The same old problems pop up and you respond in the same old way. But familiarity can breed complacency, which is why it’s always worth freshening up those fleet-running skills.
But looking at industry-specific training is not the be-all and end-all of training to be a good fleet manager. More general management skills can make a world of difference to the way you run your fleet and how others respond to you.
Steve Hook is education and training manager at the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM), but he also runs SMH Learning and Applications, a more generic management consultancy.
Hook believes there are several non-fleet-specific areas that fleet managers could do with training in to help them carry out their roles more effectively.
These include ‘soft skills’ such as leadership, presentation, influencing and assertiveness.
Hook said many fleet managers had aspirations beyond the fleet world. Studying for nationally accredited management qualifications could help improve future career prospects.
‘Such courses range from introductory-level leadership and management programmes through to certificate and diploma-level courses,’ Hook explains. ‘They would lead up to something like an MBA and they could help someone to break out of the fleet arena at a later date if that’s what they want to do.’
Another useful skill that can be taught is leadership, but perhaps not in the traditional sense of leading a team. Hook says: ‘Most fleet managers these days don’t have a particularly large fleet department but certainly they would need to use leadership qualities to influence other managers, right up to board level. In order to bring about strategic change, a higher level of skill is needed to influence at board level.’
He added: ‘That’s where a lot of fleet managers start to run out of skills. They can influence downwards and influence drivers, but influencing bosses requires pretty advanced presentation expertise.’
Shrinking fleet departments also means team management skills can be overlooked.
Hook says: ‘Team management requires another bag of skills that fleet managers might not necessarily have. Nowadays a lot of fleet managers might not have a large team of subordinates as they may have done in the past.
‘To influence and get compliance from their peers requires another level of talent. This involves work in understanding how teams operate, the characteristics of effective teams and team roles.
‘All too often the fleet function is undervalued within the organisation and consequently the fleet manager has to fight to be heard. That’s quite a fundamental difference from other management areas.
‘Quite often fleets work in isolation, which increase the importance of having that bag of tools to draw upon.’
Training is available in negotiation, something that could be applied not only to deals with suppliers and manufacturers, but also internally with colleagues and other departments.
‘Fleet managers could be used to negotiate for vehicles outside of the firm, but internal negotiation calls on other skill sets,’ Hook says. ‘Not just verbally, but for writing powerful, impactful reports as well. In this area, fleet managers need good listening and questioning skills.’
While the skills learned in the classroom are undoubtedly useful, there are additional benefits in attending courses with other managers, whether from within the industry or not.
Hook says: ‘A lot of learning goes on outside the classroom as well as within, through people sharing experiences of what works and doesn’t work.
‘Training is a catalyst for formal and informal discussion and a way of networking with people – not just fleet people, but those from different industries.
‘There may be approaches that the fleet industry hasn’t considered – often the general management principles are very similar. It’s reassuring that people working in a different context to yourself do have similar problems.’
‘Valuable additions for my role’
MICHELLE Hallam, fleet manager at Fisher Scientific, was awarded a Fleet News award in 2006 for her work looking after a sub-100 vehicle fleet.
She says: ‘I attended the ICFM course and qualified at certificate level in August 2005. I found this course to be extremely useful and beneficial and would recommend fleet managers and their staff to attend.’
But Hallam has also trained extensively in general management training, including presentation skills, time management and communication, as well as IT.
She says: ‘All of these have been valuable tools in assisting me in my role as fleet manager in terms of confidence building, personal organisation and also being able to influence and effectively communicate with senior management and, more importantly, our drivers.’
‘Every course relevant’
RON Dickson, acting head of transport at Strathclyde Constabulary, won a Fleet News Platinum award for his work in organising the transport for the 2005 G8 conference at Gleneagles.
He too has completed an ICFM course, but has gone on to do much more training.
‘Every business course is relevant,’ he says. ‘I am just about to complete my MBA and have undertaken project management courses which have been extremely relevant, given how many projects are undertaken by fleet managers.’