Taking Your FM Career To The Next Level

Rooted in the tactical, facility management is now also planted on the strategic side of the business. Here’s how to adapt.

By Judie Cooper, CFM
From the February 2018 Issue

Action. Variety. Challenge. Creative. Fast-paced. Troubleshoot and fix. Not boring. Solve problems. Unpredictable. Do 50 different things in a day. No two days are ever the same! Asking any facility manager about his or her job will likely get you one (or all) of these answers. Facility managers are often described as the people who “make things happen” or “get the job done,” and that action is why many people enjoy facility management (FM). Those in the profession like knowing they are responsible for making things happen, fixing things, or figuring out how to make things work better.

facility managementThough people have cared for facilities for centuries, the focus in the 1980s began to evolve from furniture and space planning into more sophisticated work that engaged the facilities holistically. Since then, FM has grown to encompass business continuity, risk management, security, technology, environmental stewardship, real estate and property management, as well as strategy and leadership.

The evolution of the profession provides a roadmap for how FM practitioners should also be adapting to the new competencies and expectations. In days past, the emphasis was on someone with technical skills to manage the facility, and those skills included troubleshooting or coaxing additional life out of aging systems.

Today, the most successful FMs do not just react and fix. They think, plan, and strategize about what they need to do, so facilities is viewed as a contributor to the success of the larger enterprise. That strategic perspective is not a quarterly activity or something done only at corporate retreats; it should be a continuous focus. Strategic direction should weigh on every facilities decision in order to demonstrate the impact and value of FM to the organization’s success.

There has been much discussion about facility managers understanding more about the business of FM and speaking the language of the C-suite. One should understand that the C-suite perspective has generally been that FM is a cost center that diverts resources from the larger enterprise. If FMs wish to elevate their profession and themselves, they must demonstrate how FM is actually a strategic partner in the success of the larger enterprise.

Many FMs are quite proficient at approaching their work from a tactical perspective, yet their individual and organizational success relies on the strategic focus they place on their work. Following are some suggestions to help build on your credibility and increase your influence. Any one, or a combination of these suggestions ensures that you are placing yourself in the queue to be noticed and considered for positions with greater bandwidth and influence.

Leadership development programs provide opportunities to improve skillsets such as self-reflection and personal awareness, interpersonal communication, the mindset of a leader, negotiation and conflict resolution, effective hiring, and building high performing teams. These programs frequently include mentors and coaches who provide feedback. There are specific development programs for industries such as the Construction Industry Institute’s Executive Leadership Program as well as many from universities such as MIT or Cornell. Human resources departments often develop leadership programs for the larger enterprise, and organizations such as the Center for Creative Leadership and Dale Carnegie offer programs.

Professional certificates and credentials not only provide the opportunity for participants to learn more about their profession, but also provide certification that the participant’s knowledge has met industry standards and has been measured and assessed by a third party. These types of programs are easy to find through professional associations such as the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities, and the Construction Industry Institute. You can also find them through universities’ executive and professional education departments.

Other developmental opportunities can happen at work and serve the dual purpose of enlarging your perspective and getting work done through work teams, task forces, or working groups who are focusing on how to address specific workplace challenges. Suppose your organization has a challenge with asset management; getting a working group together to identify how to address the challenge will go a long way in providing you with insight about the challenge as well as working with others in the organization to achieve a common goal.

Seeking additional leadership opportunities is a tried and true way of learning more about a specific work situation. If your organization is experiencing a new or burgeoning challenge and you have some ideas about how to address it, volunteer to take it on. Do not take it on with no support. Be sure to lead effectively by being clear about expectations, delegating, holding people accountable, reaching consensus, and delivering a product and measuring impact. Initially, this may seem like more work but you are almost certain to gain insights about how to better manage things once they become your responsibility.

Training helps you learn new skills or better understand a challenge so you see the situation through a different lens, which contributes to your creativity. While training addresses individual performance gaps, it also contributes to improving organizational performance. Many training providers offer specific skills development courses that you can find with a simple Google search, or you can consult with your peers or colleagues in other organizations to find out their training sources. Networking at professional conferences and meetings is also a great source of training information.

Do not forget to stay current in IT. There are many avenues for FMs to learn about metrics, benchmarking, report writing, and use of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and integrated work management systems (IWMS).

Have you ever thought about a coach? Sometimes we think that when we reach a certain level, we should have all the answers. That attitude is shortsighted and could be the source of some long hours or late nights. A coach is simply someone who can provide you with a way to accelerate your effectiveness as a leader and improve results.

Strategic Thinking For FMs

In talking with a number of facility executives, the theme of strategic thinking consistently appears when they speak about their most successful facility managers. If you want to pivot and become more successful and influential, here are some of the most frequent observations about strategic thinking and decisions that serve facility management well.

  • FM strategic thinking is holistic and considers the whole facilities organization as well as the larger enterprise. While facilities is a large component of any organization’s portfolio, strategic facilities thinkers understand that they are more effective when they consider how they fit in the big picture of the organization and not just in the facilities arena.
  • FM strategic thinking considers the business impacts of the facilities organization. Facilities cost lots of money and generally represent the second largest organizational investment (after people) of any enterprise. Think carefully about the business impact of your facilities decisions and be prepared to advocate or defend those decisions to people who may not understand the nuances of the FM profession.
  • FM strategic thinking is nimble, flexible, and presents solutions. The C-suite does not want to hear the facilities problems without corresponding solutions or adaptations. Facilities should be thinking about and proposing solutions that advance the enterprise goals while also meeting the operational requirements, even if the proposed solutions are incremental.
  • FM strategic thinking considers all of the stakeholders. It has been popular to talk about customer service; strategic thinking expands that term and focuses on supporting and serving all stakeholders. The stakeholders, by definition, have an investment in the facilities organization and deserve consideration in facilities decisions.
  • FM strategic thinking focuses on communications at all levels. Communication should be clear, concise, timely, and relatable. No stakeholder should have to wade through words (or translate facility-speak) to find the important message — it should be right in front for all to see. Remember — communication should always be clear whether it is spoken or written.
  • FM strategic thinking filters through a lens of productivity. Facilities has a job to do, and if we are not doing that job well or utilizing the resources under our control well, then we will not have credibility — regardless of our creative ideas or novel approaches to problem-solving.
  • FM strategic thinking demonstrates the facilities organization seeks to be partners with the larger enterprise or service providers. The most effective FMs work with others constantly, openly and as a matter of routine so that the relationship remains strong and viable regardless of the circumstances. Individuals and organizations should network and build relationships continuously so the relationship is firmly in place when circumstances arise that may challenge the status quo.
  • FM strategic thinking develops and trains people at all levels. Almost no profession has changed or adapted more than the facilities profession, considering the many occupations who play a role in FM. As circumstances change, people need to remain current and productive so the organization can perform its intended role. Organizations that invest in training employees understand that well-trained employees increase the value of the FM organization, reduce turnover, help control costs, enhance efficiency, and even make employees more proficient in multiple skills. Training is an investment that should have a positive impact on organizational performance.

Being a facility manager is exciting, and we all like to be valued for our experience and insights that help us make infrastructure work as intended. Making sure that we expand the focus from the tactical issues in front of us to the strategic issues we face overall will help to further organizational, professional, and personal success.

facility managementCooper is the associate director of organizational development for the Office of Facilities Management and Reliability at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. She is responsible for strategic initiatives including benchmarking, best practices, strategic planning, change management, outreach, professional development, and staff education.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or send an e-mail to the Editor at acosgrove@groupc.com.


  1. A very deep and practical article. FM is at the center of every business ess decision. Yet not given the correct weight, being seen as largely a cost center. Strategic placement and conversations on FM in its correct perspective is the key.

  2. I have been thinking about doing facilities management training so that I can further my career. I agree that it is important to have the professional certifications. This shows that you are an expert in your craft.

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