Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

Abstract: Leadership

Historically, great military, political, religious, and industrial leaders faced very difficult challenges and led people, institutions, and sometimes societies toward a vision of the future. Equally important, the power and importance of leadership are demonstrated daily, and organizations can and do fail because no effective leaders emerge. Higher education institutions and facilities managers now confront a significant period of change driven by serious financial constraints. Facilities leadership is critical because many senior officers lack training in the field; facilities departments must use new, more effective approaches and methods; and facilities managers need to team internally and externally to deploy new techniques. Although it cannot cover the hundreds of theories and treatises on leadership, the chapter gives a brief overview of the most important ideas, practical aspects (characteristics, traits, activities), and impacts (direction setting, management team building, team leadership).

Evolution of Facilities Management. Higher education development in most modern societies evolved  over many decades and phases (formation, expansion, and maturity, often cycling between the latter two). In the United States and Canada, the  phases  correspond roughly to 1636  to 1940s (land acquisition, building, hiring, maintenance), 1940s to early 1970s (fueled by GI Bill and baby boomers, quadrupling of building between 1950 and 1975; emergence and decline of campus planning; and application of site development and building design  concepts,  draining  reserve  resources and raising fixed operating costs), and mid-1970s on (mature programs and campus size but unstable environment, including rapidly changing technology, demographics, economy, and societal needs and expectations).

Growing Need for Effective Facilities Management. Significant forces are driving more sophisticated facilities management and the need to reinvest in higher education facilities. Rapid technological changes affect what and how things are taught; alter facilities design, building, and maintenance; and intensify the problem of obsolescence in constructing fixed assets. Laws and regulations govern safety and affect all aspects of facilities design, construction, and operation; however, overly cautious adherence can burden operations or waste resources. Economics include high fixed costs, decreased building life expectancy (because of delayed repairs), and increased total cost of ownership at a time of constrained revenues. These conditions are likely to prevail well into the 21st century. Moreover, facilities play an increasingly important role in the success of higher education; several studies cite the relationship between facilities and customer perceptions of the quality of educational outcomes.

Nature of a Leader’s Job

Facilities managers face real and complex problems that require fundamental changes in how they approach and manage their jobs (e.g., culture  busting  and  creating new paradigms). Leadership can be defined in  many ways, but most experts identify a few critical skills or philosophies as characteristic of leaders (a vision supported by values, empowerment,  communication, and self-understanding). (See Figure 1.2.)

Figure 1.2. Management versus Leadership
No. Management Leadership
1 Operations and process Vision
2 Doing “things right” Doing the “right things”
3 Efficiency Effectiveness
4 Speed Direction
5 Method Purpose
6 “In the system” “On the system”
7 Climbing the ladder Is the ladder against the right wall?
8 Practices Principles
9 Bottom line Customer focus


Vision. Vision is the most basic if illusive element: what might be, a visualization of final products that can be shared with others (e.g., what might be accomplished in 5 years). Most researchers conclude that vision is the result of enthusiasm, desire, and hope.  A facilities vision should further the institution’s mission, reflect current conditions and future hopes, and balance facilities with faculty and students.

Values. People follow trustworthy leaders, those who embody honesty, sincerity, loyalty, commitment, and a host of other beliefs and actions (i.e., values). Leaders cannot lead (and followers will not follow) unless values are created, are overtly expressed, and govern actions and relations inside and outside of the organization.

Values that are consistently reinforced by leaders are as important as any vision.

Empowerment.   In successful organizations, there are as many leaders as followers. The essence of empowerment is that each individual must lead or follow depending on the circumstances and task, so each employee needs to understand the organization’s vision, mission, and values.

Communication. Communication is an essential element of leadership for (1) transferring the organization’s vision from one employee to another as they watch what the leader does, read what the leader writes, and hear what the leader says (looking for consistency among the three); and (2) reinforcing actions and behaviors that support the organization’s goals and vision.

Self-Understanding. Leaders must recognize their own infallibility and potential to pursue either good or bad ends; they should constructively validate their vision and mission and ensure that values are not compromised.

Facilities managers need to continually ask institution leaders and facilities users whether needs are met and also should test themselves (e.g., using introspection to identify personal prejudices).

Facilities managers must lead within their own organization, their own institution, and the field of higher education facilities management. To understand the practical dimensions of leadership in  each  area,  it  is most helpful to answer a series  of  questions  covering the essential elements.

Setting Direction

The organization’s vision and overarching  mission  must be reinterpreted into a series of interrelated mission statements for each subunit; facilities leaders create and achieve an understanding of these linked missions and unifying vision. Some argue that this is the most  important determinant of organization success. The mission statement (why an organization exists) must be clear and unique, differentiating itself from other groups, while the vision speaks to the future (what an organization aspires to achieve in fulfillment of its mission).  For  both mission and vision, the results must  be identifiable and  measurable.  Criteria  for  assessing the clarity of a mission  statement  and  vision  are included in the chapter. In some cases, leaders  must create and implement a new paradigm, which usually requires team effort.

Management Team

The facilities management organization must excel in core products (e.g., design, construction, building maintenance, housekeeping) and support functions (e.g., accounting, budgeting, training, information technology). People who lead these functions (i.e., the management team) must excel for the organization to succeed; some fail because qualified managers cannot work as a team (e.g., because of inattention to results, avoidance of accountability, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, absence of trust); and do not share a   belief in the mission, vision, and values; or are unwilling to expend the effort needed to achieve them.

Team Leadership

Leading a team toward a well-defined mission and vision relies on four other elements of leadership (values, communication, empowerment,  and  self- understanding). These qualities dictate with how team members interact with one another and common expectations for the behavior of each team member.

This foundation generates the trust necessary for a productive work relationship.

Values. The team leader and members should discuss and state team values (e.g., integrity, creativity, empathy, loyalty, and initiative) so that members can decide whether the values are congruent with their personal values and whether they wish to continue supporting the group and its mission and vision.

Communication. Team leaders must consistently and routinely communicate the team mission, vision, and values. Studies show that every member of high- performing organizations knows these things and how job duties contribute to the mission and vision.

Empowerment. A team’s combined knowledge, skills, and energy enable it to out-produce individuals when all team members can excel at what they know or do best and can act in the best interests of the organization when dealing with the unexpected. Granting this flexibility is the essence of empowerment.

Self-Understanding. Problems arise if leaders overestimate their own importance. Self-understanding helps leaders avoid actions that interfere with the core purpose of leading (i.e., to encourage and motivate others to excel in achieving the mission and vision).

Leadership in the Institution, Community, and Profession. Facilities management is technologically, economically, and legally complex, so missteps are expensive, and recovery is difficult. Facilities management leadership extends beyond the department because higher education officers and boards need to learn how to effectively deploy, manage, and use facilities and to view them as an investment.

Initially, this leadership entails education, example, and experimentation but will evolve into membership in strategic and decision-making processes. Improvement in higher education facilities management practices depends on broad research, testing, and communication of results. Even small improvements can be significant, and all professionals can provide valuable information in the areas of testing improvements and communicating results. The three components of leadership in the facilities management profession are ethical conduct, contribution to one’s own community, and contribution to one’s own profession.

Criteria for assessing each of these five team leadership elements are included in the chapter. After thoughtfully answering the questions, leaders can construct a leadership activity inventory (areas that have been developed, need to be developed, and need to be improved) and a personal plan for leadership.

Want to contribute to the APPA BOK? Learn more here.