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Characteristics of a Good Maintenance Manager

By Don Armstrong

The maintenance manager’s job is to prevent problems–a responsibility that runs counter to the usual expectation that managers are supposed to solve existing problems, rather than have the “foresight [that] keeps problems from occurring.” Maintenance managers who are adept at preventing problems know how to think ahead, support planning and work scheduling, and have procedures in place for all of the company’s maintenance activities (which can run the gamut from the most routine lubrication task all the way to the most complex plant-wide shutdown).

Most importantly, these managers also recognize that tradespeople are the ones who create value from maintenance activities. For that reason, good maintenance managers direct all of their activity toward ensuring that their tradespeople are assigned to the highest-value work and have the best possible skills and resources at their disposal–and that roadblocks are kept out of their way.

Good maintenance managers appreciate and publicly recognize their best “problem avoiders” (supervisors, planners, engineers, inspectors, etc.) and expert tradespeople, and then help their other employees develop and improve their skills in those areas. They also understand that although their organizations don’t sell maintenance, their departments must work closely with and support operations that promote the production of revenue-generating goods or services.

In addition, good maintenance managers always look for ways to improve the support that maintenance provides to the organization. They work as partners with their companies’ storerooms and purchasing departments, for example, to ensure that the right materials and supplies get to the right people at the right time.

Finally, good maintenance managers leave their egos at home and strive to lead in the sense described by the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A leader is best when people barely know that he exists.” Their job is to avoid excitement and the attention that it attracts.

Companies should value any good maintenance managers who come their way and cultivate candidates and new hires who have potential in that area. For example, a company should ask a new hire for that position to spend a week as a relief supervisor in each area of the plant, to give that new manager a great opportunity to assess the tradespeople and the systems within which he or she is required to work. (An interesting interview question would be to ask candidates how they feel about doing a rotation like that. Anyone who expresses reluctance is probably not a good fit for the role.)

The value of a good maintenance manager should not be underestimated. The skills needed to fill that position well can be cultivated through experience and institutional support. By taking the time to make sure that the maintenance manager role is filled with the right person, an organization strengthens the foundation it needs to achieve long-term success.

A version of this article was originally published on the Reliable Plant website at

Don Armstrong is the president of Veleda Services Ltd., which provides consulting and training services to maintenance departments in industrial plants and institutions. He can be reached at

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