Great maintenance technicians often move into management, but many times they’re unprepared for the changes the shift entails.
“Great technicians see an issue, diagnose it and go fix it,” said Ed Shaffer, CAMT, Director of Maintenance Operations at HHHunt, at the Apartmentalize session “Critical Leadership Skills from Maintenance Leaders” in June.
Skills that are essential for a maintenance manager differ from those required for a maintenance tech. “Great leaders have the skills to get their teams to trust and respect them,” Shaffer says.
Among the skills maintenance leaders need are the ability to teach, manage personnel, budget and, perhaps above all: Communicate.
“There’s an important communication aspect with team management,” says panelist Fred Kicsak, Vice President of Maintenance and Service for Blue Ridge Property Management. “You’re helping define a purpose for the people you lead and giving them a vision. Leaders have to develop a plan and motivate and inspire their team to execute it.”
Shaffer says it’s important for maintenance leaders to understand that everyone has their own way of communicating. Leaders need to adjust to that while letting their staff make mistakes. “You can’t tell them how to get there [solve problems],” he says. “You have to help them find their way.”
Maintenance leaders also need to let their team members learn. “As leaders, we need to allow people to make mistakes and encourage them to be open about it,” says Andy Meador, CAMT, Vice President and Director, Capital Projects, at McDowell Properties. “Don’t take mistakes personally. Learn from them and move on.”
Maintenance leaders who don’t learn how to delegate will find their career advancement stymied. “I’ve seen service leaders fail because they didn’t know how to delegate,” Shaffer says.
Even if a maintenance supervisor demonstrates strong management, communication and training skills and their community is performing at a high level, it can still be hard to get noticed. That’s when you need to look outside of your own organization.
“If your check engine light isn’t coming on and you’re still not getting noticed [for good performance], get involved in your local apartment association,” Meador says. “Show your company that you don’t just care about your community; show them you care about the industry.” There are other benefits, too, with volunteering.
While he agrees that industry service is important for development, Shaffer thinks recognition will come with a strong performance and whether service managers find a way to make their boss’s job easier. “If your property is running smoothly and there are no complaints, you’ll be noticed,” he says. Conversely, when things aren’t going smoothly, conflict arises—sometimes between office and maintenance staff. “Most conflict onsite is from lack of communication,” Shaffer says.
That’s not to say all conflict is bad, though. “Conflict is healthy,” Meador says. “It’s a matter of how you handle it.”