If you’re a HVAC service manager, there’s a good chance you’re in that position because you excelled at installing, servicing, or troubleshooting equipment. By demonstrating strong skills in the technical world, you were promoted into a management position. And, that’s great.

However, there’s a flaw in this process as people skills are completely different than technical skills, said Jim Johnson, president of Technical Training Associates.

“Many service managers are promoted to their positions without a great deal of communication and customer service training. They lack experience when it comes to dealing with different personalities, managing people, or leading a team,” Johnson said in a presentation at a recent meeting of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES).

“Management is not a popularity contest,” he said, presenting a list of hard facts service managers must face. “Management is not easy — that’s why some people either don’t do it well or don’t do it at all.

“The biggest personal challenge many supervisors face is overcoming fears — both their own and the fears of the people who work for them,” he continued. “These can include fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of not having control over one’s own life. They don’t want to be managed; they want to follow a leader who leads by example. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time, just prepare for it to be acknowledged when you’re not.

“Being an effective supervisor takes dedication, hard work, being open to constant self-examination, and a willingness to hear what others have to offer you in the way of advice, suggestions, or even criticism. Throughout all that, a service manager or supervisor must be confident about his or her own skills and abilities.”


Most managers are willing to meet employees’ expectations. And, to make those expectations clear, Johnson suggested every manager should clearly address three guidelines with every employee.

“Make your expectations very clear by establishing what you stand for, what you won’t stand for, and what you expect from a worker in that position.”

Being clear in these three areas will help prevent surprises for you or your team, he noted, and, from a service manager’s perspective, surprises are almost always good things to avoid.


Jeremy Noll oversees nearly 50 residential technicians and 38 commercial technicians in his role as service manager at Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, New York.

The formula to successfully running a service department consists of hiring the right people, providing excellent training, and empowering them to make the best decisions possible, he said.

“The only way to run two large service departments like we have is to empower our people and then enable them, and by that I mean stay out of their way,” Noll said.

Honesty is another good quality for a service manager, he added.

“Let people know where they stand and what the expectations are,” he said. “It’s a two-way relationship, and relationships don’t always work, but if you’ve always been honest with a technician, there shouldn’t be any surprises.”

Finally, be open to change. That’s part of the culture at Isaac, and it makes the service manager’s job not only easier, but more fun, he said.

“There’s nothing better than an employee walking into my office with a new idea,” Noll said. “Whether it works or not is another thing, but without new ideas, you never move forward.”

Joey Brown, service manager at Tempo Mechanical in Dallas, said communication is the lifeline of a successful service department. You should be in regular communication with your manager, he suggested, because it is important to know what’s expected of you. Then, communicate clearly what you expect from your technicians.

Brown realizes that, in all workplaces, issues will arise, which furthers the importance of interdepartmental communication. Technicians must know you’re available to listen when they need to explain a situation.

“You want to make your service department a happy, healthy place to work,” Brown said. “If you hear of or sense a difficult situation in the making or spot a technician who looks disinterested in a meeting, reach out to that person and encourage him or her to communicate. It might be that the person is unhappy with something job-related, such as the on-call rotation, or it could be a personal problem totally unrelated to the workplace. Either way, proactively let the individual know you’ll do whatever you can to help. In many cases, people really just need to know their voices are heard and that you care about them as individuals.”

Kim O’Connor, service manager at Air Comfort in Chicago, said ensuring great customer satisfaction is among her most important roles. She calls a customer as soon as she learns a problem exists and asks the customer to provide details of what occurred so she has a clear point of view from the customer’s standpoint.

“I let them know I will check into it and offer a specific timeframe for the return call,” O’Connor said. “I contact the technician(s) involved to review the situation and determine what needs to happen to get us back on track. I do my best to call the customer at least a half hour before the designated time so he or she understands the concern is important to us. If a return visit is needed, I make sure to call the customer back once we’re all done to ensure everything is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.”


Johnson concluded by offering a six-part commitment to excellence that service managers can live by and share with their teams. At its heart is the idea that field personnel don’t work for the service manager — he or she works for them, and it is the service manager’s job to make sure the field team has everything it needs to successfully accomplish the job. The commitment is as follows:

1. I will move heaven and Earth in order to help the people on my team do whatever it takes to get the job done when it’s supposed to be done.

2. I will consistently work to allow those on my team to learn, grow, and develop as professionals, so they will be enriched in both their professional and personal lives.

3. I will always have one person in training to replace me.

4. I will require commitments from everyone on my team and hold them accountable.

5. I will be willing to take responsibility and make the tough decisions, no matter the circumstances or who is involved.

6. I will regularly ask everyone on my team, “How can I make your job easier?” and “How can I help you do a better job?”

There is no one answer to dealing with all the complexities of running an HVAC service department. But, clearly establishing what you want and expect from your people and understanding what they want and expect from you will go a long way toward making things run as smoothly as possible.

Publication date: 4/11/2016

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