From the tools: The making of a manager?

Many facilities managers work their way up from a frontline job, while others arrive as fully fledged graduates. FMJ talks to senior FM figures, HR and people-change experts to find out what makes a great manager and leader

Traditionally many people in the FM sector have ‘fallen into’ the industry and have ‘risen through the ranks’, working their way up to senior positions from frontline jobs in cleaning, catering, engineering and security. The industry still values this approach, but now also puts a strong focus on developing a career path through recognised professional qualifications. And, for succession planning, FM is increasingly looking for bright young talent coming out of schools and universities to develop the leadership pipeline.


David Kentish, director of people-change experts Kentish and Co, encourages managers who come from different directions and different backgrounds to show respect for each other. “They have both earned the right to be there,” he says, “and both styles of management can work equally well. However, going into management from the tools is not just a step up in responsibility, it requires a mental adjustment and a different mindset and approach. It can be a very difficult transition period for everyone. To achieve it successfully requires help, training and support. If a company values someone enough to put them into a managerial role, then it is their duty to provide that support.

“Many managers who have been promoted from an operational level will work towards qualifications so that they feel they are being taken seriously,” he continues. “The qualification gives them an additional belief in themselves and an external verification of their ability. When managers have qualifications, but do not have the practical, on-the-job experience, there’s a different mindset. They feel confident and competent to get on with the job.”

By contrast, when Francesca Smith started working in her family’s specialist cleaning company Bright Hygiene at the age of 26, before starting to work in the office and taking over the managing director role, she wanted to earn her stripes and become a better manager by first learning every job in the company.

“I wanted to find out why, understand the business better, find out where the ‘hit and miss’ was taking place, and find the route to improving customer service. Learning everyone’s job meant that there was complete transparency and trust. I can’t be fooled and the staff respect that I know what I’m talking about. I then went on to study for business management qualifications. This, and talking to other managers, helped to reaffirm that I was doing things right.”

Smith explains: “It makes me a better manager. I understand exactly how the client sees the business and the key customer touch points. There’s a strong team connection and I’m more likely to get to know if there’s a problem. I still go back and clean on a very regular basis. But everyone has their own groove. Some people are scholarly and others are hands on. My advice to anyone for being a good manager is to trust your gut and have great people around you.”


David Kentish agrees that good management is largely about attitude. “Where businesses want to find a talent pipeline with great managerial and leadership skills, whether the applicant has good qualifications or has several years’ experience, the one key attribute that either candidate must have is a mindset that embraces collaborative co-operation and communication to drive the organisation forward. The people skills can be nurtured with the right training, but the attitude that enables the learning to be absorbed is crucial.”

This is an excerpt from an article in FMJ

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