In some companies, the job of fleet manager is a legacy position; having existed for years with a well-established job description. In others, the job has evolved away from what it may have been since the fleet manager was hired. In still others, it is a new position, being defined for the first time.

Whatever the circumstances, the job description for a fleet manager, like any departmental or management position, contains several elements. Here, we will define these elements, and what the job requires of an incoming fleet manager.

Starting with the Basics

The starting point for an HR manager in establishing a fleet manager job description is researching what the job entails. Many, if not most, employees know that the company has a fleet — few, if any, know what is required to manage it. Even if the position is new and being defined for the first time; there is someone within the company who has fleet duties within his or her larger responsibilities.

Most job descriptions consist of three general categories:

  • Duties and responsibilities.
  • Qualifications (education, background, and experience).
  • Skills and specifications.

Starting with item No. 3, we will work our way back to the job itself.

The company also likely already has some template/boilerplate language that goes into most management or department-head-level positions — personal qualities and skills that any manager should have. Here are some of them:

Good communications skills. The ability to communicate, verbally as well as in writing, is very important to successful fleet management. Fleet managers spend most of their days either on the phone or communicating by e-mail. The “putting out fires” aspect of fleet management is well documented, and “fires” can be extinguished more quickly if a fleet manager is adept at communicating.

Critical thinking. A somewhat vague term, but one that highlights a skill any manager needs. The ability to ask the right questions, separate facts from assumptions, and determine what is relevant and what is not in the decision-making process are all key elements of critical thinking, and are clearly also key elements to successful fleet management.

Negotiating skills. Fleet managers, in dealing with one or multiple suppliers, will need to be skilled negotiators.

Comfortable interacting at multiple levels. From drivers on up to the CEO, fleet managers interact with other employees at all levels of the company, and must be comfortable communicating with all of them.

Ability to supervise and oversee the work of others. For either a fleet department with staff, or where there may be in house repair facilities as well as staff, managers, ultimately, must be able to manage.

There are other skills, of course, depending on the circumstances, corporate culture, and overall environment, but personal skills are the foundation for any job description.

Next, we will zero in on background and experience; skills directly related to the job itself:

  • An understanding of finance and accounting, as it pertains to the acquisition (purchase or lease) of vehicles, and their accounting on the company’s balance sheet. This includes the existing FASB 13 rules, and the coming IASB rules, which will affect U.S. business units of foreign corporations, and could (if the FASB adopts them) affect all U.S. companies.
  • The ability to conduct a lease versus buy analysis, including tax and accounting implications. Or, if such an analysis is conducted by the company treasury or finance department, at least be able to provide the data needed and understand how such a comparison is accomplished.
  • Know the supplier market to assess outsourcing options. This would include fleet leasing, fleet programs such as maintenance and accident management and fuel cards, and other administrative programs. Understand what to outsource and what to keep in house, and know who offers such programs and how they are priced.
  • Know how to price, spec, and purchase or lease vehicles. This would include knowing how manufacturers price, how to read an invoice, and the distribution network from order to delivery.
  • Be familiar with the used-vehicle market, including wholesale, auction, and employee markets. Know how vehicles are sold via each method, how they are priced, and tie that in to how vehicles are equipped when new.
  • Have a basic understanding of vehicle systems and technology. Fleet managers needn’t know how to perform a brake job or replace an alternator, but understand the systems and be able to authorize repairs. This has changed over the years, as vehicle warranties have lengthened, quality improved, and fewer repairs are needed. Most fleets set a dollar ceiling for authorization by a supplier, and above that the fleet manager intervenes.
  • Experience in creating and establishing fleet policies and procedures, from vehicle assignment to replacement cycling, from personal use to accident reporting. May need to edit or update existing policy, or create new one.
  • Understand and track total cost of ownership (TCO), to determine what vehicles are performing as predicted and what aren’t, for purposes of vehicle selection. Create and analyze vehicle cost and exception reports.
  • Be able to establish both a departmental and a fleet budget, both expense and capital.

Reviewing Responsibilities

Now it’s possible to focus on what the responsibilities of the job might be, to be included in the job description.

  • Create departmental and fleet expense and capital budgets, to submit for approval to management. Track performance versus forecast on a monthly (or other) basis.
  • Analyze and determine what vehicles to purchase/lease, and how they are to be equipped.
  • Create/update fleet policy and procedures, to include vehicle assignment, personal use, replacement policy, accident reporting process, and other procedures.
  • Determine what fleet processes should be outsourced, to which suppliers they should be awarded, and to act as primary contact with all suppliers. Track supplier performance, and train drivers in using the programs.
  • Manage or perform regular lease vs. purchase analysis in concert with corporate finance/treasury departments.
  • Chair company safety committee, determine chargeability of all accidents, and execute company fleet policy when action is required.
  • Report fleet expense performance regularly to management, including an annual report when submitting the coming year’s budget.
  • Oversee the sale of (if leased) via wholesale or auction (if owned), or to employees.
  • Manage, assign, and track use of pool vehicles as required.

Again, this list, in general, will reflect the background and experience portion of the job description.

As for education, often positions at or above a certain level require the candidate to have a four-year college degree; some require that degree be in a particular discipline (business related), others do not. But, most veteran fleet managers would agree experience trumps education, and the phrase “or equivalent experience” can be added. A background check is also a good idea.

Most executives will tell you that flexibility in creating job descriptions and the subsequent search and hiring of a department head is crucial. Although the job description should be thorough in treating responsibilities, required background, and preferred skills, it is important that the hiring manager be flexible in determining what skills are more important than others to hire the best candidate and incorporate them in a job description.

Remember — experience is far more valuable than formal education, and the job description should reflect this.