Strong maintenance management can bring many competitive advantages to a company. By ensuring high asset uptime, a good brand image, a motivated team, and few technical problems, a good maintenance manager is essential to keeping any organization running smoothly and productively.
This post will discuss what it takes to be a good maintenance manager and how and why you might want to become one.
Maintenance chain of command
The size and structure of any Maintenance Department will depend on the organization’s size. However, what is nearly universal is that:
- maintenance work must be performed effectively, and
- there must be a positive working relationship with the rest of the organization’s leadership.
Sometimes, in the smallest organizations, just one or two people may suffice. However, a more extensive department with specialized roles and responsibilities is required in bigger organizations.
Typically, that involves having on-the-ground maintenance technicians who perform upkeep. They then report up through a supervisory structure of managers or directors who do the “big picture” work of strategy, budgeting, and alignment with organizational goals.
Maintenance manager vs. maintenance supervisor
The roles of maintenance manager and maintenance supervisor have a lot of crossover. But there are some key distinctions.
Maintenance managers tend to work on bigger-picture aspects of maintenance work, such as controlling/approving expenses, implementing maintenance strategies, and workforce planning.
In contrast, the maintenance supervisor will oversee the day-to-day work done by technicians or mechanics, performing inspections and hiring activities.
The two roles may be combined in smaller organizations with a smaller maintenance team. Larger or more maintenance dependent organizations may have both a maintenance supervisor, and a maintenance manager, performing distinct duties.
Maintenance manager job description and responsibilities
So, what does a maintenance manager do? While the exact scope of work depends on the size and type of company, a typical maintenance manager is responsible for keeping the ground operations running by managing and overseeing all maintenance-related activities.
In practice, this work falls into three categories: management of staff, management of non-staff resources, and maintenance strategy.
Management of maintenance staff
We often hear that this is the most challenging part of being a maintenance manager. Ensuring you have the right people on the job at the right time is no small task. But a good maintenance manager will have the tools, as well as people and organizational skills to make it second nature.
Some of the day-to-day duties in this category are:
- Scheduling and assigning work orders and proactive maintenance tasks
- Prioritizing work across the team
- Performing inspections and oversight of maintenance work to ensure quality
- Hiring, training, and firing maintenance staff
- Stepping in to help coordinate more complex maintenance work
Management of non-staff resources
All maintenance teams have non-staff resources as well. It is the maintenance manager’s job to ensure the team has the right ones available at the right time to get their job done well.
This will likely include:
- Management of budgets and approval of expenses
- Forecasting, ordering, and price negotiation of spare parts inventory
- Hiring and management of subcontractors and other vendors for specialized maintenance work
- Ensuring the availability of necessary tools and equipment
Now for the big picture. Most people on the maintenance team didn’t start there because they wanted to write policies and look at spreadsheets all day. But if you have worked your way up into management, there can be a lot of satisfaction in applying years of experience to the big picture.
Finding ways to reduce downtime and seeing productivity rise, or updating safety procedures and knowing that your staff are more likely to go home without incident or injury at the end of the day is rewarding.
Here is what some of this work entails:
- Identifying and implementing a proactive maintenance strategy that ensures efficient operations
- Looking for new ways to improve productivity and cut costs
- Developing company policies and standard operating procedures for all maintenance work
- Ensuring that all maintenance processes are consistent with industry regulations and OSHA standards
- Drafting maintenance reports that help measure and improve team performance
Skills and requirements
If all of that big work we just described sounds daunting, don’t despair. The skills you need to do it are likely within reach. And if you’re working in maintenance already, you are probably developing many of the necessary skills already. And if you aren’t, there is likely still a lot you could bring as a maintenance manager.
Here are the key skills that a maintenance manager needs to be successful.
It is impossible to teach what you don’t know. A maintenance manager is responsible for guiding and monitoring technicians and mechanics. And although you can’t expect them to know everything about every piece of equipment or all mechanical systems they may encounter, they should at least have a solid technical background suitable for the industry they work in. If not, it would be tough to train and oversee the team.
Aside from staff training and oversight, technical knowledge is essential for many other common scenarios.
- Creating preventive maintenance procedures and checklists
- Managing the work order process effectively
- Handling emergencies
- Creating troubleshooting guidelines
- Generally understanding how a maintenance strategy will impact maintenance operations and the organization.
Organization and detail orientation
The ability to spot potential issues and address them quickly is essential and will help the team avoid severe issues. A maintenance manager can’t afford to be sloppy or continuously overlook minor problems.
Additionally, as someone who has to inspect work, check for compliance, and thoroughly think through a process to develop policies and procedures, it helps to have good attention to detail combined with a problem-solving mindset. Project management and time management are also key skills that many maintenance managers fall back on frequently.
A good maintenance manager can delegate tasks and tell the team what to do. A great maintenance manager will gain the team’s trust and influence morale positively.
But this requires self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and empathy. They need to put personal issues aside and focus on fairness and getting the job done in a way that has the team’s and company’s interests at heart.
Similarly, it’s essential that managers remain composed even on those days when everything seems to be going wrong. The behavior of a maintenance manager in challenging situations will be reflected in the quality of the team’s work. It is the difference between being able to keep the team calm and focused versus bringing in additional anxiety and disruption.
Managers with good leadership skills help ensure that the maintenance team functions as a cohesive unit working towards common goals. They must build trust and rapport with the team so that each member understands the value of their work and follows through on the manager’s guidance and decisions.
They should know how to…
- communication effectively with anyone
- know when and how to delegate work
- spot and resolve conflicts between team members
- handle different temperaments
In addition, the maintenance manager typically serves as the liaison between the maintenance team and the rest of the organization’s business administration and leadership. In conjunction with the Maintenance Director (if there is one, depending on the organization), the manager will advocate for the department’s needs and garner the support of the rest of the organization for maintenance activities.
Most employers require a high school diploma to qualify, while others prefer candidates with at least some post-secondary education or a full bachelor’s degree. Still, many employers will hire managers without a degree if the candidate has prior experience in a leadership role and a proven record of successfully managing staff.
Some end up in this role by being promoted from maintenance technician or maintenance supervisor. Many organizations will look for managers that have that type of hands-on management experience. It makes sense when looking at the duties and other skills we have listed.
Technological advancements in the built environment are evolving rapidly. Looking forward, maintenance managers who wish to remain relevant will need to be able to use mobile technology and different software solutions.
Some examples like computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), building automation systems, inventory management solutions, and other apps for workflow will help the manager be successful if used well.
They don’t need to be programmers, but a solid understanding of mentioned technologies will be a big plus and offer a competitive advantage in the job market.
So which management skills are most important? In a survey Limble conducted of dozens of maintenance managers using its platform, organizational skills, big picture perspective, and people skills were rated as the most important skills to ensure success.
So, while all the skills listed are important and will appear on nearly all maintenance manager job descriptions, these “soft” skills will be the hardest to beat. They are what separates good maintenance managers from great ones.
Yet another detail that will vary depending on the size and type of organization is the maintenance manager’s salary.
ZipRecruiter.com states that the average salary for a maintenance manager in the United States is $87,000 per year, with a range of $62,000-$110,000 per year. Payscale.com and Salary.com have similar estimates with slight variations.
Some organizations also begin offering bonuses to their compensation package for staff, starting at the management level.
There aren’t many professions out there with a better job outlook than maintenance technicians and maintenance managers. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates their demand to grow 8% in the decade between 2020 and 2030. As current maintenance workers and leaders enter retirement or switch professions, there will continue to be a high demand for qualified candidates for these roles.
No matter where you are in your career — from a maintenance technician just starting out to a leader at an organization hoping to hire a maintenance manager — it is helpful to know the essential responsibilities and skills of successful maintenance managers.
And remember that the maintenance manager and their team can only be made better with the right tools and systems to help them succeed. A CMMS like Limble can be a maintenance manager’s secret weapon — taking the guesswork out of work assignment and prioritization, inventory forecasting, preventive maintenance planning, and so much more.