As Facility Managers (FMs), we tend to perform better in the F component of our title, and that is because most FMs are drawn to the career through our technical expertise or at least through our technical proclivity. But even the most brilliant engineers with deep technical knowledge are going to fail as FMs if we cannot marry this knowledge and ability with professionalism as a manager. For this reason, when hiring a FM, I look primarily for successful, professional managers, knowing that we can teach technical ability easier than we can build character and good habits.

Professionalism is a broad term, and certainly too broad to effectively describe in this short article. However, there are a few basic qualities of professionalism, and a few ways to recognize it that are worth touching upon.

Professionals organize their work load and do not allow things to fall through the cracks, regardless of how much work load they are juggling. It is okay to be busy. It is not okay to use this as an excuse for missing agreed deadlines. You likely know people who you can depend upon for one certain thing: they will NOT accomplish what they say they will accomplish. When they say, “I’ll get to that tomorrow” you automatically know, “that will not get done tomorrow.” We work around such people, and it is easy to recognize the lack of professionalism in these extreme examples. It is also easy to recognize that their lack of professionalism is not due to an unreasonable work load, but rather it is due to their habits and personalities. It is easy to feel superior when comparing ourselves to these extreme examples, but it is difficult to look at ourselves honestly. How often are we under delivering? How often are we missing deadlines? How often are we telling others how busy we are? How large is our stack of unorganized and unscheduled work? How much time in each day do we spend reacting to whatever is in front of us, rather than working proactively on things that are due in the indefinite future?

Professionals treat people with respect; not just their superiors, but all people. With so many competing interests for our resources, it is easy for FMs to lose sight that our basic role is to support the health, safety and productivity of the occupants….even the building occupants who are the consummate whiners. If you are going to score yourself on how well you respect others in the organization, it is good to examine the methods you use for communicating and evaluating occupant satisfaction, but it might be wise to look first at how you treat the complainers or those who are impossible to satisfy. Nearly all organizations have such people….you know who they are! Treating people with respect includes responding to them timely, responding to them consistently, being considerate of their desires, and trying to be of help to them.

Professionalism is more about character and habits than it is about skill. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to develop character and change habits than it is to develop skills. Yet, we can develop our character, and we can change our habits. Toward this end, I find it immensely helpful to surround myself with reminders and stimulation to improve. One strategy: I try to always have a “current read” in the self-improvement genre. I have a list of books to read, and I’m always plowing through one of them.