Think of one influential leader you know in school transportation. What qualities do they possess that make them a great leader? Are those characteristics something you currently have in your toolbox? Are you working to develop one or many of those leadership skills? As I reflected on the previous recipients of the School Transportation News Transportation Director of the Year award—2022 winner Jennifer Vobis of Clark County School District in Nevada was announced this month eight key leadership skills came to mind:Relationship building, Agility and adaptability, Innovation and creativity, Employee motivation, Decision-making, Conflict management, Negotiation, Critical thinking.
Understanding your leadership skills and how to develop them can be especially helpful in advancing your career, from applying for new jobs to securing that promotion. Developing strong interpersonal communication skills, the ability to motivate teams, delegate responsibility, respond to feedback, and solve problems are key qualities that leaders should possess.
Last month, I was given an in-person tour of the largest school transportation operation in Texas. My host was Dr. Kayne Smith, director of transportation services for Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston and last year’s recipient of our Transportation Director of the Year award. Smith drove me around the district and shared with me why he was so proud of his team and the culture that had been built. I visited the five different transportation centers and even a sixth state-of-the-art transportation center that was being constructed to support the continued growth at the school district, which only trails Houston ISD and Dallas ISD in terms of total student enrollment.
It was great seeing some familiar faces around the transportation department—routing, fleet operations and maintenance leaders who are frequent attendees of the STN EXPO or the TSD Conference for professional development. One interesting fact about Cy-Fair is that about 73 per-cent of the student population ride school buses. That’s 83,000 passengers at least twice daily. It is becoming less and less common to see such large ridership numbers. Plus, it takes over 1,100 school buses to move all those students and a huge transportation team of 1,500 employees to support the execution. Keeping staff happy is a big reason for Cy-Fair’s successes.
“During [National] School Bus Safety week last month, we had something special each day for our drivers from serving nachos, snow cones, hotdogs, hamburgers or leaving treats on the driver seats, we want them to feel appreciated,” explained Smith. “We sent out safety re-minders on all our tablets reminding drivers why safety is so important. We coordinated with all our campuses to recognize our school bus drivers. Also, we leveraged marquee digital signs at each school campus to reminder passenger car drivers to watch out for the school bus and students.”
A school transportation leader tackles the daily challenges of safety, operational efficiency, team building, and fiscal responsibility. But how do they achieve that without a team to help support projects, initiatives or other work functions so they are all performed successfully?
According to a recent Forbes article, leadership is about enabling the full potential in others. The 21st Century leader must have the ability to make the most out of every situation. They are courageous and not afraid to challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to make things better. Because of these qualities and many others, the best leaders know how to get the most out of people. They enable the full potential in others.
Every employee is different, with their own set of experiences, values, cultural backgrounds, influences, and beliefs. The best leaders are those that can identify and appreciate the differences that one brings to the table and knows how to put them to full use.
Accelerating your leadership skills should be a top priority in 2023. It’s going to take true leadership to guide our teams into the future. Keep up the hardwork supporting and lifting up the amazing people you work with each day.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the November 2022 issue of School Transportation News.
Related: TSD Conference Hosts Revised Child Passenger Safety on School Buses Training
Related: Regulating Student Transportation for Safety
Related: (STN Podcast E134) California Leadership: Updates on Student Transportation in the Golden State
Related:Safety Around the Bus – What You Need to Know