Robinson: School Transportation and the Art of Leadership PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alexandra Robinson, M.Ed., CDPT   
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 10:06

alex-robinsonMany years ago, I had the pleasure of working for a school district transportation department where, as is customary around the holidays, people were exchanging gifts, cards and baked goods throughout the office.

A fairly new colleague, who had just come to work with us from the computerized routing world, came into my office with a panicked look on his face.“Is everything alright?” I asked.

“Somebody just dropped off some cookies and a holiday card,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.“I didn’t get them anything in return.”

“Just say thank you,” I smiled.

His reaction was one that I remember clearly.

“Oh, OK. I wasn’t sure. I’ve only managed systems,” he replied, “I’ve never worked with people before.”

Since that “wintery” day in the Southeast, I have had my share of work experiences with managers and leaders in our industry, but my encounter that day still rings true when it comes to management versus leadership: managing things and leading people are not the same!

A manager does just that – manages, They may be organized and may be great project planners/managers. They manage systems and strategize, implement budgets and make sure an operation (especially a transportation operation) is logistically sound. Managers have knowledge skill sets necessary to an organization – from routing to dispatching to mapping; these are the go-to metrics people, the historians and, unfortunately, sometimes the “we never did it that way before” group.  Regardless, all transportation operations need managers on the team.

Leadership is different than management in that it is truly an art: it inspires; is a display of passion; paints a picture of what’s to come or what has been; provokes thought, discussion and creative energy.

A leader is exciting to be around and creates excitement (in a good way) about the mission and vision for the team. The true leader never blames but rather works with the team and managers on the team to come up with solutions and help guide the plan. While having followers may be the “manager’s definition” of leadership, a true leader is less concerned with followers and more concerned with mentoring future leaders.

Having a keen understanding of what it takes to lead and be an inspiration to a team is advisable in all industries but particularly important in the uncertain times we face in our own industry. A true leader can be a calming force when all of the elements seem to be generating a storm. The leader can work with the managers and the rest of the team to develop new ideas, spark interest in creativity, help with the burn-out that may be prevalent and most importantly keep a department out of the news for crisis and into the news for proactivity and out-of-the-box thinking.

As part of NAPT’s mission, leadership, and helping to develop and create leaders in the transportation industry, has been a priority.  The Leading Every Day Program (LED) has been in place for more than seven years and has remained a vital piece for our members seeking to perfect their “art.” This year, with the help of nationally recognized leaders in education, LED-heads (to which they’re fondly referred) will have the opportunity to once again put theory into practice as the future of the school transportation industry is discussed and debated.  In a year filled with political campaigning and “realigned” educational budgets, it is more critical than ever that school transportation leaders become their own “grass roots initiative” and assertively lead through adversity.

This year’s LED focuses on the grass roots that grow within all of us who bleed yellow and perfect that art of leadership as we move forward so school transportation as we know it doesn’t get lost in the weeds. After all, especially for our industry, true leadership is necessary now more than ever. The safety and education of some 24 million students transported via school buses depends on it.

Reprinted from the Oct. 23, 2012 edition of the NAPT Show Reporter published by School Transportation News.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 17:42