Everything You Need To Know To Become An Effective Fleet Manager
From certifications to training, leadership skills, qualifications and best practices, it’s covered here.
Is becoming an effective, productive and professional fleet manager one of your career goals? Maybe you’re frustrated because you can’t find the information you need. Maybe you’ve searched all over the internet, and what you do find doesn’t follow industry best practices? If that’s you, clear your schedule and start taking notes because in this guide, Everything You Need To Know To Become An Effective Fleet Manager, we’re going to give you all the information you need to become a top fleet manager who’s respected by your peers and recruited by top companies.
PART 1- HOW TO BECOME A FLEET MANAGER
What, Exactly, Is a Fleet Manager?
As a fleet manager, you’ll be working in one of the world’s largest industries, transportation, and be in charge of managing a fleet of vehicles for one of the hundreds of thousands of companies and organizations that deliver people and goods all over the world.
It’s also possible that you’ll work for a local, state or federal government agency and manage their vehicle fleet. In this case, the biggest commodity that you’ll be transporting will be people. However, the skills, demands, and responsibilities will be very similar. One major difference is that transporting people demands a higher level of safety standards. Thus a unique knowledge of the advanced equipment used in these types of vehicles would be necessary.
Fleet managers have a wide array of responsibilities and duties. They range from researching the vehicles that a particular organization will use in their fleet to tracking maintenance, scheduling drivers, reducing costs and much more. Some of the most important responsibilities you’ll have include;
- Researching and selecting vehicles for your company or organization’s fleet
- Deciding whether to lease or purchase fleet vehicles
- Tracking individual vehicle usage and maintenance records
- Scheduling drivers and logging their various routes
- Tracking and monitoring fuel costs fleet-wide
- Reselling vehicles that no longer serve the needs of your company or organization
- Tracking vehicle fuel use and mileage
- Implementing plans to reduce fleet costs and increase fleet efficiency
This is a relatively comprehensive list of what your responsibilities will be as a fleet manager. Depending on the size of the company or organization you work for, there may be even more responsibilities given to you.
What Are the Degrees Needed to Become a Fleet Manager?
It’s true that some fleet managers start in lower positions and then work their way up the ladder, so to speak. However, most fleet managers will be required to have at least an associate’s degree if not a bachelor’s degree. It could be in one of several areas including accounting, public and/or business administration, logistics or automotive technology, among others.
Whatever degree you have when you start, you will need several skills to work your way up, although some can be learned on the job. Others will require that you take a variety of certification courses or online classes. They include;
- Budgeting and Financial skills
- Record-keeping skills
- Basic to advanced vehicle and maintenance knowledge
- People/social skills
- Customer service skills
- Diversity and inclusivity knowledge
- Safety knowledge
This is a general outline of the skills and knowledge you will need in order to be effective as a fleet manager. Depending on the company your work for, and the size of the fleet you manage, some skills will be more important than others. The number of drivers, vendors and maintenance personnel under your supervision will also play a role.
The 4 Most Common Steps to Becoming a Fleet Manager
As with any career where there are are a great many responsibilities (and excellent pay), becoming a fleet manager doesn’t happen overnight. As we discussed earlier, a degree is usually necessary as well as several certifications. Below are the 4 most common steps that top fleet managers have followed in order to attain their position.
Step 1- Education
Most managers start their careers by earning a four-year university degree. Accounting, business management and other degrees of this nature are a good choice.
Step 2- Certification
If becoming a fleet manager is your goal, you should start by earning some of the beginner level certifications. A class-C commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a great place to start.
Step 3- Search for an entry-level fleet manager position
You have to start somewhere and a lower level position is the best place. This will allow you to learn on the job and possibly have your higher certifications paid by your employer. (FYI, they’re not exactly cheap.)
Step 4- Create a professional resume
As with any job in any industry, a strong resume is one of your most important tools to get hired by a company or organization.
Two Viable Alternatives to Step 1
For some people acquiring a university degree is more difficult than for others. If that’s you but you still wish to become fleet manager, below are 2 alternative routes you can take.
1- Become an apprentice. Yes, you’ll start a the bottom, but you’ll learn on the job while you get paid. Also, many organizations will pay for you to attend certification seminars and take online certification courses which will help your career along.
2- Take a job at a company or organization that employs fleet managers. You’ll be starting at the bottom here also but, as with an apprenticeship, you will learn essential skills while earning a paycheck.
Once you’ve acquired an apprenticeship or employment, start following the North American Transportation Management Institute on their website. They offer many training and certification courses as well as being a fantastic resource for the industry that you’ve chosen as your career.
What are the Real-World Skills Needed to Become a Successful Fleet Manager
In all frankness, many people have some of the specific skills needed to attain a fleet manager position. However, being able to effectively and safely manage an entire team of people and vehicles is where the rubber truly meets the road. The truth is, all the financial management classes won’t prepare you to, for example, adapt quickly to the needs of a changing team or inspire people and gain their trust.
Below are some of the real-words skills you’ll need to be an effective, successful and respected fleet manager for any organization.
1- Analyze a situation quickly and solve problems on-the-fly
Things change quickly in many organizations. People get injured, vehicles break down and systems fail. To be an effective fleet manager you need to be able to deal with situations like these when they arise without losing your cool. Keeping your wits about you as you diagnose the situation and create a new plan to compensate is the hallmark of a great fleet manager.
2- Communicate easily with a diverse team of people, providers and customers
Most local, state and federal organizations employ a very diverse group of people who come from a wide range of socioeconomic, political, personal and religious backgrounds. The same goes for the providers and customers of those organization all of whom, at one time or another, will wish to speak with you. Being able to communicate well with all of them, listen to their needs and explain yourself effectively is vital to your success as a fleet manager.
3- Balance fleet needs with fleet costs and budgets
Being a fleet manager means also being a good juggler. You’ll be juggling the needs of the people in your community against the need to stay on-budget. When necessary, you’ll need to make budget cutbacks without a significant drop in community services. It’s a delicate balancing act between acquiring the fleet your organization needs and providing the services your community needs without bankrupting the organization in the process.
4- Be an inspirational leader who people follow
This might be the most difficult skill to master. Many of the people under your supervision will need a strong direction so that they accomplish the tasks and goals that you’ve set. If they don’t believe in you and see you as their leader this can be extremely difficult. It takes time, patience and an open mind along with a firm hand to be a leader whom people admire and respect. One tip is to emulate someone in the organization that already is a leader, adapting your leadership style to theirs until you create your own.
PART 2- PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATIONS
Which Certifications Will Be Most Useful to a Fleet Manager (and Help Advance your Career)?
We’ve talked about the fact that a fleet manager will need a wide variety of skills in order to be effective and successful at their job. While some of these skills are learned in school and others come with experience and time on the job, most are gained through certification courses. There are multiple certification courses available through state and federal organizations and associations. A few of the most important are below.
1- NAFA Certification(s)
The National Association of Fleet Administrators is a professional, nonprofit organization in both the United States and Canada. Founded in 1957, this organization provides a wide range of services to its members including monthly and annual publications, educational seminars and research studies.
Two of the most highly significant certifications in the fleet management industry are provided by NAFA including the Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist (CAFS) (more on this one below) and Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM). NAFA members are required to renew both of these certifications every five years.
2- North American Transportation Management Institute (NATMI)
This organization, the leading certification and training organization in North America, offers university accredited training for fleet management professionals as well as professional certification in six different areas. Two of their most important certifications are the Certified Director of Safety (CDS) and Certified Director of Maintenance/Equipment. (CDM/E). These are supervisor level certifications that are acquired through attendance at seminars. A portfolio detailing your work experience and performance is also necessary, as well as passing the specific exam for each certification.
Acquiring all six NATMI certifications, while not necessary for most fleet manager positions, is still a good idea to help you advance your career. Having all six will allow you to climb much higher, so to speak. They are listed below.
- Certified Director of Safety (CDS)- Outlined above.
- Certified Director of Maintenance/Equipment (CDM/E)- Outlined above
- Certified Safety Supervisor (CSS)- Similar to the CDS certification the CSS requires less field experience and doesn’t require you to be a full-time administrator.
- Certified Supervisor of Maintenance/Equipment (CSM/E)- Similar to the CDM/E, this certification only requires half the coursework and only two years experience.
- Certified Driver Trainer (CDT)- this certification will allow you to train new drivers, including lesson plans and objectives. It is described by the NATMI as a “train the trainer” course.
- Certified Cargo Security Professional (CCSP)- This is a sort of “catch-all” certification that covers everything from cross-border operations to HazMat safety.
3- Certified Public Fleet Professional (CPFP)
One of the more prestigious certifications, this one is provided through the American Public Works Association (APWA). The CPFP certification is for fleet managers who actively supervise and manage a public or private fleet. The certification is good for five years and also requires that the fleet manager complete 100 hours of continuing education classes.
4- Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Class-C
The vast majority of fleet management positions require that you have a Class-C commercial driver’s license (CDL). This license allows you to operate vehicles that can transport 16 or more occupants as well as hazardous materials (HazMat) under federal law. In order to acquire a class-C license, you will need to pass both a written and driving exam. Once you do, your license will be valid for between 5 and 8 years depending on the state where it was issued.
5- ARN Fleet Certification
The Automotive Resource Network (ARN) is a nonprofit organization that connects leaders in the automotive field and also provides industry research and news. While not a necessity for fleet managers, acquiring the certification reflects your seriousness about a career in the field. Having the ARN fleet certification on your resume will show prospective employers you’re willing to go the extra mile’ by investing time and energy into your career.
6- CAFM Certification
Possibly the most highly regarded certification on this list is the Certified Automotive Fleet Manager certification (CAFM). Provided through the NAFA (and touched on in #1, above), this is a self-study program that consists of eight disciplines. It takes approximately three years to become CAFM certified and includes passing the following 8 courses;
- Asset Management (AM)- this includes selecting, purchasing and maintaining all of the vehicles in your fleet
- Business Management (BM)- this involves federal and state rules and regulations, business strategies, interacting with other businesses and creating proposals, among other things
- Financial Management (FM)- this includes everything that has to do with leasing and buying vehicles as well as creating a budget and reimbursements
- Information Management (IM)- managing information is a key skill as a fleet manager including working with IT technicians, data analysis and telematics
- Maintenance Management (MM)- this involves everything to do with maintaining a fleet as well as managing the technicians who maintain those vehicles. It also involves state, local and federal environmental rules and regulations
- Professional Development (PD)- ethics, leadership and interpersonal communication are covered in this section, as well as managing a diverse workforce
- Risk Management (RM)- this involves minimizing safety risks as well as insurance and damage control in the case of a vehicle accident
- Vehicle Fuel Management (VFM)- everything from traditional and alternative fuels to tracking fuel usage and lowering fuel costs is covered here
If you’d like to find out more about what is involved in passing this prestigious certification, all of the details are on NAFA’s website.
What are the Major Industries that Hire Fleet Managers?
Fleet managers are needed in many of the world’s biggest industries as well as multiple types of organizations. What they all have in common is the need to manage a small, medium or massive fleet of vehicles. Most fleet managers work in an office setting of one kind or another. The vehicles in their fleets run the gamut from normal automobiles to specialty vehicles, trucks, buses and airplanes.
Below is a list of all the different organizations and industries that routinely hire fleet managers.
- Local, state and federal government agencies
- Local, state and federal government law enforcement agencies
- Commercial freight companies
- Public transportation organizations
- Fleet service and repair companies
- Private fleets
What are the Top 10 Private Fleets
As a fleet manager, there’s a very good chance you’ll be employed by a private company and run their fleet of vehicles. Some of the biggest fleets in the world are owned by private organizations. The top 10 include;
- Verizon Communications
- Pepsi and Pepsi Bottlers
- Comcast Corp.
- Republic Services (& Allied Waste)
- Waste Management Inc.
- Coca-Cola Enterprises
- Time Warner Cable
- ServiceMaster Company
- Tyco International Inc
PART 3- TOP TRAITS OF SUCCESSFUL FLEET MANAGERS
Becoming a fleet manager will take several years and requires a multitude of certifications, tests, and skills. It goes without saying that a fleet manager is given a huge amount of responsibility by the company or organization they work for. That being said, there are a number of traits that separate a good fleet manager from the best fleet managers. If becoming a top fleet manager who can demand top pay from the biggest and best organizations is your goal, the traits below will be extremely helpful.
1- Being open to continuing education throughout your career.
Many of the industries that you can work for are in a constant state of change as well as the rules that regulate them. The best fleet managers not only continue their education but also desire to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills. For them, professional development is not a chore but a choice. Joining professional organizations, acquiring new certifications and sharing information with colleagues are the hallmarks of top fleet managers.
2- Being a ‘people person’ and a great listener
It goes without saying that a fleet manager must be able to “deal with” people in a stable, respectful manner at all times. Part of this involves having excellent listening skills. Being open to different perspectives and ideas that you will undoubtedly hear from others is vitally important. Also, being able to form a rapport with people both above and below you is the mark of an excellent fleet manager. The fact is, a fleet manager is in the people business and will deal with many different personalities on any given day. Being able to do this with grace, humor and a firm, steady hand is vitally important.
3- Being able to multi-task
We touched on this lightly in Part 1. As a fleet manager, you will work with upper management, lower management, drivers, technicians, mechanics and suppliers, among others. On some days, you will work with all of these people, trying to coordinate and negotiate in order to meet their needs and get your job done. Being able to do this and keep your cool is a trait top fleet managers own.
4- The ability to set and reach specific goals
Being goal-oriented is vital for fleet managers. Most fleets will face a wide variety of continuous challenges including sticking to a set operational budget, reducing fuel usage, increasing safety standards, and prolonging the life of their vehicles. To do this means not only setting goals but sticking to a plan and reaching those goals on time and on target.
5- Being open and adaptable to change
Change is inevitable in practically all industries but more so in fleet management. In the last 20 years, for example, the number of fleet management staffers has decreased significantly while outsourcing has increased. Being able to adapt to change and even recommend changes that may negatively affect their position is the mark of a top fleet manager.
6- The ability to focus under pressure
If you manage a fleet for a law enforcement or emergency services organization, being able to focus under pressure is imperative. This is especially true in crisis situations such as natural or man-made disasters. A top fleet manager is able to focus even when there is a high amount of confusion, pressure and stress.
7- High ethical standards and integrity
High ethical standards, integrity and honesty are valuable in any career, no doubt, but in the fleet management industry much more so. It goes without saying that there will be many people relying on you to perform your job to the best of your abilities. Depending on the type of organization you work for, some may even be putting their life in your hands. It’s for this reason that unwavering integrity and ethics are demanded of top fleet managers.
8- Be a shrewd businessperson
Being able to read and understand, for example, a profit and loss statement (P&L) as well as understand many other business principles is vital. It’s not enough to simply be able to present facts and figures but also understand them at their core and be able to present them to others.
9- Project an air of professionalism at all times
Whether in their office, in the shop where vehicles are being maintained or meeting with colleagues at a convention or professional organization, top fleet managers conduct themselves with professionalism at all times and with everyone they encounter. You will never hear a top fleet manager speak negativity or air their grievances in public
10- Have an acute understanding of what their company or organization does
It’s not enough for a fleet manager to understand what makes their fleet run. They must understand the goals and objectives of the organization, the ‘why’ that drives the organization forward. That includes deep knowledge about all of the different departments and units that are utilizing the vehicles in their fleet.
Career Mistakes to Avoid as a Fleet Manager
As with any career, there are certain steps that you must take in order to get ahead and succeed. On the other hand, there are also mistakes that you should most definitely avoid. Some are generic to all industries such as paperwork and accounting errors. The possible career-ending mistakes below, however, are inherent to fleet managers and should be avoided.
1- Becoming Complacent
One of the worst mistakes that a fleet manager can make is to assume that their fleet is under control and that everything is running smoothly. As we touched on earlier, change is inevitable in the industry including things like government regulations, losing employees and price spikes. A complacent fleet manager doesn’t keep up with changes in the industry and lets continuing education fall by the wayside. By doing this they can be caught completely off guard when changes do occur, inevitably leading to one last change; the loss of their job.
2- Relying too heavily on your suppliers
Relying on people and suppliers is normal for a fleet manager. That being said, if you rely too heavily on your suppliers or, even worse, let them take many of the decisions out of your hands, that’s a very bad decision. As a fleet manager the decisions about what vehicles to provide, how they are maintained and when they are replaced, along with dozens of others, should remain firmly in your hands. Giving that responsibility to a third party not connected with your organization is an excellent way to find yourself looking for new employment.
3- Not communicating effectively with all parts of your organization
As a fleet manager, you need to know what is going on in every part of your organization in order to effectively do your job. If you fail to communicate with one, or all, you will lose control of the entire situation, which could be disastrous. A top fleet manager doesn’t just provide information when asked but offers it regularly to the people who need it and use it. Without open and constant communication throughout your organization you may be forced to supply one last bit of communication; your letter of resignation.
4- Not hiring someone to eventually take your place
Becoming a fleet manager is an excellent career goal, no doubt. However, if you desire to go even further in your career, finding, hiring and training someone to replace you is a must. Many a fleet manager has remained in that position for far too long simply because their organization didn’t have anyone else to fill the role. This may be out of fear or complacency. However, no matter the cause, if you don’t want to advance your career further the best thing to do is make sure that no one in the organization can take over for you.
Being a fleet manager is a demanding but highly rewarding career. It takes time, patience, diligence and a wide variety of skills. The best fleet managers have all of these and a certain special “something” that allows them to excel at their job, keep their fleet running strong and their people safely on the road.