Keeping track of all the fleet vehicles is but one small part of the fleet manager’s role. Business acumen, networking and risk management are also key skills and responsibilities. Read up here on the essentials to be a great fleet manager.
Fleet management is one of those jobs that often isn’t clearly defined within a company. Everyone knows what a doctor does, what the Finance Director does, or what the receptionist does, but ask your colleagues what a fleet manager does and they’ll probably answer something along the lines of “keeps track of where all the vehicles are?”
Yes, knowing where your vehicles are is always a good start, but being a fleet manager involves so much more than staring at a GPS tracker. There's more to fleet management than vehicle tracking.
To successfully manage a fleet, you need to understand the core business of the company. A rental fleet consisting of sedans and hatchbacks has a completely different purpose than a fleet of delivery vans used by a florist or fresh goods supplier. Fleet managers who understand the key business operations and goals will be able to optimise the fleet to best serve the business.
Whether the fleet is being managed in-house or by a fleet management company, the fleet manager needs to have a detailed understanding of how that specific company makes money. A keen understanding of customer expectations, budget limits, profit margins, future projections and even brand perception help fleet managers operate their fleets to best support the company’s requirements.
According to Willie Venter, former Fleet Consulting Manager at EQSTRA Fleet Management, “Fleet managers need to know what a company is trying to achieve in order to fully optimise the fleet. The core business goals have an effect on numerous fleet management decisions, such as vehicle type, fleet lifecycle, fleet size, scheduling and driver training, to name a few. A good fleet manager knows how to manage a fleet, but a brilliant fleet manager knows how to manage a fleet so that it adds to the company’s overall profitability. That’s the goal.”
Wide industry and economic knowledge
Fleet managers need to fully understand and keep up to speed with the industry in which they’re operating. And it’s not just the fleet management industry, but the transport industry as a whole.
A very big and important part of fleet management is forecasting and planning. On paper, fleet managers will submit their planning a year in advance – so at the end of 2016 most were probably submitting their plans for 2017 – but in order to do so they need to look much further than 2017 and take into consideration much more than the number of vehicles scheduled to be replaced.
For example: Let’s say five vehicles on your fleet are scheduled for replacement in 2017 (due to age, their warranty or cost factors). A good fleet manager will already have a complete picture of the situation:
- Type of vehicles they need to be replaced with and what the options are.
- Are the manufacturers bringing in new or facelifted derivatives?
- Do a full analysis on new derivatives compared to possibly buying the outgoing model at a reduced rate.
- Which manufacturers will be increasing their parts pricing and by how much?
- Will parts and service for the replacement vehicles be readily available?
- Fuel consumption: if there are predictions that fuel prices are set to climb dramatically, the fleet manager may need to relook the fuel vs diesel policy.
These are just a few examples and, in addition to the details mentioned above, fleet managers need to be aware of any new legislation that could have an impact on how their fleet is run (remember the e-toll confusion?).
Succeeding at fleet management means keeping abreast of Best Practice in the industry. Best Practice usually takes into consideration all of the above-mentioned factors and fleet managers are responsible for implementing these to best suit the needs of their fleet so that it best supports the core business.
Networking and people skills
Most people wouldn’t identify networking and people skills as crucial to running a fleet, but the most successful fleet managers have got these down to a fine art. Networking is the most effective way to gather all the industry information needed to expertly plan you fleet. Most of the information required by fleet managers - such as manufacturers planning to bring in new models, increase pricing or discontinue certain derivatives or parts – is not always readily available. Google is not going to help you here.
By building a solid and reliable network in the transport industry, fleet managers gain access to vital information that helps them effectively plan way in advance. Networking with peers and asking other fleet managers for their advice and opinions is an ingrained part of effective fleet management.
People skills are obviously an asset that helps build such a network, but it’s also vital for managing drivers and any other support staff involved in managing a fleet. We all know the term to ‘manage upward’, and this is a skill every fleet manager needs to pick up quickly. You need excellent people skills if you’re going to convince management that your plan is solid whilst at the same time gaining the trust of your drivers so they’ll always be able to come to you with any concerns.
Fleet managers must be able to relate to staff through all levels of the company hierarchy. Doing so effectively requires brilliant people skills and that surprisingly few people possess.
Risk and crisis management
Once all the networking, learning, forecasting and planning is done, fleet managers need to be prepared for the next crisis. Because even the best planning will not avoid the next crisis, although it might mitigate the impact.
Risk assessment and crisis management is a continuous part of fleet management. Anything from a lost fuel card to a hijacked vehicle or fatal accident is considered is considered a crisis and fleet managers need to have clear guidelines on how every situation should be dealt with.
There are many ‘broad’ risks that all fleet managers need to take into account, such as vehicle theft or damage, but each individual fleet has its own set of risks depending on the type of cargo transported, vehicles used and routes on which they operate. Fleet managers need to assess risk and plan their crisis strategies to suit the specific fleet.
According to Willie, “Effective risk planning and crisis management can make or break a fleet. It can mean the difference between your fleet being successful or becoming a liability to the company.”
Staying ahead of the technology game has always been an important part of fleet management, but in the past few years it has become a deciding factor. A fleet manager (or fleet management company) who lags behind in tech knowledge will not be able to run an efficient fleet.
That said, not every fleet requires the installation of every single gadget known to man, the trick is knowing which technology will benefit your fleet and which is just a nice-to-have. For this reason fleet managers need to know what the latest tech on the market is, as well as how it works. If you don’t understand your technology you won’t get the best use out of it and could end up spending a fortune on technology that doesn’t help you at all.
Fleet management is such a complicated game involving untold variables, moving parts and people. Fleet managers who don’t comply with, and enforce, a strong code of ethics will not be able to run a successful fleet. Fleet managers need to keep a close eye on matters such as potential fuel fraud and inappropriate vehicle use – leading by example and setting a comprehensive policy is vital to your fleet’s success.
Ethics is possibly the most important factor for fleet managers (or companies) who wish to grow their career or client database. According to Willie “You can get all of the above points right, but if you have a reputation of being lax in the ethics department, none of your other achievements will matter to future employers or clients”.
Fleet management is a complicated, ever-changing environment, but it can be extremely rewarding once you learn how to do it well. “The point is to never stop learning,” says Willie, “get out there and ask advice, read all the latest news and get creative if you need to. Don’t be afraid to innovate, but do it with a rock-solid foundation of knowledge to support you.”