What being a “professional” means

SportsTurf asked some prominent STMA members on what being “professional” means to them. Here’s what they said:

“Being professional is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”-Allen Johnson, CSFM, Green Bay Packers

“Professionalism is really how you act and portray yourself to your peers, colleagues, and bystanders. Professionalism is always making yourself better, whether it be by continuing education, following protocols and directions, helping or directing others in daily duties, meeting deadlines, etc. It is always giving it your best effort. A professional never slacks off but rather is always trying to look two steps ahead and gather resources to solve a problem. Professionals find the best way at the time to tackle problems.”-Jeremy Driscoll, St. Marks (DE) High School

“Being a professional is a lot about how you carry yourself and interact with others. One of the best ways to earn respect is to display professionalism. If you carry yourself in a professional manner, others are more inclined to take you seriously. You may be an expert in the field but if you cannot interact well with others or present yourself in a way others can trust or believe, you may not be considered professional. Being a professional is being knowledgeable, confident, well spoken, well mannered, well groomed, humble, a good communicator and setting an example for others.

“In the early days of my career I looked up to, and took cues from, those who were considered to be at the top of the industry, as professionals. These people knew what they were talking about and had confidence. They were humble about their successes and spoke of failure as learning experiences. They were always willing to offer advice and share information that could be helpful in any situation. I looked up to and respected these people; they set an example for me to aspire to and to be considered a professional.”-James Bergdoll, CSFM, City of Chattanooga

“Professionalism is something that comes from within; it is made up of your attitude and actions, coupled with the skills and competency you have obtained throughout your career. Sports turf managers combine their education and proven experience to develop a specialized knowledge of their craft. Professionals continue to grow and push their accountability and learning beyond just their comfort zones to become an integral part of their companies and industry.”-Boyd Montgomery, CSE, CSFM, The Toro Company

“In a time and place where a perception is so many people’s reality, professionalism is extremely important. We all hear the word professionalism, but really, what does it mean? Well much like perceptions, professionalism means different things to different people. For me, professionalism focuses on three main areas. The first thing is to be prompt. We only get one chance at that all-important first impression, so whether you are responding to an email or attending a meeting with the management team, make sure you are prompt. The second thing is to make sure you dress and present yourself for the ultimate position that you want to achieve. Be prepared for your opportunity, as you never know when that one chance will come. Have clean clothes and shoes handy in your workspace so that you can change quickly if necessary, and as my grandfather always told me, remove hats indoors. The final item that defines professionalism for me is the ability to work with others. This comes in the form of listening to others’ ideas and working toward a team or organizational goal.”-Jimmy Simpson, CSFM, Town of Cary (NC)

“A simple Google search will provide many lists of professional traits. To me, professionalism is more than making sure you dress appropriately, are respectful, ethical and are on time. It is an approach to every aspect of our jobs and a commitment to becoming better versions of ourselves. Being an STMA member is a fantastic start to increasing professionalism. The association provides many opportunities for continuing education and networking with our peers at the national and local level. Becoming a CSFM is an additional step in the journey, furthering the commitment beyond keeping up with progressive learning and knowing industry BMPs, to include industry service.

“I think another major aspect is stretching our comfort zones in order to grow professionally. Maybe that means learning a new hands-on skill or mastering a soft skill, reaching out to meet someone new, or even trying to overcome one’s fear of public speaking. Being willing to try something new in order to produce a better playing surface is a big part of being a professional sports turf manager. There certainly is no shortage of examples of professionalism, just take a look around at the next event you attend locally or nationally—from the vendors to the volunteer Board members, from the researchers and educators to practitioners at every level—our industry is full of true, dedicated professionals!”-Sun Roesslein, CSFM, Jeffco (CO) School District

“There are several ingredients that go into the professionalism pie, including specialized knowledge, competency, accountability and image. The ingredients I focus on in my quest for the pie are honesty and integrity. I do my best to always keep my word and never compromise my values. I always focus on doing the right thing, even if it means taking the harder road. Humbleness is also an important part. Don’t be braggadocios, give credit where credit is due, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“There have been occasions in my career where I have had to justify my program and or position. I have always made it clear that my success was due in large part to the people around me and have gone as far as suggesting (during fiscal restraint periods) taking any salary increase I might be eligible for and spreading it amongst my team. Those sincere gestures have shown my superiors and team I am genuine and will do what is right. But, you must truly believe you are doing the right thing, and be ready if things don’t work out in your favor. Abusing the idea of integrity is obvious and just doesn’t work.”-Tim Moore, CSFM, ABM Education

“My first job after college was working as an assistant groundskeeper for the Columbus Crew. At the time, Matt Williams was the head groundskeeper. He taught me much more than how to grow grass in a northern climate. I remember Matt telling me his greatest accomplishments were developing staff and watching their careers grow as they move onto higher-level positions. He taught me how to talk to commercial vendors, other groundskeepers, and our college interns. I remember attending the Ohio Turfgrass Conference and having him tell me to dress professional. I was lucky to have a mentor that taught me how to be a professional, and I think that’s the ultimate definition of professionalism.”-Weston Appelfeller, CSFM, Austin FC

Being a sports turf professional

By Amy J. Fouty, CSFM, Michigan State

I am sure a number of you are experiencing the reality that the athletic fields, in themselves, have become as big a focus as the teams that play on them. The microscope placed on athletic surfaces can be exhilarating and frustrating all in the same moment. It takes a dedicated sports turf professional to balance today’s challenges and to gain the cooperation and understanding of the entire organization for a team to have a great field.

This led me to ask myself the question, “What is the definition of a professional?” I determined that, ultimately, a professional is someone who gets the job done successfully. Getting from point A to point B is where the challenge lies.

Being a sports turf professional is far more complex than I would have ever imagined before taking on the challenge. Our working environments are highly political and emotionally charged. The financial security of teams and/or departments can ride on each win or loss of the season.

So how do we, as sports turf professionals, balance the multiple aspects that we deal with—administrations, owners, coaching staffs, facility managers, sports management, budgets, the media, and the general public? All too often, the understanding of what it takes to have safe and playable surfaces is lacking or misunderstood. How do we get the things we need to provide surfaces that our teams and organizations are proud of? How do we create successful relationships in these complex environments and at the same time maintain safe and playable surfaces for our teams to compete on?

I believe in the truth of the old adage that maintaining the grass is the easiest part of our jobs.

Following are some suggestions to help you develop your professional image and create stronger relationships within the complex environment of sports turf management to achieve your goal of getting the job done successfully.

These are the major things I apply in all areas of my professional life. First, dress and conduct yourself in a professional manner. People will base their opinions of you on your appearance and on how you communicate with them. You have only one opportunity to make that first impression. Second, always be honest and forthright. At some point you will make a mistake. Personally and honestly acknowledging that mistake can be as important to your reputation as a professional as taking the appropriate actions to rectify the error. Third, do your best to follow through on what you say. It can be as simple as returning phone calls, unlocking a gate, or turning in your bills or statements on time. Whatever the commitment, make sure that you are able to do the things that you say you will. Finally, be considerate of those around you. People do appreciate it. Even such little things as a smile and hello can make a difference in the work environment.

Establish your credibility

Sports organizations are a complex environment in which respect must be earned. We have to begin by showing dedication to the success of the field. We must do what it takes to prepare the surface within the framework that we are given. Your hard work will speak for itself and earn the respect of those around you. People will observe your level of commitment to excellence and know that you are doing everything possible to achieve it. I have adopted the policy that there is no reason to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Take the extra time each day to finish what you start and pay attention to the details. Credibility in your organization will bring trust and instill the willingness in others to listen, understand, and provide the things you need to have the best possible surfaces.

We have all heard the old saying. “Waste not, want not.” I truly believe that it is necessary to be productive and efficient in all areas, whether it is in the fertilizers and chemicals we use or in the hours that we work. What are you accomplishing each hour of the day? Evaluate yourself and your staff on proficiency. Make the best possible use of the resources available to you. Surround yourself with quality people that share your commitment to achieving the standards you have set for your fields and facility.

Understand those around you

I strongly believe we need to be aware of the goals of all of all those we interact with in the professional arena. In addition, we must try to understand how these goals affect their priorities and their positions on various issues. They are only trying to do their respective jobs. For example, the coach’s primary goal is to have the best team possible. So, one of the coach’s priorities is to have a safe, playable, aesthetically pleasing field that the team will feel confident playing on. For the accountant, the goal is efficient use of funds in the department as a whole to achieve a maximum return back to the department.

There are times when, as sports turf professionals, the positions of others on a specific issue may conflict with what is best for the field. When that occurs, we need to present our case and work with them to achieve the most effective outcome. In some instances, it may take years to establish the kind of working relationship that brings equal consideration for the needs of the playing field into the decision making process. In others, a report demonstrating cost effectiveness may get the job done. So, it is extremely important to know how to deal with each individual on his or her level.

I am continually working on the best ways to accomplish this. It starts with understanding those you are dealing with and how they process information so you can present your topic to them in the manner and format they are most likely to consider. I have found that if your chosen topic is recognized as important to the individual, or if you can demonstrate why it should be important to them, they are more receptive to considering and understanding your point of view. To do this effectively, you need to educate those around you about the complex growing environment you deal with and how it has an impact on their day-to-day activities.

The more we, as sports turf professionals, understand about our fields and our profession, the more valuable we become to the organizations we work for. Set goals for yourself and your staff. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Continue your education through workshops, conferences, networking, become a Certified Sports Field Manager, and get involved in committees at the local, regional and/or national level. There are valuable lessons to be learned all around us if we just stop, look and listen. Don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email for help.