A facility professional who has several years of experience under their belt can provide a wealth of information to the next generation of facility leaders.

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The following advice for a career in health facility management was developed with input from multiple professionals who have worked successfully in the field for many years.

These leaders have facility management backgrounds as well as experience working in other health care leadership roles. They willingly gave their advice to help those beginning their careers as well as those later in their careers who are wondering what’s next.

This advice can be loosely divided over seven leadership attributes:

1. Preparation

Today’s hyper-competitive work environment can be stressful for health facility managers. In good economic times, the fear of job loss or layoff is often distant. Unfortunately, businesses and economies are cyclical, and job losses are inevitable parts of the workplace. This turn of events can be very traumatizing to a new professional, and even more so to a seasoned employee with 20 to 30 years invested in their careers.

Employees in today’s workplace need to have a plan B. This means forecasting the future. Facility professionals need to ask themselves: “What can I do to preserve my employment and make my employer think twice before showing me the door? How do I make myself so valuable to an organization that they would be foolish to terminate or eliminate my job or employment?” The answer can be summed up in three areas: education, advanced training and certifications.

A college education isn’t always necessary but, overall, studies have concluded that ongoing and advanced education increases the chances of an employee having a successful career. Advanced training also is important, especially in a dynamic work environment like health care. Becoming the subject matter expert (SME) for an organization, whether in areas such as facilities management, compliance or project management, is crucial and helps solidify an employee’s value to their organization. This ongoing education and skill building also may be of value to other employers seeking expertise. 

In other words, employees should be well rounded but also find their niche. They should seek out and research certifications that add value to their skill sets and their organizations. These certifications often separate the perceived good from the great professionals.

From an employer perspective, these certifications provide the evidence at first glance that an employee has been tested and has achieved some quantifiable understanding of the profession they have chosen. Moreover, achieving these certifications is no easy task, and they provide the employer with a sense that the employee is hardworking and dedicated.

It’s also important to note that all certifications are not created equal. It is important to find the gold standard in a profession, or certifications that are highly valued by the organization or field. In the health care field, the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) provides training opportunities in specific areas to assist individuals who desire to become the SME for their organization. These specialized training programs cover a variety of topics such as fire door inspections, fire protection, emergency power and emergency management. ASHE’s on-demand learning at www.ashe.org/ondemand allows ASHE members to access this training 24/7 and at their own pace.

2. Professional ethics

Ethics in the workplace is a critical aspect of a facility leader’s life. Facility leaders are often tasked with making very difficult decisions. The decisions are often made where the answer is not readily found in a textbook, asking Google or searching YouTube. Professionals often make decisions based on the best available data and the experience obtained over their careers.

Unfortunately, decisions made by the best facility leaders are influenced by finances and time as well as internal and external pressures. Sometimes, the best solutions are overlooked when finances, time and pressures become too inordinate. The primary focus of facility leaders must remain the patients and employees who come into health care facilities daily.

While researching this article, one health care leader was asked about the importance of ethics in her day-to-day role. Her response was, “All my professional certifications and licenses I’ve worked years to achieve can be taken away in an instant if I don’t practice my profession ethically. If I do my job the right way or ‘ethical’ way, I’m confident I will always be able to find employment somewhere else using those certifications. It also allows me to rest easy at night knowing that I’ve done what was right, no matter how difficult the task or situation may be.”

3. Persistence

Another attribute that often is overlooked in the facility profession is persistence. President Calvin Coolidge mentioned persistence in one of his more notable quotes: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

This concept was discussed with a doctoral graduate who recently finished his terminal degree. This individual mentioned that his classmates consisted of engineers, scientists and computer programmers. These students were, in his opinion, at another level in terms of cognitive ability and talents. At the end of the day, this person obtained his degree before most in his class. This was not a result of being more intellectual or proficient academically. He said that his desire to achieve and persistence are what drove his success, allowing him to finish his degree before most of his classmates.

He said, “I can best describe my success finishing my degree with that of a fictional horse race. As a figurative horse in the academic race, I just wanted to be in the pack when my classmates and I rounded the final turn — the turn being the final semester before graduation and before our dissertation defense. I figured if I could just remain persistent toward my goal and take one step at a time, I would be successful.”

This individual noted he completed his degree while working full time, raising a young family and overseeing the construction of a new house.

4. Leadership

It’s not easy being a leader. It’s even more difficult to become a leader and earn the respect of colleagues and subordinates. 

It is also important to understand the difference between being a leader and being a manager. The leadership-management theory is a continuum. A leader must be able to motivate, earn trust and influence. A manager must be able to demonstrate how to get the task completed. A great leader has both skills.

The easiest way for facility professionals to become leaders is for them to watch what great leaders do. In times of high stress, they should observe how these individuals handle themselves and how they react to stressful situations. 

A current leader at a local university interviewed for this article said, “Being a leader means making yourself available to your employees and the people you serve.” It also means “earning and maintaining the respect of your employees.” 

Another hospital leader mentioned that to her, a leader has the following traits:

  • A person who understands people.
  • A person who knows how to motivate their employees.
  • A person who advocates for their profession.
  • A person who chooses no favorites and treats everyone fairly.
  • A person who is always looking forward and preparing for what lies ahead.

Furthermore, several professionals interviewed for this article mentioned that it’s also important for a leader to customize their leadership abilities. This involves finding or discovering what motivates employees and focusing on these factors. Focusing on these factors helps get the most out of employees and keeps them involved in the long-term goals of the organization.

This customized leadership also involves identifying the unique talents and expertise employees bring to the workplace so they can be placed in positions to succeed and achieve. Customized leadership allows professionals to build teams with members that complement one another. This leadership approach process lays a strong foundation for building a team in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Another professional interviewed for this article mentioned that, early in her career, she asked her supervisor why she was so concerned about her well-being, including both personal and professional success. She said her supervisors’ response was, “As your supervisor, you are a reflection of me. When you succeed, I succeed, and when you fail, I fail.” This employee remembered her supervisor saying this to her as an intern over 20 years ago and continues to put these words into practice during her career as a facility leader.

5. Problem solving

Another important attribute of being a successful facility leader is being a good problem solver. Often, young professionals have a wealth of book knowledge and are more competent with technology than their generational predecessors. 

However, this often manifests itself in an overemphasis of problem identification instead of problem solving.

Almost anyone can find fault or identify problems. It takes a unique talent to solve problems and think outside the box, finding better or more efficient ways to complete tasks. Problem solving also involves using critical thinking skills to eliminate flaws with information analysis such as groupthink, anchoring bias or confirmation bias. It also involves the ability to look at problems from multidimensional and differing viewpoints.

The viewpoints often provide unique pieces of information and data related to the problem. For example, a building looks a lot different at ground level, where windows, doors, the pavement and similar features are within view. If the vantage point is changed by going to the rooftop, the building will be the same, but features such as the roof deck, HVAC units and roof exhausts will be visible.

These different perspectives provide additional data to see a problem in a different light. Subsequently, one also can plan corrective action and attack a problem from these same angles or perspectives. This action may take several attempts until a solution that’s going to work and be successful is found.

6. Soft and hard skills

There seems to be an endless and informal debate on whether soft skills or hard skills are more important. Both are important and are needed to become a successful facilities leader.

Soft skills often are viewed as those such as communication, leading people and understanding the unique talents people bring to a team. This also includes developing people and teams that promote the development of synergistic effects where individuals on the team complement one another. These soft skills also include the ability to resolve conflicts and work successfully with difficult individuals using the term “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence is best described as the ability to eliminate the drama from a given situation and to remain focused at the task or problem at hand. This attribute is often a skill polished by years of experience and, unfortunately, from experiences with difficult individuals.

Hard skills are more technical in nature. This does not mean becoming an engineer or scientist. Instead, it means acquiring a technical or fundamental understanding of the processes and systems in a facility. The acquisition of these skills often is a lifelong process where, through experience, one polishes their technical skills and becomes more proficient in their job and career.

The argument as to whether hard or soft skills are more important will continue to be debated. Some professionals feel the mastery of soft skills often is needed so more technical skills can be applied effectively in the workplace.

7. Mentorship

A facility professional who has several years of experience under their belt can provide a wealth of information to the next generation of facility leaders. This wealth of information consists of the experience they gained during their careers as well as the knowledge they acquired through education, training and certifications.

It has been said that offering time and support to a young professional is the most selfish thing a leader can do. This may seem illogical at first, but actions and the impact a leader has on that professional will reward the leader multiple times over. This will also make more sense as the leader realizes they played an important role in the individual’s success.

For the young professional, it is important that they listen to the advice from more seasoned professionals, especially if that person is supportive of the young professional’s career and concerned about their growth within the profession. The ability to accept constructive criticism and feedback is something that seems to be less common in today’s workplace, and that’s a mistake.

Finally, young professionals should respect and repay that advice received from others by saying two words that are not said enough: “Thank you.” These simple but powerful words will mean a lot to the leader who shows a genuine interest in a younger employee’s personal and professional growth. 

Joseph Losko, D.Sc., CSP, CHMM, is an assistant professor in the safety management department at Slippery Rock (Penn.) University, and Angela Bernardo, Ph.D., CSP, is an associate professor in the safety management department at Slippery Rock University. They can be reached at joseph.losko@sru.edu and angela.bernardo@sru.edu.