Fleet management, as a profession, can be a lucrative one, with 60 percent of fleet managers earning between $60,000 and $105,000 per year, according to AF's 2013 Salary Survey. It can also be a challenging career, requiring at least some knowledge of the automotive industry, changes in legislation, and at least a working knowledge of accounting, personnel management, and automobiles.
However, everyone starts at the same place in fleet management: at the very beginning, the first day on the job, with a strong possibility the only fleet knowledge he or she has is what the word fleet means (but that isn't always guaranteed).
So, how does a new fleet manager survive, grow, and step up and become successful in this complex and close-knit industry?
Five steps to help a new fleet manager start the journey on the right foot are shared:
A crucial step to becoming a long-time, successful fleet manager is networking. Fleet management is a complex profession, and one of the best learning resources is an experienced fleet manager.
"One of the biggest questions I had when I started in fleet was wondering how all of the pieces fit together," said Theresa Jenack, fleet manager for GE Energy. "I had a lot of questions, such as what did it mean to upfit a pickup truck and the lead time required — I had a lot of them!"
Utilize networking sites, such as LinkedIn, as well as industry-specific social media groups or pages to find fleet managers and groups that can help answer the many questions you'll have as a beginner. There is no shortage of experienced fleet managers happy to help.
2. Pick Up the Phone (& Answer it, Too)
In a study conducted by the staff of Automotive Fleet in 2009, it was discovered that, when trying to reach commercial fleet managers by phone, you'll probably get voicemail. Of the 50 fleet managers called for the survey, only eight answered their phone when it rang, with the remaining calls going to voicemail.
Communication is key to being a successful fleet manager. If you are a new fleet manager, you never know if the person on the other end of the line may be your new fountainhead of knowledge.
"We live in a communication-intensive environment and it is easy to become overwhelmed with electronic media. It's easy to miss an e-mail with the hundreds we get daily," noted Steven Saltzgiver, VP, fleet management for Republic Services. "It has become more important than ever to occasionally pick up the phone or drop by an office to communicate in person to ensure we are on the same page."
Today, people rely so heavily on e-mail, forgetting the benefits of a voice-to-voice connection.
While your days are busy, make time as often as possible to pick up the phone to ask that quick question, rather than e-mail. Build the connections that you will be working with and depending on for the rest of your career.
3. Get Out of the Office
MBWA is an acronym that was popular in the 1980s, and stands for "management by walking around." This theory means a manager should be open and close to his or her staff and ready to communicate.
This type of comfortable relationship with direct reports is good, as it helps management be more aware of what's going on.
Fleet managers should take time to walk around their fleet operations, and learn from the "boots on the ground." The fleet's staff, and others directly involved with the use and maintenance of a company's fleet, are a great resource for a new fleet manager.
"It's important to make site visits and communicate with the field to determine the difference between what the driver wants and what the business needs," said Jenack of GE Energy.
Don't be afraid to ask questions, and let these employees know you are open for communication from them, as well. Keep your ears and eyes open for feedback that could help you better manage your fleet.
4. Never Stop Learning
One of the "secrets" that tenured fleet managers have for their lifelong careers is the desire and motivation to never stop learning.
"Fleet management is an ever-evolving trade where people, process, and technology constantly change. These changes require managers to stay abreast of the latest trends and techniques. Continuous education is the key to staying ahead of the competition," Saltzgiver noted.
And, the fleet industry has a multitude of options for someone interested in growing in this career path, including:
- Industry magazines, including Bobit Business Media's Automotive Fleet, Business Fleet, Green Fleet, Government Fleet, Heavy Duty Trucking, Fleet Financials, and Work Truck magazines.
- Certification programs, including the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM), Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist (CAFS), and Certified Automotive Remarketer (CAR).
- A number of industry events and conferences, including the Green Fleet Conference & Expo, Fleet Safety Conference, Conference of Automotive Remarketing (CAR), and Government Fleet Conference & Expo (GFX).
Jenack of GE Energy recommended researching the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) certification offered by NAFA.
"Research the CAFM and CAFS courses, join an organization such as NAFA, and utilize the resources offered there," said Jenack. "Talk to other fleet professionals and find out what it's all about. It's a challenging, but rewarding career path."
5. Join the Club
There are a number of professional organizations dedicated to the fleet management profession. Some associations that are well worth the research include:
- The Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA)
- The International Automotive Remarketers Alliance (IARA)
- The NAFA Fleet Management Association
Saltzgiver provided one final piece of advice: "Find someone you can trust to help guide you in your fleet career. A good mentor can save you time and frustration from the many pitfalls by leveraging their years of experience to help you learn the business much quicker. Invest in a formal education.
Fleet management touches many disciplines ranging from people skills to accounting and complex analysis. Finally, don't ignore opportunities to engage with colleagues to network on a regular basis by joining professional fleet organizations, this collective information is invaluable and helps you understand your problem has been faced and solved by others."