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5 Leadership Tips for Women in Facilities Management (IFMA 2020)

December 10, 2020
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Rising to a leadership position can be a challenging proposition, especially if you’re new to managing a team. At IFMA’s virtual 2020 World Workplace conference, the annual Women in FM panel – normally a standing-room-only event at in-person conferences – revisited their greatest leadership successes and challenges.

Experts shared five tips that can help any facilities professional struggling to find where they fit in the field. The panel included:

  • Cheryl Carron, president of integrated facilities management, North America, for Sodexo
  • Tiffany Williams, district manager, campus services, for Sodexo
  • Jeanie Choi-Kang, senior manager of construction management for Sodexo

1. Take risks.

Facilities management wasn’t even on the horizon for Cheryl Carron, now president of integrated facilities management of North America for Sodexo. Carron was working in real estate for Fortune 1,000 companies and was beckoned to facilities management by “someone who I really respected,” she explains. “They wanted me to lead a global FM account, and I absolutely did not think I was qualified. I questioned why I would be selected for that type of role… Their response to me was ‘Well, you’re a great business leader, you know the right questions to ask, you can get people to work with you who have the technical expertise, and you’re a learner and you’re quick so I think you’re the person for the role.’”

Transitioning to FM was a risk for Carron, but it paid off. “I wanted to learn something new and be challenged, and I thought it was a great opportunity to develop myself in a different way and really take a chance,” Carron says. “It’s the career choice that sparked a now decades-long career that I absolutely wouldn’t trade for the world.”

2. Build your technical knowledge.

Leadership is about more than technical know-how, but ultimately, you need to have a common language with the people you’re leading. Tiffany Williams, district manager, campus services for Sodexo, took courses with IFMA to learn the ins and outs of facilities as she transitioned from a background in hospitality.

“I took as many training opportunities and courses as I could so I could understand the language of facilities and hone my ability to speak to my team and gain credibility with them,” Williams says. “It was really mastering my own confidence.”

Building your technical knowledge also requires talking to people who have technical knowledge you don’t have, Williams notes. Take in as much information from the people around you as you can and ask for people to explain things you don’t understand.

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3. Know what kind of leader you want to be.

People who are new to leadership have a choice to make, says Jeanie Choi-Kang, senior manager of construction management for Sodexo. What kind of leader do you want to be?

“You really have to reflect on yourself and say ‘Do I want to be that tough and demanding manager and leader, or do I want to be more supportive? How will people actually see me?’” Choi-Kang says. “That was a big part of my leadership transition.”

Understand what kind of person you are and how you want to interact with people, she advises. Leadership requires you to be your full self and be comfortable talking to people. “At the end of the day, we’re in business, but we’re all human beings,” Choi-Kang says. “Once I became comfortable with how I wanted to work with people, my job got so much easier.”

[Related: Women in Facility Management Share Insights]

4. Network, network, network.

Getting to know your peers, both at your own organization and at competing organizations, is a vital part of growing as a leader. Different people bring different perspectives to the table, and those different perspectives can be invaluable in the learning process.

“Some of my greatest learning came from people who were with competitors who I took classes with,” Carron says. “Definitely explore. There’s a lot out there, but IFMA is always the best place to start.”

5. Find common ground.

When you’re a leader, not everyone will automatically be on your side, Carron says. But a real leader looks to build consensus and communicate with people rather than issuing orders.

“It’s not always going to be that someone will understand what your vision is. Sometimes that lack of understanding leads to them feeling as though they’re not part of the process,” Carron says. “If you can find a way to engage them, show them what’s in it for them and get them to come on board, that’s a tactic that has gained a lot of success.”

More from IFMA 2020:

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About the author
Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.