Insights from a Career in Grounds Management

Gerald Dobbs discusses the achievements and challenges that have been key components of his career in grounds management.

Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

Gerald Dobbs, Grounds Manager at the University of Texas at El Paso, discusses the achievements and challenges that have been key components of his career in grounds management, including team building, cheerleading, and treating people with respect.

FacilitiesNet: When and why did you enter the facilities and maintenance profession?

Gerald Dobbs: In the fall of 1988, I was offered a job as the first landscaping manager in the grounds department at Virginia Tech. For several years before I got the job offer, I followed the advice of my horticulture professor. He said that for me to be truly successful in landscape maintenance and management, I needed to learn how to dig trenches properly, respect my colleagues, and learn from them the secrets of being successful in business.

FacilitiesNet: What were the most difficult challenges when you started your career? How did you deal with them?

Dobbs: The three most difficult challenges I faced were:

Chasing work and money. This meant taking the time to prepare documentation and presenting a claim that my staff were ready and enthusiastic to perform landscape installation and maintenance work. has become a trusted service provider. Whenever there was a difficult task in outdoor landscaping or hardscape, we were called upon to do it first.

Create an environment for success. Early in my landscape management career, I learned the importance of taking the time to meet with each employee within the department to learn about their knowledge, skills and abilities. I found myself assigned to jobs that were not making full use of what the organization had to offer. I met with these same employees to discuss the best approach to getting the job done. . Their opinions were very important to me, so if they thought of a better way to get the job done, or if there were any unforeseen issues that needed to be considered and resolved, I would ask them. I gave permission to raise a yellow flag.

Be the primary cheerleader of the organization. Over the years it has been my pleasure and responsibility to share with upper management the different types of work our staff do. I have a habit of creating a document summarizing each staff member’s performance for the year and attaching it to the evaluation. Surprisingly, these letters are highly appreciated by the employees.

FacilitiesNet: What have you learned about facilities and maintenance that you wish you knew?

Dobbs: What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s one thing to treat the people who work in our department as valuable assets to the organization, but it’s one thing to do it regularly. It is important that new managers take the time to meet with individual employees not only to introduce themselves but also to learn more about their knowledge, skills and abilities. This is the time when each employee learns what knowledge, skills and abilities their new boss brings to the job.

FacilitiesNet: What lessons can you offer to people starting out in facilities and maintenance?

Dobbs: Remember to report to customers, staff and upper management. This means that you need to work on your communication style on all three levels. Personally, I like visiting customers and talking about their concerns and upcoming projects. If I can’t meet you right away, I will call you. There is something reassuring about meeting someone in person or talking to someone on the phone.

Address employee and management issues as quickly as possible with honesty and candor. We will be willing to work on a solution to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Don’t let the problem linger.

Dan Hounsell is Senior Editor for Facility Markets. He has over 25 years of writing experience in facility maintenance, engineering, and management.

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