Who Makes a Good Maintenance Manager?

Don Armstrong, Veleda Services

The maintenance manager's job is to avoid problems. This is not natural for many people because, as Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe wrote in their book The Rational Manager, "… the major rewards in money and promotion so often go to those who show the best records of solving current problems in management, and there is rarely a direct reward for those whose foresight keeps problems from occurring."

A good maintenance manager is also someone who will recognize and promote the same concept that John F. Kennedy conveyed to his executive officer on the PT-109: "If the men are to do a good job for us, we must do a good job for them."

For a maintenance manager, this means thinking ahead, supporting planning and work scheduling, and having procedures for all the maintenance activities, from the most routine lubrication task to the most complex plant-wide shutdown. More importantly, it means recognizing that the people who create value from maintenance activities are the tradespeople, and that all maintenance management activity is directed toward ensuring that they are assigned to the highest-value work and have the best possible skills and resources, and that roadblocks are kept out of their way.

Maintenance managers should appreciate and recognize the good "problem-avoiders" (supervisors, planners, engineers, inspectors, etc.) and expert tradespeople, and then develop the others. They must also recognize that the organization does not sell maintenance, but that maintenance should work closely with and support operations in the production of goods or services that generate revenue.

In addition, a good maintenance manager will work as a partner with the storeroom and purchasing department to ensure they are able to get the right materials and supplies to the right people at the right time. He or she should always be looking for ways to improve the support that maintenance provides to the organization.

Maintenance managers must also leave their egos and resumé-building ambitions at home. The job is to avoid excitement and the attention that it attracts.

Finally, a good maintenance manager should be the kind of person Lao Tse imagined when he said, "A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say 'We did it ourselves.'"

If the opportunity exists, an excellent start for a new maintenance manager would be to spend a week as a relief supervisor in each area of the plant. This is the best way to assess the tradespeople and the systems within which they are required to work. Of course, any relief supervisor is responsible for the safety and training of the tradespeople, and any support required to achieve this must be provided. An interesting interview question would be to suggest such an introduction to the position. Any reluctance might indicate the wrong candidate.

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About the Author

Don Armstrong is the president of Veleda Services Ltd., which provides consulting and training services to maintenance departments in industrial plants and i...