sources of industry education include a wide range of trade journals such as FLEETSolutions, Automotive Fleet, and Fleet Digest; trade shows such as NAFA`s annual Institute and Expo, the Alternative Clean Transportation Expo, Green Fleet Conference, Fleet Safety Conference, and the Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA) annual conference; and other educational programs.
The education component should not be underestimated. Developing or improving general management, analytical, and financial skills through college or university programs is one method. There are also industry-specific opportunities to gain valuable technical and professional skills through certification programs, such as NAFA’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) and Certified Automotive Fleet Supervisor (CAFS) programs. For additional information on these programs, visit www.fleetcertification.org.
A static approach to learning will simply not meet the demands of the myriad challenges facing the modern day fleet manager. An individual, tailored approach needs to be adopted, which should include:
- Dedicated time weekly (or daily) to read current trade publications.
- A commitment to attend a minimum of one industry event each year, and specific plans to maximize the value of attendance at that event.
- Established career goals that include education, either through post-secondary sources or professional designation programs.
This strategy will ensure fleet managers have, and keep, the skills to multitask, interpret industry trends, and satisfy their customers and their leadership — now and down the road.
About the Author
Lt. Col. (ret.) Katherine Vigneau, CAFM, spent almost 27 years in the Canadian Army, working in transportation and logistics. She retired in 2010 to start KMVS Fleet+ Consulting, specializing in fleet management education and training. Vigneau is a former NAFA trustee and currently serves as NAFA’s professional development strategist.