Posted on 07/13/2015

By David Isaacson, Director, Product Marketing, Accruent

The human side of facilities management is partly about recognizing and fostering career goals from within. It’s also about recognizing that FMs are in a customer service business – the building occupants, whether they are students, faculty, or staff – are the customers. These two aspects go hand in hand; working with facilities users can help facilities managers become more strategic and advance in their careers.

Facilities management (FM) is more than just maintenance. Consider career goals within the staff.

Careers in Facility Management

There are a range of jobs titles and skill sets that comprise the field of facilities management. Understanding the differences in these roles and what skills and experience are needed is essential to navigating a career path in FM. One way of assessing the field is to break it into two domains that tend to encompass the FM profession: Maintenance vs. Facilities.

The Daily View: Maintenance Roles

The view that maintenance staffs take of a facility portfolio is short-term, with a focus on the daily tasks that must be completed. Typical titles in the Maintenance field are engineer, technician, planner, supervisor, building manager, as well as janitorial and housekeeping staff. Building managers generally deal with one facility and oversee employee and visitor safety, building maintenance, repair and upgrades. They also ensure their facility operations comply with environmental, safety and health procedures.

Maintenance staffs are the firefighters of the FM world, responding to customer calls about leaky faucets, icy steps and burnt-out bulbs. They are also responsible for scheduled daily upkeep of buildings, including cleanliness, trash removal and groundskeeping.

Maintenance objectives: cleanliness, safety and efficiency

Technology used: Computer Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) as a standalone or as part of an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS)

The Big Picture: Facilities Management

In the world of Facilities Management, the concerns are both short- and long-term. With titles like engineer, planner, analysts, manager, director and vice president, the FM team must be concerned with not only serving staff and guests, but also the executives. Facilities managers are responsible for the management of services and processes that support the core business of an organization. The Vice President of Facilities Management often has direct reports and responsibilities across a variety of disciplines, including operations and maintenance, asset or infrastructure or facilities management, real estate, and sustainability.

There’s also the burgeoning FM role of the Chief Facilities Officer. This new position combines business acumen, financial skills, facilities expertise and the ability to build effective internal coalitions with the organization’s key groups and business units.

Facilities objectives: spending an annual budget efficiently, saving money on projects, and complying with health and safety codes to minimize risk to people and the organization.

Technology used: some Facilities departments have their own technology staff in support of FM systems, CADD and desktop services

Taking Control of your Career

Regardless of background and skill set, there are specific skills and experience that anyone can add that will open up opportunities for advancement in the FM field.

Understand the Business: Speak the Lingo

How do your colleagues describe the business? Understand the terminology, financials, business and facilities. This will help you communicate with your peers and be in alignment with their objectives.

Once you have a good handle on the business, then you are in a position to make recommendations on how facilities can support the organization’s mission. Be seen as a partner in helping the business reach its goals, and you will be involved in decisions about facilities before they are made.

Keep Your Skills Current: Get the Credentials

As you better understand the business, you also need to understand how the business is measured. What metrics are used by the organization? Can you show how your performance contributes to the organization’s success?

Take financial courses; get your MBA. Being a businessperson, not just a mechanic, will make you more valuable to your current and future employers.

But don’t ignore your technical skills. Get credentials in the FM field (technical degree, certifications, professional association credentials such as IFMA, etc.) to go along with business knowledge. Embrace new FM tools, and get comfortable with emerging technologies (IWMS, mobile data collection, etc.).

Network: Think Organizationally

Build relationships with the business owners, and you become a team player, a partner in their business – not just someone who reacts to problems. This goes back to the first action to understand the business. How can the facilities team help the business meet its goals?

Networking with your peers can shed light on new approaches to solving problems. Others can also learn from you, and quickly you can be recognized as an FM expert. Many industry trade groups exist for FM leaders – find one that works for you.

Become More Strategic

Are you the first person to get called when there is a problem, but the last to hear about plans for the business and how it will impact your facilities? Too many FM professionals are considered as an afterthought for the business. The key to advancing is to be seen as strategic and valuable to the organization. You can do this by understanding the organizational impact of facilities decisions – today and in the future.

If you have effectively networked within the organization, you can understand the direction the business is heading. Then, you can make recommendations that will have a direct impact on the bottom line. This allows you to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) that executives and the organization as a whole will gain from strategic decisions about your facilities.

This blog post is derived from David Isaacson’s article, “Defining a Career Path for Emerging FM Professionals,” which originally ran in the May/June issue of Facilities Manager, the official magazine of APPA. To read the full article, visit here. To learn more about APPA, visit