Why the Healthcare Facility Director Role is Critical and How to Staff it

Cindy Nuesslein, R.N., MBA, FACHE

Principal, Consulting Business Development Leader
6/02/16

Healthcare Facility Management is a complex and complicated discipline.

“It’s always a race to get everything sorted out before everyone gets out of sorts.”

– LANE OLINGHOUSE

For those not familiar with the industry or discipline, I am frequently asked to describe the role of a Facility Director (FD). Literally, a FD IS a “Jack of all Trades”. Some of those “Trades” would be leadership, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering, finance, refrigeration maintenance and repair, fire prevention, leadership under fire, forecasting, medical gas, codes and compliance, administration, commissioning, emergency management, “leadership through chaos”, analyst, community liaison, lean operations and processes, planning and construction, leadership in an emergency, real estate and property management, communication, project management, gardening, glazing, leadership in a crisis, roofing, painting, sustainability, personnel management, infection prevention, locksmith, team building, leadership by example, and a master’s degree in “crystal-ball-reading”, to name just a few. Sound like a superhuman??

facilities-manager

So, when you find someone who has mastered all those skills, it is a fearsome sight to behold.

The “Human” Building

The built environment is a powerful and integral part of healing. It can accelerate patient care, in some cases, more so than even the available technical expertise, as discussed in my last post. Looking through a clinical lens, Healthcare Facilities Management seems analogous to healthcare for the human body with the skeletal frame and thousands of miles of different vessels and organs, wrapped in skin. Facilities have thousands of miles of “vessels”–cable, fiber, power lines, telecommunication lines, etc. They have organs–air handlers, switch gear, generators, boilers, chillers, etc. And they even have a skin of brick, stucco or some other wrapping. Just as our health practitioners care for us and our external and internal infrastructure, so does the FD care for the built environment.

Let’s continue with the analogy…  Many of us have Internists who manage our overall care. If we have a significant issue, we can be referred to a specialist such as a Cardiologist or Orthopedist.  The Facility Director is similar to an Internist, knowing enough about everything and calling upon specialists (vendors, consultants, etc.) when needed. But most importantly, a great FD is a master at PREVENTION.

Now I am well aware that many of you are vocal opponents to the “PREVENT DEFENSE” strategy, myself included. I especially detest it when my team is not even in the lead! For facilities, an ounce of preventions can be worth, literally, thousands in time, money, and satisfaction. Therefore, every day you go to work without interruption of power, water, temperature control, [fill in the blank] – thank your Facility Director. He or she is constantly in motion serving, preventing, intervening, directing, constructing, etc.

The Golden Nugget

What we have talked about so far is in reference to maintaining the physical facility. But, that is only half of the responsibilities. This person sits on many committees – Safety, Environment of Care, Infection Control, to name a few. Interacting with Nursing and Medical Staff as well as all other departments daily. In my opinion, command of SOFT SKILLS is a must-have. I share eight that I have always sought, when hiring a FD.

“Eight For the Price of One”

  1. Leader: You may have noticed this one from the first paragraph. The ability to develop others and inspire them to find their confidence can catapult organization improvement.
  2. Collaborator: Willing to listen and learn while bringing consensus for lasting processes.
  3. Mediator: Thousands of textbooks, articles, and time have been devoted to the value of the art and science of negotiation. Bringing resolution quickly can save almost any situation.
  4. Fixer: A colleague told me he nick-named his Facility Director “Mr. Fix It”. He was so creative when problems arose and worked to put in the “Fix” as quickly as possible making the organization’s life so much better.
  5. Adaptor: Not everyone reading may be old enough to remember, but when the three-prong plug became the norm, we all had boxes of adaptors. It was like being able to put a square peg into a round hold. That aptly describes this trait. The flexibility to change tracks in a nano-second.
  6. Initiator: Someone who never waits and is always leading the charge to find new, better, quicker, more efficient ways to provide the same or greater service.
  7. Commitment: Facilities require attention 24/7/365; whomever is in the role must ensure that expertise is always, ALWAYS, available at a moment’s notice.
  8. Communicator: Having the skill to facilitate “Crucial Conversations” is a must have. Identifying two or three of these key non-technical characteristics, helps enable success. (Many times it is just one.) In other words, if the candidate doesn’t possess that skill, then regardless of how great he/she is in other areas, success is unlikely. A CALM, GRACIOUS COMMUNICATOR, is the must-have for a Facility Director.

I recognize that there are a significant number of hands needed to make the healthcare providers/systems great. But, I don’t see much about how a great Facility Director can contribute to the mission. Believe me, the right one it is an untapped resource for accelerating progress.

Given the critical need and the level of competency and sophistication, I’m surprised by the few formal educational tracks for Healthcare Facility Directors. The message here is, find legitimate ways to invest in them! The great ones can literally be the difference between good and phenomenal.


Aaron Schiess, PE

Associate, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Allan Hendrikse, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Senior Associate, Electrical Engineer

Anareli Catalan

Technology BIM Specialist

Andy Neathery

Technology BIM Specialist

Angelica Chow

Electrical Designer

Arturo S Salud

Associate, Senior Electrical Designer

Austin Barolin, PE, CEM, LEED AP O&M

Associate, Senior Energy Analyst

Bethany Beers, CCP, LEED AP BD+C

Energy & Commissioning Consultant

Bill Caron, PE, DBIA

Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Bill Hinton, CNMT

Associate Principal, Senior Project Manager

Brennan Schumacher, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Lighting Design Lead

Brian Hageman, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Plumbing Discipline Lead

Brian Hans, PE, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Brian J. Lottis, LEED AP BD+C

Associate, Senior Mechanical Designer

Brianne Copes, PE, LEED AP

Senior Associate, Mechanical Engineer

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