When fleet managers are asked "what is your biggest challenge?" or anything similar, many will answer along these lines: "Getting management to see and acknowledge my contribution to the company." This answer points to a universal problem: Too many fleet managers labor in obscurity and are taken for granted, battling the stereotype that they are little more than "grease monkeys in business suits."

Although fleet managers don’t have the same opportunities that sales managers have to be recognized for their performance, the chances to shine do exist, and you need to take full advantage of them all. The fine line, however, comes in doing so without being seen as a self-promoter, a braggart who is merely looking for attention. Here are some ways you can promote yourself without being labeled as "self- promoting."

From the Beginning

One of the first things you should do when given responsibility is develop relationships with other managers. From direct supervisors up to the CEO, they should all know who you are, what you do, and how and why you do it. If you haven’t done so from the start, take the next opportunity when it presents itself, e.g., when a new policy or change in an existing one is implemented, when reports are forwarded, or any other opportunity to communicate "up the line" presents itself.

This can be done professionally and subtly, without fanfare, and that’s how it should be. "Playing up" to senior managers can be too obvious; however, if interactions begin as strictly business, a professional relationship can develop quickly.

Vehicles are a very personal issue; everyone has opinions — often strong ones — about the vehicles they drive and the fleet manager is nearly always viewed as the "car guy or gal" in the company, whose opinions will be sought about related matters. Executives are no exception, and any opportunity to make "car talk" should be taken.[PAGEBREAK]

Become ‘Known’ in the Company

While it is senior management that can help a fleet manager the most, it is equally important to try to achieve a high profile among the entire spectrum of your peers in the company. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, including:

Participate in company events. If the bulk of fleet is in sales, try to attend sales meetings, phone into regularly scheduled conference calls, and get out into the field to meet drivers. If it is service, try to learn as much as possible about how customers and products are serviced. If there are company social functions, attend them. Overall, the more people you know and who know you increases your ability to take advantage of opportunities.

Many companies conduct seminars and presentations given by various functions: human resources, sales, manufacturing, legal, financial, etc., so employees understand what their colleagues’ responsibilities are. If the company does this, make sure fleet is on the agenda.

Use company media — intranet, newsletters, etc. — to publicize what fleet is doing. Safe driving award winners, for example, can be featured, with photographs and stories describing the award and the program itself. Of course, you should make certain that you are also prominently featured in the coverage.

Unlike many other departmental functions, such as human resources, legal, risk management, or accounting, fleet seldom has a very large staff; indeed, it often has no staff at all beyond the fleet manager. The result is that when employees think fleet, they will inevitably think of the fleet manager. The two become interchangeable. This makes it easier for you to promote yourself by using company media.

Become ‘Known’ in the Industry

The ultimate goal you should have when promoting yourself is enhancing career opportunities, whether within the company or outside of it. The latter is a path that more managers take today than any time before. One of the best ways to find outside opportunities or for opportunities to find a fleet manager is to become known in the fleet industry.

There are many fleet professional organizations — NAFA Fleet Management Association and the Automotive Fleet and Leasing Association (AFLA) are the two best known — and membership in one or more is critical to self-promotion. These organizations offer a number of excellent opportunities for fleet managers looking to raise their profile. Volunteer as an officer in a local chapter. Offer to make a presentation or serve on a panel during a local chapter or national meeting. Overall, become involved regularly, as the networking opportunities alone will help a fleet manager become well known for his or her expertise.[PAGEBREAK]

There are also a number of fleet-oriented trade publications, which are always looking for freelance writers and articles ranging from basic fleet management subjects (policy, lease versus own, maintenance, vehicle selection, safety) to legislation regula-tion, to financial subjects and even human interest stories. Bylines on such articles help fleet managers to establish a reputation for expertise that is priceless.

Network, network, network. If you are a veteran, you need to make certain that your peers in the industry know you are available to share experiences and expertise to help those new to the profession. On the other hand, if you are new to the industry, you should seek out those who can help you learn the ropes. Get to know as many peers as possible, and stay in touch with them.

The fleet industry is a "niche" business. Although fleet managers are responsible for literally millions of vehicles and operating budgets in the billions of dollars, there are few fleet managers relative to other departmental heads, such as human resources, accounting, or purchasing. Fleet managers looking to promote themselves and their expertise can benefit greatly from this simple fact. Involvement in trade associations, writing for trade publications, and vigorous networking can help you promote your experience and success, which, in turn, can create career opportunities.

Work the ‘Other Side of the Desk’

There are a number of careers in the fleet industry: fleet management, working for a vehicle manufacturer, fleet lessors and service companies, even used-vehicle sales. These and more all contribute to the fleet industry. Another way fleet managers (and others in the industry) can promote themselves is to seek opportunities elsewhere in the business.

For decades, fleet professionals have moved smoothly and successfully from one area of the industry to another.

Fleet lessors have both tremendous visibility as well as clout in the fleet industry. They bring resources to fleets that companies simply don’t have. Careers with lessors include sales, client services, operations, purchasing, used- vehicle sales, and finance/accounting. Fleet managers have many of the skills and experience these careers require, and taking advantage of these opportunities will bring new perspective, new experience, and the ability to make new contacts in the industry that remaining in fleet management might not provide.[PAGEBREAK]

Although most lessors offer a full suite of fleet management and administrative services, there are some companies that specialize in specific programs. These include safety, accident management, replacement rentals, maintenance management, and license/title/tax. Gaining specific expertise in such areas will inevitably help a fleet manager gain a higher profile in the industry.

Dealerships are sometimes the "forgotten" contributors to fleet. Before fleet leasing became the most popular method of acquiring the use of vehicles, fleet-oriented dealers were the backbone of the industry. Although fewer companies acquire vehicles directly from dealerships today, they remain an indispensible part of the fleet process. Fleet managers should know and understand how dealers work, and there is no better way of doing so than to work for a fleet-minded dealer.

Vehicle manufacturers also have staff dedicated to fleet, as do some banks, fleet fuel card providers, and others. Once a fleet manager has gained some experience on the job itself, it is a good idea to expand and deepen understanding of these various aspects of the job, and seeking opportunities with support and service companies is an excellent way to gain both knowledge as well as a higher profile. A resume that includes experience working both sides of the fleet desk will open any number of doors.

What Not To Do

Here’s how not to promote a positive profile as related by a fleet industry veteran.

A fleet industry function that included fleet managers and representatives from vehicle manufacturers, lessors, service companies, and others was in full swing. During a break in the function, the fleet veteran noticed one of his peers who had cornered a manufacturer’s rep. The peer was visibly angry, lecturing the rep about some order he had placed that had not gone smoothly, shouting, and pointing his finger. It was embarrassing.

Promoting oneself for the purpose of expanding and advancing one’s career is an important part of professional development; but, doing so at the expense of others, for one instance, is both foolish and self-defeating. One way that some fleet managers seek to do so is by bullying their suppliers, who have little choice but to put up with it. This is unprofessional, creates more problems than solutions, and most certainly will put a damper on a fleet manager’s ability to gain opportunities beyond fleet management.[PAGEBREAK]

It is also all too common for some fleet managers to claim successes that strain credibility. A veteran fleet manager who has been in the job for years, who suddenly claims to have saved his company millions by instituting some new policy begs the simple question "what have you been doing for those years you’ve been managing the fleet, if you suddenly discover you’ve been wasting the millions you now claim to have saved?" Self-promotion by making such outlandish claims serves little purpose, and can actually hurt a fleet manager’s reputation.

Another way you can hurt your efforts at promoting your performance is by failing to delegate whenever possible. Fleet managers who are fortunate enough to have staff do themselves little good if they insist on taking full credit for all successes, and failing to take responsibility when things go wrong. It is a proven adage that if a fleet manager (or any employee, for that matter) makes certain that he or she is indispensible, it will happen. Being indispensible may help job security, but it won’t do much for career prospects beyond the job at hand. If the opportunity to delegate authority or responsibility exists, don’t let it pass.

Focus On ‘Promotion’

When all is said and done, promoting one’s ability, expertise, and experience is for the purpose of promoting one’s career; getting a "promotion," so to speak. To do so:

Develop relationships with those who can help achieve professional goals.

Take every opportunity to become "known" within the company and the industry.

If an opportunity presents itself to work on the "other side" of the desk, take it in order to gain new or deeper knowledge and understanding.

Don’t promote yourself at the expense of others, don’t claim accomplishments that are questionable, and never pass on the chance to delegate in order to make yourself available for greater responsibilities. FF