Directors of transportation need a heart for the job and for people.
Harris says that directors must consider the impact that their decisions will have on others.
“Often, decisions with negative impacts on people are made for the good of the budget,” he says. “A director with heart considers how to involve or assist those the decision will adversely affect before implementing the change.”
22. Thick Skin
The head of a school transportation department is bound to have some harsh words thrown his or her way. It’s important to have thick skin and not take it personally.
Gary Martin of St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Luling, La., points to an incident in which a longtime friend’s daughter was starting kindergarten.
“This was the first year this kindergarten center had their own buses, so we had some routing concerns to work through the first week,” Martin says. “Well, the bus with the most concerns was her daughter’s bus.”
He says that his friend went “ballistic” on him and the department, calling multiple times and sending e-mails to his supervisor and the principals.
Martin notes that one of the principals commiserated with him and assured him that they were happy with the transportation service.
“I wanted to get angry at her [the friend] but then realized that she is like any other kindergarten parent,” Martin says. “Kindergarten parents are filled with protective instincts and separation anxiety; it takes time to gain their trust.”
23. Delegates Wisely
The “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” mindset doesn’t work for transportation operations.
Pam McDonald of Orange (Calif.) USD stresses the importance of knowing “how to delegate and follow through.”
Reppert notes that it is the driver of the buses who will determine success on a daily basis.
“So you have to delegate the decision-making authority to those best positioned to execute it,” he says. “With that has to come the training on how to use it.”
24. Negotiation Skills
Jim Gannon of Fremont (Calif.) USD says that transportation directors must understand interest-based negotiations. A successful director “uses those tools not just in the labor arena, but also in IEP meetings and in mitigation of complaints on a daily basis.”
Because so many stakeholders rely on the director of transportation, dependability is a must.
Patrick Kneib of Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools says that this trait is needed “to properly mitigate risk associated with student transportation and also address transportation system issues, incidents and accidents.”
The nonstop nature of the director position also demands dependability.
“The job these days, for most larger districts, is nearly a 365/24/7 undertaking with year-round special-education programs, evening and weekend field trips, and daily late activities,” Kneib says.
26. Willingness to Get Down in the Trenches
Some of the best transportation directors can often be seen out of the office, driving or riding a bus, shoveling snow, meeting with a parent at a bus stop, etc.
“I think the most important trait that a director can possess is the willingness to get down in the trenches with the employees,” says Julie Murphy of Seminole County (Fla.) Public Schools. “[Being] willing to ride the bus to get a feel for the day-to-day problems the drivers face is one of the best things the director can do to gain the respect of the employees.”
27. Business Acumen
Transportation directors need good business skills, not just in a fiscal sense, but also in terms of relationships.
In addition to having clear business goals, Gannon says, a successful director “can ferret out new revenue streams and grant opportunities” and “builds strong, supportive relationships with the education side of the organization and politically with board members and bargaining groups.”
28. Embraces Challenges
Great transportation directors take on the myriad challenges of the job with gusto.
“Our positions demand so much each day, and that is what makes our work so much fun,” says Keith Paulson of Anoka-Hennepin School District #11 in Anoka, Minn.
Debbie Rike of Shelby County (Tenn.) Schools adds that embracing challenges is vital because “every single day brings new challenges in the current cost-cutting economy.”
29. “Big Picture” Thinking
Great transportation directors have a broad understanding of the school district and its mission.
“Many transportation directors who do not live up to their potential fall short because they only see through their department’s straw,” Kneib says. “Many factors must be taken into consideration when executing a safe, timely and efficient transportation system,” such as bell-time tiering, schools’ attendance boundaries and district emergency management procedures.
Paulson says that great transportation directors are determined in many ways, such as: Determined to have their department ready for what is known and for the unknown. Determined to provide the best for their customers. And determined to help wherever they can, whenever they can.