The development of subject-matter expertise and career longevity are interrelated and symbiotic....

The development of subject-matter expertise and career longevity are interrelated and symbiotic. If you want to be a great at your job, you need “time in the saddle.”

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There isn’t a single trait that epitomizes a great fleet manager; rather, it is a multitude of traits interacting with one another. The best fleet managers are “jugglers,” who can balance a variety of variables to make the fleet program work efficiently.

Drivers want one thing, suppliers suggest something else, management has a variety of priorities that seem to shift with each new manager, and everyone is an expert about which manufacturer makes the best product. The great fleet managers are those who are able to juggle these (often contradictory) demands. As one fleet manager told me many years ago, if you are not capable of juggling 18 chainsaws at once, your time as a fleet manager will be limited. 

A corollary trait is having 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 be able to absorb constructive criticism; because, when you’re managing an asset used by other departments, inevitably there will be a lot of second guessing about your decisions.

The development of subject-matter expertise and career longevity are interrelated and symbiotic. If you want to be a great at your job, you need “time in the saddle.”

You can’t have one without the other. Longevity is the secret to being exceptionally good at fleet management, which cannot be learned from a book. There are four key traits that lead to career longevity – flexibility in the face of change, a desire to be a lifelong learner, the ability to have an open mind, and the management skills to be a team player. Additionally, long-time fleet managers know how to promote their accomplishments without being perceived as self-promoters – you’ll never survive if management doesn’t know what you do.

Strong Survival Skills: Flexibility & Adaptability

There is one truism in life: Nothing stays the same. A key trait contributing to career longevity in fleet is the ability to be flexible, especially in fluid situations, and to have the ability to easily adapt to change. You must be ready to change your professional direction, which may not always be the direction you anticipated or initially desired.

All long-time fleet professionals have demonstrated an ability to be flexible, even when management makes significant major decisions affecting the fleet with little to no input from them. Since fleet is ever-changing, you must be able to adapt to change, instead of fighting it. This professional orientation and philosophy will increase your fleet longevity quotient. Not only are long-time fleet professionals able to adapt to change, they are willing to recommend change. However, while good fleet managers adapt to change, great fleet managers thrive on change. 

Motivated to be Lifelong Learners

Long-time fleet managers demonstrate a never-ending desire to learn. By their nature, they love to learn new things and are motivated to do so. They are never complacent — to be complacent is the corporate kiss of death.

They constantly try to improve their value to the company through continual education in developing new skills. However, much of a fleet manager’s true education is learned from on-the-job experience — the proverbial school of hard knocks and this real-world experience will never be learned unless you have longevity in your position. The osmosis of deep fleet knowledge takes years to occur since there is a cyclicality to fleet that takes years of repetition to experience all of the nuances.

Open-Minded to New Approaches

One important trait of long-time fleet managers is being open-minded. It is crucial to be open-minded, because fleet interacts with various departments and user groups. They listen and give serious consideration to new ideas, but have the wisdom and sensibility to temper ideas in the light of fleet pragmatism. But, the bottom line is that they are not threatened by new ideas.

They recognize that, even if they are the resident in-house subject-matter expert, someone else may have a better idea. They are open to ideas regardless of the source, whether they are from suppliers, user department managers, drivers, or from other departments that interact with fleet. Based on my experience, open-mindedness has been continually proven to be the incubator to innovative fleet management, resulting in new processes, metrics, and technological applications.

Manages as a Team Player

Fleet managers deal with a diverse group of drivers, ranging from sales reps to mid-level managers to senior executives, with each group requiring a special finesse. Long-time fleet managers (typically) can accept criticism without getting angry or taking it personally. Similarly, long-time fleet managers are able to build consensus, which means getting others to work with you rather than against you. This means they listen more than they speak.

This is an important point that bears repeating — they listen more than they speak. They gather input from others before making decisions. They reach out and cultivate relationships with manufacturers, fleet service providers, and upfitters. More important, they maintain excellent internal relationships with all departments that interact with fleet and build long-lasting professional relationships. They are committed to a team approach of managing a cost-effective and productive fleet that is responsive to user needs.

Enjoys Being a Fleet Manager

The bottom-line is that long-time fleet professionals enjoy what they do and find personal gratification in their jobs. They may gripe at “doing more with less” and groan at the never-ending barrage of challenges, but, at the end of each day, they have an inner flame of job satisfaction that is hard to extinguish.

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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