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September 01, 2004  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

The Transportation Manager's 2004-05 Survival Guide

The new school year has begun. How will you handle the stress of budget cuts, driver shortages, weather-related problems and student behavior? Transportation managers share their strategies for soldiering on when things fall apart.

by Albert Neal, Assistant Editor

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Coping mechanisms
All the challenges and demands associated with a transportation manager's job are too numerous to name here. Besides those already mentioned, there are tons of things that weigh in, including salaries. So how does one cope with all the stress?

"They say laughter is the best medicine," says Woodworth, "so I laugh." Woodworth finds the humor in life, and where there's none, she improvises. "Sometimes I'll do silly stuff. I find myself laughing at myself." Coworkers will often join the fun with their own mirthful contributions. Associates save comic strips, newspaper clipping or jokes and share them with Woodworth.

"You just need to relax," says Yamaguchi, who passes on advice from his doctors after surviving a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery (see sidebar below). "Take a break during the workday and go for a walk. Stay active," he says.

Jefferson Schools' Bross owns a racing team, which he deems a satisfying outlet. "The race team is where I let my hair hang down," he says. Bross has been involved with racing for 17 years. His son drives the car and the entire family comes out every weekend in May through October to watch the races. "I'm the mechanic, the owner and financier. I do everything," says Bross.

Liedl finds relaxation inside the walls of his personalized office. Shelves in his office are lined with well over 100 miniature yellow school buses, he's replaced fluorescent lighting with a livelier hanging light, hung plants and set up a round table where everyone seated is equal and at ease.

"People have pictures of their families on and around their desks, but I've got atmosphere," Liedl says. Outside of work, Liedl likes to hop on his '92 Honda Gold Wing and "go for a ride."

Laidlaw's Helfrick owns a motorcycle too. "I've owned an old '68 Harley Davidson since I was 17 years old," he says. "That's one of my biggest stress relievers." Helfrick enjoys taking the bike on long, open country roads where there are no traffic signs or lights. "I might leave Fairbanks and head 100 miles or so to Denali," he says. He keeps his speed at or around 55 miles per hour, suggesting that he's too old for speeding.

Early arrivers should consider working things out before entering the office, suggests Allen Prince, who, after a 44-mile commute to work, sits in his car and plans his day. "I take a recorder with me or I'll write things down," he says. Prince meditates on what's before him, develops a strategic plan and is able to coast through as much of his day as possible before anything unexpected occurs.

"You have to have an outlet," says Thacker-Smith. She and her husband enjoy camping, fishing and riding their all-terrain vehicles in the desert. One thing she learned was whatever happens at work stays at work. "I realized early on that I wouldn't survive if I didn't learn that."

Learning to delegate can also go a long way, says Mills. "I've always tried to hire people better than me. I keep them trained all the time. I send them to workshops and all the in-service trainings."

"It's all about careful planning," says Bross. "In this business, you don't want to be reactionary. You always have to plan for the worst-case scenario. You have to be well prepared and keep your people well prepared."

Bross suggests surrounding yourself with confident, competent people, emphasizing that if you do your homework, your school year will run well. "You're not going to cover everything," he says, "but you can certainly minimize those unforeseen circumstances."

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