Outstanding fleet managers strive to leave an operation better than when they inherited it. - Photo: Unsplash/Scott Graham

Outstanding fleet managers strive to leave an operation better than when they inherited it.

A recent survey in Government Fleet Magazine suggests about 33% of all responding fleet managers plan to retire within the next five years. This will result in a major shortage of knowledgeable, seasoned fleet managers, with many less experienced managers taking over. Some new fleet managers have experience, but many do not. Moving into a position that manages from the 30,000-foot level can be intimidating given the massive amount of responsibility now heaped onto your plate. If you are a new fleet manager, you understand the solid work and preparation needed to get to this step; now, it’s time to produce.

As a new fleet manager, you are hopefully inheriting a solid operation with a great team and solid business plan. Maybe you were part of a robust succession plan, and had the good fortune to come up through the ranks and observe multiple facets of your organization. Fortunately, the aforementioned survey indicates 64% of succession plans include actively training someone on staff to take over when the fleet manager retires.

Unfortunately, with shrinking budgets, most operations no longer have the luxury of a fleet manager with a deputy or assistant waiting in the wings to take over. Harder yet are the transitions when someone from the outside is hired with little or no fleet experience. When this occurs, any succession plan must include an element of training. About 22% of the survey succession plans indicate the retiring manager may stay on after the new fleet manager starts to provide training, either as an active employee or a contractor.

This is an excellent way for a retiring fleet manager to transition and pass on decades of institutional knowledge and experience. As a trainer, you have the responsibility to point the new fleet manager in the direction he or she needs to go to succeed and surpass your own accomplishments. You must also acknowledge the great deal of trust placed in you by the leaders who asked you to mentor the next fleet manager.

A trainer should first spend time getting to know the management style of the new fleet manager. This is not to compare whether or not your styles and beliefs are compatible, but to help the new manager understand where the pitfalls and advantages will be as he or she acclimates to the existing culture. Changes will come with any new manager — maybe from them, or through marching orders from above.

You will likely need to focus on many fundamental duties that are second nature to you. If the new fleet manager comes from private industry, you may spend a great deal of time explaining the vast differences between efficiencies they are used to and how to navigate the slower, more deliberate pace of government bureaucracies.

You will spend time stressing the importance of developing, explaining, defending, and ultimately, monitoring the budget, which is the driver of the organization. The people are just as important, as they represent the lifeblood of the organization. Invite questions as to why things are done a certain way and answer them with solid reasoning. With the inevitable change, mistakes will happen. Emphasizing mistakes can provide great learning opportunities for making better decisions down the road.

How new fleet managers will learn their craft varies. Your job as a trainer is to find and use the most effective methods to inspire the new manager to learn the skills that took you a career to build, and to ultimately make the operation their own. This is a lofty goal. The new manager needs to be ready for the known challenges, and those that cannot be anticipated. Who could have imagined COVID-19?

The rewards are many. Outstanding fleet managers strive to leave an operation better than when they inherited it. What better way to do that than help guide the next fleet manager to achieve bigger and better things? Take that knowledge and experience and pass it on!

About the Author

Jeffrey Tews is the retired Fleet Services Manager for the City of Milwaukee and can be reached at jtews@wi.rr.com