Hospital facilities managers must find people with drive and ambition.

Hospitals bracing for facility manager retirements might do well to find people with the drive and ambition of Randy French, who jokes that upon entering the field more than a decade ago, “I’d be lucky at that point to replace a flapper on a toilet.”

In the years since starting a career in facilities management, French worked his way up to maintenance supervisor for KentuckyOne Health at Saint Joseph East, a 217-bed hospital in Lexington, Ky. With the help and support of his boss, facilities manager Spencer Hammond, French is working to develop a comprehensive employee training program and has enrolled in an online associate’s degree program in facilities management from Owensboro (Ky.) Community & Technical College (OCTC).

“The next step would be facilities manager,” says French, 42. “That’s definitely my goal.”

By identifying employees with potential — and helping them to build the skill sets needed to advance — KentuckyOne Health at Saint Joseph East will be in a better position when current facility leaders retire.

Another organization that is working on succession planning is the Carolinas HealthCare System.

American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) President Philip Stephens, MHA, CPE, CHFM, FASHE, a senior specialist in plant operations and maintenance system support, is developing a succession plan for Carolinas that includes defining competencies and a motivational profile required for key positions.

Stephens wrote a detailed article showing how to develop succession plans in the first quarter 2012 edition of Inside ASHE magazine, which is available to members at In the article, Stephens says the best health care organizations do the following when succession planning:

• Obtain buy-in from the C-suite;

• Look at future health care trends;

• Develop a formal succession planning program;

• Attract, recruit and mentor the next generation;

• Develop upward mobility for the best of the best in the organization.

While some hospitals are making succession planning a priority, others face challenges in a field in which there are few clear career paths, and large numbers of baby boomers are expected to retire in the coming years.

“I do not think it is lost on senior leaders that the qualified job pool is shrinking,” Stephens says. “I just do not think they understand that with no existing facilities manager educational career paths, the ability to fill vacant positions with qualified candidates in the future will be difficult, if not impossible.”

Sense of urgency

A 2012 survey by Health Facilities Management and ASHE found that 40 percent of facility managers were older than 55 — an increase from 35 percent in the 2009 survey.

The aging of baby boomers affects many fields, but health care facilities management is a bit different from other occupations. At an architectural firm, for example, there may be several potential executives who can slide into open positions. The facilities management department of a hospital may not have a progressive path for executives to advance, and there may only be one facility manager.

In addition, many health care facility managers didn’t come to their jobs through a defined career path. French, for example, worked in vehicle assembly at Toyota’s Georgetown (Ky.) plant, before landing a job in maintenance at Saint Joseph’s office park. Others come from engineering backgrounds at nonmedical facilities and then spend five or 10 years learning the specialized aspects of the highly regulated hospital environment.

About this series

This series of tutorial articles is a joint project of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering and Health Facilities Management.

The health care field is changing so fast these days that few have the time to spend years getting to know these complexities, says Michael A. Canales, program director of the facilities management program at OCTC.

“I attempt to compress the learning curve into two years,” Canales says of the associate’s degree program launched last January. “A degree is becoming almost paramount.”

New requirements

Many health care systems are beginning to require everything from associate's degrees to master’s degrees while, in the past, job experience was the primary qualification for many positions, Tom Stewart, SASHE, CHFM, CHC, former corporate director of facilities at Southern Illinois Healthcare, Carbondale, Ill., noted in a letter of support for the OCTC program last year.

Canales says a number of his students were told by their bosses: “I want you to succeed me in five or 10 years.”

To do so, they’ll need to become adept in a number of areas such as project management, budgeting, industry codes, operations management and how disparate systems such as HVAC, electrical, fire and sprinkler systems interact within a health care environment.

Canales, who spent 20 years in facilities management for health care facilities in Ohio and Virginia, says specialized education in the hospital environment is crucial given the conundrum the health care facilities manager program faces in academia. On one hand, it is not accepted as a health care curriculum because the program is based in engineering. On the other hand, the engineering community views it as a health care program. “The irony is we’re both,” Canales says.

Although the Owensboro program was only launched earlier this year, a number of students in the class already have been promoted or given additional leadership responsibility, he adds.

Developing soft skills

Those with ambition to become a health facility manager also will have to master other competencies, including the ability to communicate with the C-Suite.

All too often, clinical staff and others in a hospital assume that systems such as HVAC and lighting operate by themselves, says Dana Swenson, PE, senior vice president and chief facilities officer at UMass Memorial Health Care.

“You should be selling your ‘business’ (to them) every single day,” Swenson said at ASHE’s Annual Conference in August.

While hospital engineers are deft at such technical matters as energy conservation, they may not necessarily be good at conveying this information to the executive suite, notes Tim Adams, FASHE, CHFM, CHC, director of leadership development at ASHE.

The ability to master such soft competencies as communication is something that Swenson credits as part of his career ascension. “I am able to take engineering terms and put them into layman’s terms,” says Swenson. “That’s a skill I’ve had to work on … it is something that helps you speak to the C-suite.”

Knowing what skills to work on can help facilities professionals to develop their careers. Making an honest assessment on paper of one’s strengths and weaknesses can help, Adams says. “How can I maximize these strengths? What soft skills do I have as well?”

Some health care organizations have their own professional development staff that can be helpful, Swenson says. “Use the resources you have,” he adds. “They will help you to lay out your career ladder.”

Employees also should assess what they ultimately want to accomplish in their careers. Not everyone wants to be a facility manager or reach the C-suite, and the skills needed may vary based on individual goals.

For those who strive for leadership positions, being visible throughout the hospital also can help. For example, Adams recommends talking to doctors and learning more about their clinical expectations. Adams once approached a doctor who had a reputation for being hard to please.

The doctor conveyed that he felt a tremendous responsibility for the outcome of patient procedures and that he had concerns about power supply reliability — similar to those of Adams. The discussion revealed that the two actually had some common ground.

Building bench strength

Stephens says hospitals and health care systems must “create their own bench strength through succession planning that trains employees up.”

That’s what Saint Joseph East is doing by supporting French and his college program. Since starting the associate’s degree program, French has started to realize how many things he doesn’t know. His studies prompted him to think about improvements Saint Joseph East could make, such as to the HVAC system in the surgery department, inspiring him to consult with an equipment contractor.

French is also challenged by his facility manager to expand his skills. “Right now, I have a supportive facilities manager who encourages me,” he says. “It makes a huge difference having someone to encourage me and help me to reach my goals.”

Succession planning not only helps employees reach their career goals and aspirations, but it also helps hospitals to prepare for future staffing challenges.

Practical first steps

While encouraging staff to participate in career development training is a no-brainer, hospitals may not know how to administer a formal succession plan.

Swenson says there are a couple of basic ways to approach it.

First, is there an in-house backup who could grow into the senior role? “A quick answer can be found if you look at who the primary contact is when the VP or director is away [on vacation or at a conference],” he says.

“Would that same individual be suitable for a replacement or even for an extended period while a replacement is being found? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then great, you have the start of a plan and you may want to more formally begin providing training and opportunities for that future candidate.” But, if the answer is “no,” then contingency and succession planning is in order, Swenson says.

Swenson advises having discussions with the incumbent facilities manager to get a rough idea of the person’s planned exit time frame “so the organization can work backward to determine when someone should be brought on board.”

For those without a succession plan in place, it may be necessary to find an interim individual to fill the gap while recruitment takes place.

“This is a common model for CIOs, CFOs and many other executive positions,” Swenson says. “The interim will keep the department moving and ensure that the necessary work is being accomplished without making major changes — leaving any of those for the final replacement.”

Ready for the job

As the average age of facilities managers increases, developing the next generation of leaders has become more important than ever. The advice and resources offered here will help today’s veterans ensure that those who fill their shoes will be ready for the job. 

, a freelancer writer based in Fishers, Ind., wrote this article under contract to the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.

Developing skills to advance young careers

A number of programs offered by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) and others are designed to help the next generation of facilities managers to cultivate their skills.

Academic programs

Programs offered through colleges around the country include:

•ASHE university outreach. Each year, students from several universities are invited to attend the ASHE Annual Conference and the International Summit and Technical Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction (PDC Summit). Besides learning about the field, students conduct research projects.

•ASHE internship program. ASHE and Schneider Electric have collaborated to expand the ASHE internship program. College students participating in the program gain real-world work experience and are exposed to the health care facility management field. Hospitals that host interns benefit by providing a type of “trial run” that can lead to full-time employment down the road.

•Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue offers a bachelor’s in building construction management, with an emphasis on health care. The program aims to prepare students for careers in the field as well as for the Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) or Certified Healthcare Facilities Manager (CHFM) examinations.

•Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. BYU offers a bachelor’s degree in building construction management that includes a specialty in health care.

•Owensboro (Ky.) Community & Technical College. The associate's degree program in health care facilities leadership was launched in January. It prepares students for careers in the field as well as for the CHFM exam. The course is offered online, so students from all over the country can participate. The program has garnered interest from a number of professionals already in health care facility management careers.

Continuing education

Educational opportunities to support professional development include:

•ASHE educational programs. ASHE educational programs are offered around the country. Geared toward those already working in the field, the programs tackle subjects like infection prevention, commissioning, construction, life safety and accreditation.

•ASHE conferences. The ASHE Annual Conference includes sessions to keep facility professionals up-to-date on such topics as code compliance, operations, leadership and value. The PDC Summit offers education related to planning, design, construction, compliance, leadership and value.

•Energy University. Energy University, a program from ASHE’s University Program Partner, Schneider Electric, offers a series of e-learning courses available to ASHE members at no cost. The courses help facility professionals to learn new ways to create energy-efficient health care facilities, which is an especially important topic as hospitals search for ways to reduce operational costs.


Professional certifications that denote a level of expertise include:

•Certified Healthcare Facility Manager. For those with several years of experience in the field, the CHFM designation is a way to be recognized as the elite in the profession. CHFMs tend to make more money on average than those without the designation. A 2012 salary survey conducted by ASHE and Health Facilities Management magazine found that the CHFM was worth an extra $10,000 in salary on average.

•Certified Healthcare Constructor. For those in construction, the CHC certification is a way to earn distinction in a crowded marketplace.

•Exam preparation. ASHE offers preparation courses for both the CHFM and CHC exams. More information is available at