“The most interesting thing about this job is that you’re leaving a legacy – making decisions that are best not just for the present, but for the future,” says Sheila Sheridan, director of facilities and services for Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA.
For 16 years, Sheridan has maintained the Kennedy School’s four-building complex (267,000 square feet) for the 1,500 students, faculty, and staff who use it – but that isn’t all Sheridan has to juggle. She’s also IFMA’s current chairman, an IREM member, affiliated with the League of Women Voters, and a member of the Society of Food Service Managers. “You have to be extremely willing to multi-task,” says Sheridan. “You get thrown balls you have to keep in the air that you didn’t even know were coming your way.”
Her typical day involves direct communication with her workforce, although she strongly emphasizes that her team consists of more than just her paid staff at Harvard. Sheridan also considers outsource vendors part of her team, because they help support the workplace environment. “I have a good team that really knows their operations,” she says.
She is also involved with telecommunications, all campus construction and renovation projects, space planning – and the list doesn’t end there. “I’m very broad in my responsibilities,” she explains. Sheridan compares her level of facilities management to being a symphony conductor. “I know all my instruments are there, I know what they sound like … but I can’t play them. My job is to get everybody to play together and make beautiful music. You have to know something about all those instruments, but you have to trust the people on your team to be the real specialists.”
Sheridan’s background didn’t point her straight toward facilities management. She received an M.A. in education from Boston University and went into teaching. Her experience with teaching then lead to a stint as a librarian; but it was her participation in volunteer organizations that ultimately piqued her interest in pursuing a non-profit environment that didn’t involve teaching. Working for American Red Cross Blood Services, Sheridan discovered the “business side,” as she calls it. She started a certificate program in business and finished it when she began working at Harvard 19 years ago. Her first three years were spent with the Longwood Area Facilities and Maintenance Department; she moved to the Kennedy School three years later.
Sheridan lists security as one of her biggest challenges. Considering the high-level guests that visit the University, her team has always been well aware of the issue. The real challenge, she says, is moving beyond the normal day-to-day operations to get the community to be a part of the security plan. “It’s not just the facilities security plan … it’s the plan for the people that exist within the environment.” She also points out that it’s important to be aware of the changes occurring within the environment and to keep up with the latest information, because it comes from so many different directions. “Here we were wondering how we were going to wire all the buildings back in 1990 – and now we have wireless. The challenge is to make sure you’re aware of the constant changes and opportunities for your organization to be a better facility.”
When reflecting on what the future may have in store, Sheridan says, “I think this is an exciting time in our profession. The opportunities are endless for us to really make a difference. I think it’s a wonderful time.”Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine.