3 Skills A Building & Stationary Engineer Should Have

building engineerWe are going to steer away from the technical side of building and stationary engineering today and instead go over three skills, qualities, or traits every building, stationary or maintenance engineer should have. In my opinion.

Having all or at least some of these skills, or even being able to manage them, would greatly benefit you like say during an interview process. You could plan ahead because I guarantee you they will ask about at least one of these areas.

What are the areas?

  • Customer Service
  • Prioritization
  • Multitasking

Now, below, we will go over these each individually, hopefully quickly. Feels like this is going to be a long one dammit. Ha ha. We will not be going over them in the order listed above though. We are going to do it in my order of importance not theirs. By theirs, I feel that companies are concerned with customer service above all else. Me being a guy that turns wrenches have very little time for customer service. I get dinged every year in my eval. More below.

This is my building... there are many like it but...

This is my building… there are many like it but…

Why would my opinion matter on this subject? It doesn’t. However being all over in the nuclear Navy and then working in a few different building engineering fields (healthcare, real estate development, facility management,) I have been exposed to a lot of different people.

At first of course I was just a lowly worker at the bottom of the totem pole, my opinion on people coming in, interviewing, and getting hired didn’t matter. But what did matter was eventually working with that person, having to count on them or assist them.

Then later as I moved up the food chain I began sitting in on building engineer interviews. I soon learned what skills and qualities, not just technical, were important and crucial to management. And then later on, I began conducting interviews.

A good building engineer needs to be able to balance the three of these skills – prioritization, multitasking, and customer service – along with his technical skills – checking the boiler, keeping tenants/customers/supervisors informed. Sometimes it’s frustrating and tricky, I have snapped too many times. In my experience though, a person can either do it or not.

I believe that you should be aware of these skills as you go throughout your day. Or maybe even at the end of the day, ask yourself mentally how you think you did. If you are looking for a job and maybe are sitting for an interview, think of concrete examples of answers to questions like this:

  1. Give us an example of a time you had to deal with an angry customer/patient/tenant?
  2. How did you handle the situation? Were you able to satisfy them?
  3. Describe the first few hours of every day (prioritization.)
  4. A boiler shuts down and also an upset customer calls, what do you do and say?

You don’t really even need to possess these skills. You just need to be aware that:

  1. they are crucial to building management companies and,
  2. you only have to be able to manage them. Not kick booty at all 3.

Enough with the rambling, let’s just get to the three skills already. Remember the numbered list of them above is most likely the order of importance to a potential employer. To other building engineers, me included, the order is slightly different. They will be in that order below.

3 Skills A Building Engineer Needs

800 5th Avenue Building

800 5th Avenue Building

I am a traditional, old school mechanic, boiler operating, snake running, building engineer. Where I work, when I’m on shift, this is my building. Just like a ship. We run everything that goes on behind the scenes that operates every aspect of the facility, property, or building. When you or I are responsible for watching the boilers, we need to be responsible for the boilers. Those are not only financial investments but also deadly weapons.

Situations come up, training, meetings, maintenance, fire alarms. The day of a building engineer can change in one quick second. This is why the three skills are important and all tie in together if you think about it. It’s deep.


A building engineer needs to be able to prioritize quickly, on the spot. Why? Because our days can change in an instant.

One moment you might be walking towards the shop to pick up a tool and the next a fire alarm is sounding. Or maybe you are dirty and grimy from punching tubes on a chiller but a tenant calls saying their heat isn’t working? Do you stop cleaning tubes, change, and go see them?

What if you get a rush of tenant calls like:

  • turn up the heat in room 4054.
  • leak from ceiling in the garage.
  • light out in an exam room, no surgery.
  • light out in an exam room, surgery soon.

Plus add in your building rounds like the boilers and chillers, maybe a fire alarm or loss of electrical power. It can be crazy yeah?

So what do you do? Which order? You must be able to do this on the fly, with your little notepad. Decide in a moment which one NOW takes priority. You accomplish that one, move on to the next highest. As the building engineer, you must weigh them, know which IS the highest priority, decide, and move on.

In this lame little example, as the on duty building engineer, I would do them in this order, of course with some conditions.

I would do building rounds as possible. I would call the tenant with the heat issue and tell them I was working on it and it should feel better soon. I would swing by the leak in the garage with no intent on repairing it unless it was truly severe. I would grab one light for sure, maybe two, and head up to surgery. I would knock out the one with surgery coming up and if I felt spunky, since I was already up there with a ladder and bulbs, knock out the other light anyway. I would now weigh the garage leak with the heat call. The heat call is probably a quick adjustment. I would most likely take care of that call, do my rounds, and then address the leak in the garage. This all depends on the severity of the leak. If it was a flood, it goes to the top. If it’s a drip from a crack in the concrete, whatevs. Yeah I said it.

Fire alarm? Loss of electrical power? Top o’ the list. And of course, relating to customer service, it is also your job as the man in charge to keep people informed along the way. It shows them you are aware of their issue, that you are attempting to resolve it, and they feel included.

It might also be your duty to keep people informed during say a casualty situation, loss of electricity, etc. Like a building or facility manager, your supervisor. You need to factor in informing people into your prioritization list as well.

As you can see, being a building engineer isn’t all that it seems to some from the outside. Using the example of calls from above, can you see how important it is for us to multitask?


downtown buildingsWe all know what multitasking is. How does it apply to maintenance engineering or being a building engineer?

When we got our imaginary “flood” of calls above, when I described how I would do it, I swung by the leak without any intention of stopping. I just wanted to check if it was a flood basically. With me, I had at least 2 light bulbs for the surgery calls, probably a 3rd in case one was a bad bulb. I knocked both lights out because why make another trip to the same area, having to carry the same ladder, bulbs, and probably a drill or screwdriver, when I could do them both at the same time?

Another example of multitasking is knowing when to be in technical, get work done mode, and switching to these modes. Right now, I work in a hospital as a stationary engineer. At times we will have a complete loss of electrical power. The generators will start, the ATS’s will transfer.

I get SWAMPED with calls. At some point, I do have to segment out time to call all of these people back. You need to plan for this, the informing stage. If we do lose electrical power I must call the nursing supervisor, they are in charge of the entire hospital. I need to update them as to that status – what caused it, what state are we in now, restoration time. This means I would have had to call the city power company as well for that information unless it was on our end. Do you see how it can explode and you need to be able to change it up as you go?

Maybe you are required to notify your supervisor as well. And then guess what, an office is too warm and a toilet won’t flush in another building. Can you handle it? Do you already own the necessary customer service skills?

Alas, I do not.

After what, almost 17 years, I always need to constantly remind myself of the customer service aspect.

Customer Service

I don’t know if it was my upbringing (it was,) my attitude (it is,) or what but I have the most difficult time with this skill a building engineer should have. Usually this is the most important skill employers look for.

I mean I can do it, but I don’t like it. I was brought up with my Dad basically saying everyone is an idiot. He’s right. I have gotten clogged toilet calls with like an entire roll of paper towels in there and the person swears up and down they thought it would flush. Come on now. My Dad never worked in maintenance or anything so he has no idea how selfish people are either ha ha.

My problem is, I sometimes cannot bite my tongue. Even as a manager I just couldn’t take some things. Back to the toilet, I would have asked the person, “did you seriously think all of this would flush?” Or, “would you have tried to flush something this large at your house?”

I am working on it. I promise. I legitimately make efforts to improve my customer service skills. In fact this was the first year during my evaluation I had actually received compliments for customer service. Boo yah. Usually it was the other way.

When I know I’m about to deal with what I know is usually a rough tenant or customer, like Janice in Marketing, my Gourde, I deliberately take a deep breath before calling.

For some people, you know, nice people, customer service comes naturally. Not me though, I want to fix the problem and move on.

Customer service for building engineers also includes the whole informing thing again as well. When you keep a tenant, customer, client informed, they feel so much more included and will generally be more pleasant to work with.

Imagine you hired a contractor to remodel your home but you never heard from the guy during the process. How would that make you feel? Now picture another contractor that called you and said “Hello, here is where we are, this is what we are doing…,” wouldn’t you feel way more confident in the 2nd one?

Same with building engineers, especially during a casualty. If you keep people informed, they are aware you know what you are doing and will generally allow you to work.


Despite being basic stuff, these sorts of things are sometimes overlooked in our quest to show our technical proficiency. These skills are just as important.

Which is your best skill? How about your worst? Which one do you manage the best? Do you need to focus on one for a potential job interview? Are you working towards a promotion?

Seriously. Ask yourself these questions.

  • Which is your best skill?
  • How about your worst?
  • Which one do you manage the best?
  • Do you need to focus on one for a potential job interview?
  • Are you working towards a promotion?

If you have the ability to manage these three qualities – prioritization, multitasking, and customer service – maybe you can land the job during the interview or you can demonstrate to your supervisors that you have potential by excelling in all three of them. Good luck on the customer service you knuckle dragger.

Prioritization is in a way crisis management, and sometimes it can be a crisis. Multitasking is a way to make managing your tasks more efficiently. All I know is is when I multitask at my current job, it means I can sit back down quicker, know what I’m sayin’. And then my albatross, customer service. Maybe you excel at it you brown noser.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions… I’m sure in this day and age you know what to do. Talk to you all later.

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