How to pat yourself on the back without breaking your arm

Sharon Subadan
Fleet Management Division Chief
Department of Public Works and Transportation
Montgomery County, Maryland
Member, APWA Fleet Services Committee

As fleet managers we know the value and importance of fleet to an organization and, unfortunately, we often assume others do too. This is a very bad assumption on our part. Instinctively, decision makers know what our user agencies and departments do. The mission of police, fire/rescue, highway services/roads, schools, transit, etc., is very clear to those in positions of authority within local, state or federal government. All of these entities have a very public face to their services.

Often when you ask many elected officials about fleet, a shade tree mechanic may come to mind, or they know about fleet from the last budget crunch when someone proposed outsourcing fleet because it was "a money pit."

It is most important for a fleet manager to educate the decision makers about the fleet organization.

Who are the decision makers?

  • Your Boss
  • Public Works Director
  • City Manager
  • County Executive
  • Chief Administrative Officer
  • General Manager
  • Management & Budget Staff and Director
  • University President
  • Fire Chief
  • Police Chief
  • City Council

Why is the education of the decision makers so important?
Education critically affects the allocation of resources—even more important in a tough fiscal climate. Further, it broadens the basic understanding that without fleet, user departments/agencies cannot achieve their mission. We need to remind others of a quote I once heard from the Marine's fleet unit: "Without us the pride don't ride."

Educating decision makers increases the "political" standing and image of fleet management in the organization and lets everyone know that you are a serious player. This education process involves opening the doors of your fleet operation which leads to improved employee pride and morale. It declares to the "world" that you are not the forgotten stepchild of the organization. This exposure can also help to attract solid professionals to fleet which will further strengthen the fleet organization. In order to open house, you may have to do some housecleaning first (both literally and figuratively). Only you can know how much housecleaning needs to be done within your fleet and this may require the dreaded "C" word: change. It's worth the effort—do it!

As fleet managers, we know that the people in fleet do a great job. It is our responsibility to let others know.

Fleet Management Division Chief Sharon Subadan and County Executive Douglas M. Duncan

How can we let others know?
We certainly can learn a few things from the marketing sector. Create your own branding. This may not seem to be an important step, but when you think of athletic shoes, soda, fast food or hand tools, immediately some brands come to mind. This branding may be different from your official seal or emblem with a slogan that tells others in a few words who you are. Here in Montgomery County, we are "TEAM FLEET"—this is our branding and was created to let others know who we are. It is a marketing tool and a morale booster. Others recognize us by this branding. Decision makers and elected officials now often refer to us as "TEAM FLEET."

A fleet organization should be willing to participate in activities that are beyond the normal scope of duties. This demonstrates to others that you are willing to see the big picture and realize your role as the automotive/equipment expert for your jurisdiction. I know that we are all busy with the day-to-day management of the fleet, but don't shy away from opportunities that may lead to future dividends. For example, being willing to participate on committees that handle environmental and air quality issues allows fleet to have a voice and a seat at the table. Further, others begin to recognize the input, expertise and talent that you bring to the discussion and make you a person of influence.

Activities that are "outside the box" are in some ways more far-reaching than the everyday mission. Events such as citizens' academies, Take Your Child to Work Day, career days, National Public Works Week celebrations, and elected officials days allow a fleet manager to showcase his/her operation to others who would never have the opportunity to learn about fleet. This is not to say that the mission is not first. But without the support of decision makers, the ability to meet the mission may be severely impacted and compromised. These events can be developed as fun morale boosters for your troops. Everyone likes to be recognized—these are a few great ways to do it.

  Fleet's Take Your Child to Work Day 

Recognize your team
Be prepared to build your fleet organization from within. The age-old adage "It is better to give than to receive" is true. As a fleet manager, make sure to continuously recognize your fleet employees for a job well done, even if no one else does. And even if you think they know that you appreciate their efforts, make sure to demonstrate it. I believe that employees who are regularly recognized for their contribution to the team display a better attitude. In recognizing your star performers as well as your steady contributors, great things will happen within your fleet organization and may already be happening.

Don't be afraid to promote your organization shamelessly. Contrary to popular belief, it's okay to pat yourself on the back, even if no one else will. And you don't have to be obnoxious in doing so.

  NACO presents Fleet with an achievement award for 2004

Fleet organizations are often unafraid to pilot new and innovative programs, use new and cutting-edge products, implement new technology, experiment with new methods, etc. When these ideas lead to positive outcomes, make sure that others know about it. Being bashful and modest is not smart fleet management. For example, let your department newsletter know about the new cost-cutting idea that you implemented a year ago that saved money. Offer to write an article with photos demonstrating your success for the newsletter.

Finally, if you know that you are doing neat and innovative things within your fleet organization, be willing to share that information with others in the field—you will learn as well as teach. One way of sharing your success is through existing awards programs that recognize excellence—be willing to take the time and make the effort to complete the application. Should you be recognized...well, by now you know what to do. Make sure everyone knows about it.

Last but not least, remember that life is uncertain, eat dessert first, and celebrate your successes.

Sharon Subadan can be reached at (240) 777-5767 or at sharon.subadan@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Editor's Note: Developing program and tracking performance measures helps fleet managers demonstrate the value of their departments to the communities they serve. The publication Top Ten Performance Measures for Fleet Managers outlines the top ten most common and most critical to a fleet manager's success. It can be ordered online at www.apwa.net/bookstore or call the Member Services Hotline at (800) 848-APWA, ext. 3560.