Business Man

Becoming a chief facilities officer

Skip Smith shares five steps for advancing into a leadership role
Monday, November 11, 2013
By Michelle Ervin

There’s a new CFO showing up on business cards, and it stands for chief facilities officer.

It’s a title that has become increasingly common over the last two years, according to Neil Lieberman, chief marketing officer of VFA.

In a recent VFA webinar, Skip Smith, vice president of leadership and development, physical asset services group, Catholic Health Initiative, outlined five steps for facilities managers who want to become facilities leaders:

1. Know the basics

Smith says that a facility manager needs to know the basics of the job, which includes budgeting, human resource management, project management and strategic planning. A facility manager also needs to understand his or her weaknesses and know who to lean on in these areas, whether it’s internal to his or her team, or means calling in an outside department, such as finance.

2. Keep current

Keeping current means being a thought leader, staying on top of new trends and technologies, and pursuing professional credentials and certifications, Smith explains.

Since most facility managers working in the field today come from such varied backgrounds — and not typically through a formal post-secondary education — he suggests “filling the gap” with continuing education. Smith points to the International Facility Management Association and its certified facility manager (CFM) credential as one of many available options.

“I have found over the years that having these credentials really does give you credibility when you sit at table with others,” he says.

3. Innovate

For Smith, innovating is about taking on tough assignments and motivating the team to see them as opportunities rather than challenges. He jokes about adopting the attitude of “git ‘r done,” but in a lot of ways, that phrase rings true.

“When people bring things to us, we want to be the ones who really do that,” he says. “We can sit down with people to work through what’s the problem and help them create effective opportunities to solve their problems.”

4. Understand the big picture

Being able to communicate in a way that resonates with the leadership of an organization is about understanding the organization’s mission, Smith says. Conversely, it’s also critical for the facility manager to be able to communicate his or her team’s mission to the leadership.

In particular, he recommends targeting messages to the facility manager’s audience. For example, a chief facility officer’s message to a CEO would differ from their conversation with the chief financial officer.

“If you’re talking to the CEO, it’s being a cheerleader and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea and here’s where I think we can go with it,’” Smith offers. “If it’s the CFO, it’s always the dollars. What’s the revenue opportunity here? What’s the avoided capital expense? How am I reducing operational expenses?”

He says that collecting relevant data is crucial for crafting the right message.

“We often don’t have the resources to be able to capture the data, but I think it’s imperative for a chief facilities officer to really figure out: How do I get that information and then how do I best use it?” he says.

5. Get involved

Smith, like many others, came into the industry through the “back door,” in his case, through construction. Upon beginning his career in facility management, Smith was referred to a number of trade organizations, which he says have been instrumental in the advancement of his career, not only by providing education, but also by providing professional networking opportunities.

“I find that people in our industry are very willing to share,” he says. “If they have a policy, if they have a procedure, if they’re struggling with a problem, or you’re struggling with it, they’re more than willing to sit down and talk about what’s going on.”

Not everyone who fills the chief facilities officer role has that precise title, at least not yet. Smith is a prime example. He says that any organization can benefit from its facility manager adopting the CFO mindset and becoming a member of the organization’s leadership team. By doing so, the chief facilities officer can play an integral role in identifying how an organization’s physical assets and environment can support and further the organization’s goals.

Smith’s final piece of advice for facility managers: “You’ve got to get out from behind the desk, you’ve got to get out of the office, you have to be visible. People need to know who you are.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design and CondoBusiness magazines. .

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