Workplace Unplugged

The Modern Facilities Manager: A Take on the Essential Skills Needed

Moira vandenAkker
May 6th, 2016

Michel_Theriault.jpgMichel Theriault will tell you, like many, he fell into this industry by accident. However, his decades-long experience and breadth of knowledge in the field is no accident.  

Michel has been advising FM professionals as a private FM strategic consultant for nearly a decade, he’s an award-winning author, and he is an FMP Qualified Instructor who teaches all over the world. His experience in a tough business, positions him well to help facilities managers deal with customer service, operational and organizational design, benchmarking, process, systems, strategic plans, communication, studies, analysis and business cases, procurement and RFP response strategy.

Of course, knowing Michel’s background, we asked him with the bound of new tech, flexible workspaces and the generational insurgence of Millennials in the industry, what are the skills you see in facilities management today? 

Theriault: When I look at the kinds of people I now deal with as a consultant, some of the ones who have risen to a senior facilities role often do not have a technical background. I emphasize quite a bit in my training and my writing having a business leadership-type background, a different kind of background other than technical, shouldn’t be an impediment to succeeding in this business. It may in fact equip you with skills that are better than if you’re an engineer who has never been involved with managing people and finances for example.

We caught up with Michel the day before he recently traveled to teach in Jeddah. He says there, and in many parts of the Middle East, an engineering degree is still the main qualifier to enter the field of facilities management.

Theriault: They still equate facility management with a technical maintenance, a fix-it-if-you-break-it type of role, as opposed to a more strategic workplace environment efficiency and effectiveness financial stewardship type of role. The other thing I have noticed is in the country – having an engineering degree is something that people seek because it is an entry into better jobs and better opportunities.

We asked Michel how he sees the role of a Facility Manager evolving. What is changing? And, how do we go about adapting to this change in Facility Management – not just in North America but globally?

Michel says the perception of it being a technical role is changing.

Theriault: A number of courses I have personally given, and the amazing interest from the participants, speaks to the fact that they want to advance facilities more than just the technical engineering type of role; managing people, managing contractors, and even more than that being more strategic about forward planning on maintenance and capital assets, being able to put together a business case and justify what you need to do, and know the financial elements so you can talk to the CFO of the company. All of those things that we’ve been promoting here in North America are still fairly new.

So what’s going to be the tipping point and when could we see this shift?

Theriault: It’s a critical mass. The more people in the Gulf countries and Asia who take this training to see associations as value, hopefully that will translate to their HR departments and their training departments and that will make them realize and take their understanding of the role to a higher level. Right now more job descriptions I see in that region are ‘you need to be an engineer.’ You still see that in North America but to a much less degree. We are not where we need to be in North America, but they are definitely behind.

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One of Michel’s books, Managing Facilities & Real Estate, is sold in two dozen countries, and is used as a formal education piece to teach up-and-coming FMs about the overall required skills of a modern facilities manager.

Theriault: I focus on the business leadership and strategy, how to do key things in our business differently, better, and those key things include how to manage people and suppliers.

The essential skills of a modern day FM start with a proper education, which Michel says, isn’t where it needs to be globally.

Theriault: I think our industry needs better schooling. There’s a relatively small but growing number of colleges and universities that provide facilities management as a career to young people. […] Our industry need facilities to be recognized as a career path, and we need more designations and upgrading courses. More of that for people who are already in the industries. We need to have that base education instead of having people falling into the job and learning from people who were there before.

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Helping shift the mindset of an existing FM was partly the reason for one of Michel’s latest books Thinking Into Corners. We asked Michel to tell us more about the book and what inspired him to write it.

Theriault: Big data’ is what I keep hearing in our industry and I think it misleads people because we all have limits. And when you think outside the box, the space in which you’re thinking is so broad that it’s hard to grip what is feasible. You need a catalyst, you need something for the ideas to grow from, and if you do that from within the limits with what you have, which is what I talk about in the book, you can expand those limits, but you expand them with rational thought and a plan.

We were super curious about the title. Why “Thinking Into Corners“?

Theriault: The idea ‘within the corners’ comes from my observations and my readings how most of us go about our lives and think. We do things within our comfort zone. And so if you think of our comfort zone as what you can reach when you’re swinging your arms around, we miss the corners, that little extra further place that you can go and find that best solution. So that’s really where the concept of the book came from.

So it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Changing the notion that future Facilities Managers don’t need an engineering degree, and changing the notion that current FM’s don’t have to ‘think big’ but should rather ‘think rationally’, will lead us to focusing on the essential skillsets of the modern Facility Manager.


Michel is also a contributor for Forbes.com and AllBusiness.com, where he gives tips on everything from whether to fire an employee to learning how to manage your manager.


What skillsets are needed in your office? And what skills do you find were needed to get to where you are? Share your thoughts.

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Photos: Redd AngeloHelloquenceViktor Hanacek, Snappa.io