Running a maintenance department isn’t for everyone. Maintenance managers must possess a particular skill set to ensure their crew gets on the same page and executes the tasks that need completion.
Sure, there are obvious skills any leader should have, like communication, integrity, accountability, and delegation. We’re not going to head down that well-worn trail of obvious leadership qualities.
Instead, let’s take a closer look at what it takes to be an effective leader in the parks and recreation industry. After all, leaders' success depends on the entire team's productivity.
What unique or overlooked skills that can help parks and recreation maintenance managers excel in their vocations? What qualities do they possess that help them hire the right candidates, keep a team motivated, and stay on top of the ever-changing needs of a park and recreation department?
Here are 4 important leadership skills we’ve noticed in the maintenance leaders we worked with:
Knowing How to Groom Individuals
Those working hard, learning fast, and willing to take on more responsibilities (without complaining) often rise in maintenance departments' ranks.
An effective leader can spot these star players, even during the interview process or hiring event. More importantly, the leader can help these stars develop and build their skill set.
Grooming individuals to excel can be challenging. A leader may unknowingly project something on someone that misleads judgment. Or, as we’ve all experienced at some point, some staff are great at saying and doing the right things when a manager is around--but become someone different when the manager is gone.
Leaders who can effectively identify their subordinates' strengths and turn them into tangible progress for the entire crew enjoy better team satisfaction, retention, and productivity.
Learning agility is the ability to know what to do in situations of uncertainty. In other words, it’s effectively deciding what to do when you don’t know what to do. Those possessing learning agility are often some of the most successful, respected leaders.
You could argue that learning agility is a combination of several essential leadership skills, including (but not limited to):
- Taking Risks
- Accepting Feedback
- Quickly processing information
Those with strong learning agility can tackle new problems in stride. They are constantly thinking on their feet. They analyze a situation and use what they’ve learned in the past to make an effective decision. New concepts and complex issues don’t seem overwhelming to them. Teams with these leaders feel confident in moving forward after a decision.
Springing off learning agility is the ability to lead in a complex environment. Park districts and municipalities often have several unique assets that require their own way of doing things. The maintenance manager has to be aware of all the intricacies of each asset and task to ensure everything is assigned and carried out appropriately.
Management Complexity means being able the scan multiple work environments on any given day and know what:
- Needs to get done
- To add to the day’s workload
- Can wait if necessary
- Preparations are needed in case something doesn’t go as planned.
Ultimately, this skill develops as one becomes more familiar with assets, employees, equipment, routines, and how they all work together. Some maintenance managers found that computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) gives them that “eye in the sky” where they can see and track everything going on at all their assets.
Technical & Functional Knowledge
Parks and recreation maintenance managers wear many hats. One day, there may be issues with plumbing in a facility. The next, a mower breaks down in the field. Two days later, the team is “all hands on deck” for a big event.
A working knowledge of the requirements for a parks and recreation maintenance team is key to effectively leading the team. Many maintenance managers learn these technical and functional skills as they move up the ranks.
While having theoretical knowledge of how things work can be helpful, those who have gotten their hands dirty may have an easier time explaining the details or answering specific questions a technician may have that aren’t clear.
Other Things to Consider About Leadership
Leadership isn’t just about the leader. Leadership is a social process that everyone on the team influences. While influential leaders may possess the skills to understand what needs to be done and motivate others, the group's collective effort combined with leadership is responsible for results.
Also, some leaders may be born with an innate ability, but most great leaders learn and cultivate skills with life experience. For example, joining social clubs in middle and high school, that first part-time job, organizing a food drive in college--there are many opportunities to learn leadership during formative and professional years. Some experiences get highlighted on a resume. Other leadership involvement may get overlooked, like being the oldest brother of 5 siblings.
A dedicated leader needs the tenacity to keep showing up, practicing, gaining experience, and accepting feedback. By doing these things, there is always a potential for growth for leaders and their maintenance teams.