What is Facility Management?  This is a question I get a lot, even from people I work with.  Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, I say that I’m a facility manager (FM).  Inevitably, I’m met with blank stares.

I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty tough question to answer.  I mean, to sum up everything that FMs do on a daily basis is impossible.  It’s hard enough to tell someone about an interesting (at least to me) project, without seeing their eyes roll into the back of their head from confusion (or maybe boredom, but I like to think I’m a reasonably interesting guy).  So, I usually say I’m in building maintenance and leave it at that.  But, that barely scratches the surface.

The truth is, facility management encompasses many different disciplines.  It’s one of the things I love about it; along with the fact that no two days are ever the same.  FM is an incredibly diverse and really complex profession that is growing at a rapid pace.  Every facility (from hospitals to government complexes) must be managed.  This post will explain how we do just that.  So, what is facility management?

Facility Management Defined

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) defines facility management as a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, process, and technology.[1]  To be clear, the built environment is all of the man-made surroundings in (and on) which we live, work, and play.  This is everything from buildings and parking lots, to parks and utility lines, and they all need to be managed effectively.  What happens if you forget to change the air filters in your home’s air-conditioning?  It breaks, right?  All facilities must be managed in order for them to operate according to their purpose.

If you’re new to facility management, you will soon discover FM is a giant umbrella.  Sometimes, that umbrella encompasses “everything else.” Everything else is what must be done at your facility, but hasn’t been expressly defined as part of the duties of any one department. Here are a few examples of what falls within the scope of facility management:

  • Operations and Maintenance
  • Project Management
  • Interface with Architects, Engineers, Subcontractors, etc.
  • Planning, Programming, and Budget Execution
  • Capital Procurement
  • Housekeeping/Custodial Work
  • Laundry
  • Inspections (Elevators, Fire Systems, Tax Assessors, etc.)
  • Inventory Control
  • Pest Control
  • Energy Management and Sustainability Upgrades
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Training
  • Hazardous Materials Management
  • Grounds Keeping and Landscaping
  • Information Technology (IT) Systems
  • Emergency Response and Preparedness

The list goes on and on.

But how do FMs learn to do this?   In order to better understand facility management, we need to look at the four knowledge domains that support it.  Let’s break it down.

Operations and Maintenance - what is facility managementOperations & Maintenance

First, operations & maintenance (O&M) is the basis of facility management.  O&M encompasses what most people immediately think of when they hear the term “facility management”.  Many people think in terms of the maintenance guy walking through the hallways fixing things.  To be fair, that is a substantial part of the job.  That said, O&M encompasses much more than that.

The term “operations” implies that the facility’s infrastructure is being used to create the environment as intended.  And the term “maintenance” means that the FM team maintains the infrastructure so that it functions, enabling the operations to continue.  O&M can generally be broken down into two parts, hard services and soft services.

Hard services are for fixed assets that serve the facility in its function.  These include things like HVAC maintenance, electrical system troubleshooting, plumbing repair, etc.  Soft services satisfy the needs of the facility occupants.  Examples of soft services include housekeeping, pest control, waste management, etc.  FMs must manage both.

Project Management - what is facility management

Project Management

Second, project management is a vital FM function to know and understand.  According to the Project Management Institute (PMI®), a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.[2]

Two things in this definition stand out to me.  The first is that a project is temporary.  To go through all phases of project management, you have to have a beginning, middle, and end.  Projects that are ongoing are not projects; they are just operations.

The second major stand-out is that a project creates something unique.  As a FM professional, you will no doubt be able to identify an end to a lot of routine tasks that you do.  That said, a routine task does not yield a unique result.  So by definition, it is not a project.

Business Finance - what is facility managementFinance

Third, finance is an essential part of facility management.  The term “business finance” covers many activities for managing money and assets.  FMs routinely create and maintain facility related budgets, are involved to some degree in procurement and contracting, and recommend financial strategies to senior management (e.g., how to reduce energy costs, labor costs, etc.).  Additionally, you will greatly benefit from knowing how to read and understand your organization’s financial statements.  These statements show you the financial health of your company.

As a facility manager, your organization entrusts you with their largest assets (real estate, buildings, fixed equipment, etc.).  You will be required to manage all finances related to maintaining those assets.  Like it or not, FMs control a substantial amount of money.  Understanding finance is key to successful facility management.

LeadershipLeadership - what is facility management

Finally, leadership brings it all together.  Let’s begin by defining what a leader is not.  A leader is not a manager, meaning these two words are not synonymous like some people think.  A leader can be a manager and a manager can be a leader.  However, a manager forecasts and controls resources, from budgets to people.  Management is all about ensuring tasks get done.  You might commonly hear references to workers being put in “leadership positions” and maybe that’s true.  But that person is not necessarily a leader.  They are managing resources in a position of leadership.  To be a truly effective FM, you need to learn how to be a leader.

Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.[3]   A leader influences others to accomplish the strategic goals within your company’s mission, vision, and values.  Leaders motivate and inspire the people within their sphere of influence.  The distinction between management and leadership is an important one.  I’ve seen too many managers that think they are leaders and their team suffers for it.

In Summary

Facility management is a complex profession, but learning these four knowledge domains is key to your understanding.  The bottom line is FMs do whatever it takes to keep their facilities operating as they are intended.  This results in facility occupants who are enabled to carry out the operations, which drive the mission of the organization.  That is facility management.


[1] “What is Facility Management?” IFMA. 2017. Accessed February 22, 2017. https://www.ifma.org/about/what-is-facility-management

[2] “What is Project Management?” PMI. 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017. https://www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management

[3] Department of the Army. “Leadership.” August 1, 2012. ADP 6-22: 1.