Fleet Management: Stepping Stone to Career Advancement
Few management positions are better suited to moving up the career ladder. Fleet management contains all the key elements of responsibility and experience the company looks for in an up-and-coming manager.
Sometimes, a fleet manager can feel isolated, “pigeonholed” in a job little understood and even less appreciated. However, fleet managers have all the skills, qualities, and experience senior management demands, and as a result, fleet management is an excellent stepping stone to higher responsibilities, provided the fleet manager understands how to use it.
What qualities do companies look for in a senior manager? Putting aside for the moment the experience and knowledge specific to a position (i.e., financial background for a treasurer, manufacturing experience for a plant manager), these general qualities describe the attributes of an effective fleet manager:
● Decision making.
● Strategic thinking.
● Tactical abilities.
● Quick mind.
● Taking responsibility.
● Financial savvy.
● Keen communications skills.
■ Decision Making
Fleet management is essentially a decision-making process. Fleet managers are faced with decisions, large and small, everyday. Most concern “putting out fires” — a driver needs help; financial issues such as whether a damaged vehicle should be repaired or replaced; and other technical-related questions such as authorizing repairs when a vehicle is in the shop.
Many fleet management decisions must be made on the spot. Fleet managers must have the knowledge and confidence to decide.
■ Strategic Thinking
Fleet managers must be able to think strategically. With the roller coaster of fuel prices, a volatile used-vehicle market, and an automotive industry in turmoil, it is impossible to run a fleet of company vehicles without long-term planning.
For example, matching the vehicle to the mission is not a simple process today. Not long ago, only a handful of options (vehicle types) were available and putting a selector together was a relatively uncomplicated process. Today, however, unprecedented increases in fuel prices have required fleet managers research alternate fuel options, and the influence of “import” labels has expanded the menu of vehicles dramatically. Finally, with the auto manufacturers in near chaos, alternative plans must be in place in the event models selected aren’t available.
Fleet managers also must produce both fleet and departmental budgets each year, as well as strategies for cost containment/reduction.
■ Tactical Abilities
Strategic thinking determines the “what;” tactical abilities determine the “how.” Turning strategies into tactics is a critical skill, and fleet managers do it regularly.
A strategy often results from requests or tasks assigned from above; a senior manager demands the fleet participate in a corporate green initiative, for example. The overall plan must be developed; tactics to accomplish the plan follow. This process is particularly true pertaining to cost containment/reduction. Goals are set (strategically) and tactics on how to achieve them come next. Good managers are skilled at turning strategy into tactics.
■ Quick Mind
Each workday, phone calls, e-mails, all manner of communication bring small problems and challenges to the fleet manager’s desk — the driver whose registration has expired, notice of an accident, a manufacturer notification that placed orders won’t be built in the current model-year. All of these issues require a manager who can think on his or her feet, make decisions, and act. Customers, products, and service all hang in the balance. Quick thinking is a critical fleet management quality, as it is in moving up the ladder.