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The Case for a “Strong” Groundskeeper...


Joseph Fearn

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Local governments are managed by different types of relationships between elected representatives and appointed/hired staff. There are several types that basically take the place of executive/legislative branches and divide power amongst these various parties. One variation of this government is known as the “strong mayor” system where the mayor has almost total administrative authority with discretion to set priorities, establish budgets and decide most personnel decisions. While the city council maintains a balance of power the strong mayor holds the key position for managing the government. I suggest that the Head Groundskeepers position be “strong” as this maximizes the ability of the Groundskeeper to provide achievements and effective landscaping management. But why do we need a strong groundskeeper?

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This is DEFINITELY NOT what is meant by a strong groundskeeper!

Unique Expertise
A strong groundskeeper possesses expertise that will not be replicated by any other position in the organization. The professional groundskeeper’s credentials blend academic instruction, professional influence, and occupational experience. They earn their positions and achieve objective results by uniting these attributes into performance. Considering these facts, the groundskeeper is uniquely situated to be the expert voice articulating the grounds management process. While there certainly are other voices that must be heard, thereby influencing the grounds management for the site, no other entity can blend organizational direction with occupational action. The groundskeeper is the conductor to the organizational composer/ front-line musicians. Grounds management results must be measured by objective industry and organizational standards, not by subjective evaluation. Successful groundskeepers must be pragmatic, not dogmatic.  

...the groundskeeper is uniquely situated to be the expert voice articulating the grounds management process.

Vision
Groundskeepers are unique in their perspective on any given landscape/grounds/course they manage. While other parties are rightfully tasked with strategic directives and oversight (mission), groundskeepers occupy the position that puts this focus into action. Groundskeepers, and their teams, are tasked with the real-world implementation that makes strategy tangible. No other entity fills this role. In no way am I suggesting that Groundskeepers should have absolute sway over how to mesh grounds management with organizational direction. Success hinges on all appropriate voices and perspectives being included in the landscape vision. I am saying that groundskeepers occupy the best suited position to unite the why with the what. Groundskeepers possess specialized understanding and experience that must be included for the grounds to be successful.

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A strong groundskeeper constantly exercises to stay fit in all aspects of their role.

Collaboration With Stakeholders
In my experience, very rarely are groundskeepers empowered to dictate the method or tactics of grounds management. Normally tactical decisions which should be based on expertise are complicated in non-grounds considerations. Because most groundskeepers work in a world where they do not have exclusive sway over their work, they become capable collaborators in order to maximize effectiveness. It is completely understandable that non grounds positions (course GM or university admissions, etc.) have a say in the strategic direction of the grounds. But because grounds management is ruled by objective science the groundskeeper occupies the best position to unite diverse expectations in the landscape. Additionally, since the groundskeeper consistently must adjust to other perspectives and imperatives, the flexibility muscle is regularly exercised and well-toned. While groundskeepers are well served in being as cooperative as allowable, they must be strong enough to clearly state their case and then hold the line on it. 

...because grounds management is ruled by objective science the groundskeeper occupies the best position to unite diverse expectations in the landscape.

Perseverance
Groundskeeping is hard work. Not only is our profession hard physically, but it equally challenges mental strength. Adversity comes in many guises. Our teams need continual investment and support. Given the nature of every ground’s crew I’ve been in, when they do not feel investment and support, they will not shrink from letting you know. Nor will they discuss it in a method that seeks to enhance mutual respect and validation of feelings. Occasionally our well-founded and professionally based ideas won’t be adopted (at best) or even seen as reasonable (at worst). This can create operational strain and can result in self-doubt. Setbacks will occur as a result of weather, natural causes (pests, disease, etc.), financial limitations, organizational change, and many others. Seeing work come to naught that heretofore was following a successful trajectory can inflict a heavy toll. All of these will happen to us at different times and in different guises. Setbacks will require a strong groundskeeper to get up and keep going.

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The strong groundskeeper fulfills their unique role to ensure the success of the team.

Only The Strong (Team) Survives
In closing I want to clarify my intention in calling for a strong groundskeeper. In my view, strength does not equate to dominance or unilateral decision making. Strength is exercising these attributes and then employing them to advance the grounds at one’s place of employment. To be strong the groundskeeper manifests all the characteristics described above, unified in the team, pursuing an organization-centric strategy. A strong groundskeeper is the make-or-break component for the successful landscape. Strength is not heavy handed nor narrow minded.  It grows to become even more effective when shared with the greater organization. The groundskeeper possesses a one-of-a-kind voice but must not go it alone. The strong groundskeeper is essential, propelling the organization not to just survive, but thrive. 

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