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4 Leadership Lessons from Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE

Written by Sean M. Lyden on . Posted in .

Highly effective fleet professionals are also great leaders. That’s because the job of fleet manager is about more than managing assets; you also have to work through people to get things done.

And that was one of the key themes discussed at Utility Fleet Conference 2017, an intensive three-day fleet education and networking event held October 2-4, produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine and co-located with the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

If you missed the conference, here are four leadership lessons that were shared over the course of the event that can help you become a more influential and effective fleet leader.

1. Avoid generational stereotypes.
In today’s utility fleet work environment, there could be as many as five generations represented – with ages ranging from 18 to 80 – each bringing a substantially different perspective toward their work and life. And this dynamic is likely causing a degree of generational tension and conflict on your team. So, how can you more effectively manage employees across multiple generations to create a positive, highly productive work environment?

The starting point is to resist the urge to see employees through the lens of generational stereotypes, said Jim Finkelstein, author of the book “Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace,” in his keynote address that kicked off the conference.

You know the stereotypes: “Well, he’s one of those lazy, entitled millennials, and that’s why he calls in sick so often.” Or, “He’s just so old school. What does he know about how things are done today? Why should I listen to him?”

Instead, Finkelstein said, develop unique motivational profiles of your employees. What truly motivates this person? Or, as Finkelstein put it, “What melts their butter?”

That’s because when you invest the time to get to know each team member on an individual basis, you discover that their motivations often defy the stereotypes. And this gives you better insight into how to lead these workers most effectively and create a vibrant culture where people want to come to work – no matter what generation they represent.

2. Redefine your success by redefining your customers.
“Optimum success [in fleet management] is based on customer perception,” said author and longtime utility fleet professional Tim C. King during his presentation on “Fleet Services: Managing to Redefine Success.”

In other words, your success is defined by how effectively you can help your customers achieve their definition of success. And that begins by understanding the customer’s needs, desires and expectations.

But the challenge is that many fleet managers have a narrow view of exactly who their customers are, often defining them as only the business unit managers and end users, which limits their capacity for reaching their full potential.

So, if you want to achieve optimum success in your fleet career, King said, then expand your definition of “customer” to include any stakeholder who – whether directly or indirectly – impacts your success. These could include:

  • The company owners and executives
  • Midlevel managers and supervisors
  • Drivers and operators
  • Ancillary customers, including peer support groups
  • External customers, including regulators, vendors and the local communities

The idea here is that when you take a wider view of who your customers are, you put yourself in a frame of mind where you can more effectively serve each stakeholder in a way that makes you more valuable and indispensable to your organization.

3. Expand your influence throughout the company.
A common misconception by senior management is to view fleet as a cost center – a “necessary evil” – with little appreciation for the value the fleet department brings to the business as a whole. So, when it’s time to cut spending, the fleet budget becomes a primary target, putting greater pressure on the fleet manager to do more with less.

How do you counter this impulse at your company and bolster your influence with senior management?

Matt Gilliland, director of transportation, aviation and facilities at Nebraska Public Power District, tackled this topic in his session on “Communication Strategies and Tactics: How to Expand Your Influence.”

He said that if fleet managers want to lead and direct their teams more effectively, they must correct the perception that they have limited influence within their organizations. And one way to do that is to continually reinforce to all stakeholders the idea that fleet is irreplaceable and vital to the organization’s success. After all, Gilliland said, “No truck, no work.”

A tactic that Gilliland and his team have found effective for keeping fleet top of mind at Nebraska Public Power District is to put together a periodic “Fleet Focus” e-newsletter that’s sent to about 750 company employees. Each newsletter provides high-level summaries of the fleet’s performance and other relevant news, with links that recipients can click to dig deeper into the details that interest them most.

Some of the other key points Gilliland shared:

  • Be known as the fleet expert, not only within the company but in the industry as well.
  • Look and dress the part.
  • Foster collaboration by bringing together specification teams that include a wide range of stakeholders – beyond fleet – in the equipment spec’ing process.
  • Invite decision-makers to join you at professional events, trade shows and vehicle/equipment in-services.

4. Leverage your influence to help shape the future of the industry.
When using aerial devices, lineworkers must know the weight of personnel, tools and the load they’re lifting with respect to the position of the jib and boom. But inaccurate weight information or assumptions in the field can undermine job site safety. And this was becoming a serious concern at Florida Power & Light.

So, a couple years ago, Joe Suarez, director of fleet operations at FP&L, teamed up with Terex Utilities to develop a solution: an automatic load-sensing system that supports safe work practices when using aerial platforms.

In their session, “Fleet Safety Case Study: Using Technology to Alert Users to Overload in Aerial Platforms,” Suarez and Dan Brenden, director of engineering at Terex Utilities, shared their story about how they collaborated to design a technology solution that gives crews greater confidence when operating the equipment.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this session is the fact that this product did not exist until a fleet manager took the initiative and risk to help bring forth an important safety system that could be available for the entire utility industry to use.

As Suarez encouraged other fleet managers at the conference to leverage their influence in the industry: “Be willing to take the lead to try something that has never been done before.”


Save the Date: April 24-26, 2018
If you missed Utility Fleet Conference at ICUEE in October, you have another opportunity to learn, grow and network as a utility fleet leader. From April 24-26, we’ll be offering the Utility Fleet Track, an intensive three-day fleet education event produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine and co-located at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo ( in Loveland, Colo.