How to Climb the FM Career Ladder

08/01/2017 | By Janelle Penny

Beef up your skills to create the career trajectory you want

An FM has to be a jack of all trades, changing out lamps one minute and planning a comprehensive energy efficiency initiative the next. But how well-rounded is that knowledge? If you’re feeling like a master of none, it might be time to hit the books. Fine-tune your skill set and make sure your staff is up to speed with these tips from FM firms.

What You Really Need on Your Resume

Obviously, technical knowledge of building systems is key for any FM, but Andrew Foote, Vice President of Learning and Development at CBRE, a commercial real estate company that also offers FM services, notes that customer service skills are just as important – perhaps more so. Whether you’re servicing tenants or part of the staff in an owner-occupied building, keeping building occupants happy and responding to their concerns is a skill that can’t always be taught.

“Know what makes your client tick. If you understand your client, you really start to think about the work that you do as part of a business and how you fit in, and it helps your job become more relevant.  Understand how what you do translates to bigger outcomes.”

­Andrew Foote,
Vice President of Learning and
Development at CBRE

“We look for a people person who likes to interact with people,” adds Brian Harnetiaux, Immediate Former Chair of BOMA International and Head of Asset Management for McCarthy, Cook & Co., a real estate investment and development company that also manages buildings. “We refer to our property managers as the mayors of their asset. We want it to be their business and for them to run buildings the way they want to run them. They need to be multitaskers and customer service concierges and to run the operations. In today’s world, so much more is expected of them, so our No. 1 thing we look for is people who work with people.”

Facilities management is increasingly becoming a key part of business strategy, so FMs need to take that into consideration when vying for a new position or taking a stronger leadership role, explains Maureen Ehrenberg, President of Global Integrated Facilities Management for JLL, a commercial real estate services firm that offers facilities management.

“When we’re looking for an FM, we’re typically looking for great leadership skills, strategy around the business and FM provision, an understanding of the connection between hard services and soft services, and really strong collaborative skills,” Ehrenberg says.

Skills That Set You Apart

Key words like “customer focus” or “client” will immediately make your resume stand out, as will a background in hospitality or a similar building type, Foote says. With that, an FM looking to climb the career ladder also needs to have a handle on diplomacy and quick problem-solving, Harnetiaux adds.

“If you can make sure your customer is happy and they renew in your building, that’s the No. 1 goal,” Harnetiaux says. “We like to say there’s a skill to say no without saying no. You can’t say yes to everything, but there’s an easier way to say no. If someone asks ‘Can you do this to the property?’ and financially you can’t make it work, you can say ‘Let me look into it, and if we can’t, here’s another suggestion that will get us halfway there.’ That makes people happy.”

"When we’re looking for an FM, we’re typically looking for great leadership skills, strategy around the business and FM provision, an understanding of the connection between hard services and soft
services, and really strong collaborative skills.”

Maureen Ehrenberg, President of Global Integrated Facilities Management for JLL

The growth in automation and the use of Internet of Things devices means that integrating sensors and using the incoming data to better hone traffic patterns, space utilization and density are real strengths, Ehrenberg says. Demonstrating a solid grasp of financial skills is another important skill that will set a prospective FM ahead of the pack.

“More and more, property managers are being asked to act like asset managers, which means a financial understanding of the building, the business plan of the asset and how to maximize its value,” Harnetiaux says. “A lot of people look at property management like the value protectors of the building, but I would love for them to see that there’s so much value enhancement or value creation they can have.”

Gear Up for Future FM Needs

With the Internet of Things continuing to grow exponentially, FMs will need to constantly improve knowledge of computers and automation systems. “Just knowing how to operate a computer is pretty much a requirement at this point,” Foote says. “Two to five years ago, computer skills were not of the most value to a facilities engineer, but now that paradigm has completely shifted. Systems are computer-based and run off of different platforms. A lot are connected to apps, so they’re cloud-based to a certain degree. Today managing a facility requires less getting your hands greasy and more knowing which button to press.”

Basic business skills and a thorough understanding of your organization or client’s business plan are also vital, Foote adds. You can gain the latter through discussions with higher-ups, while the former is available in the form of continuing education at many community colleges. (For more FM skill development ideas, see “Continuing Education Resources” below.)

“Know what makes your client tick,” Foote says. “If your client is an investor, how do they make money off the assets that you help manage or perform engineering responsibilities for? With an occupier client, how do they increase employee engagement by having a stellar workplace for their employees? Better productivity translates to dollars and cents. If you understand your client, you really start to think about the work that you do as part of a business and how you fit in, and it helps your job become more relevant. Understand how what you do translates to bigger outcomes.”


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