This is an excerpt from Leisure Services Management 3rd Edition With HKPropel Access by Amy R. Hurd,Robert J. Barcelona & Jo An M. Zimmermann.
The leisure services industry has undergone tremendous growth from its early roots in the social movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the past, recreation and leisure services provided an important social function, with a heavy focus on improving social welfare and providing for the public good. The early park and recreation movement was primarily the product of local, state or provincial, and federal governments, as well as within private, voluntary associations that served the public more broadly. Municipal recreation departments provided playgrounds and recreation areas for town and city residents, while state and national parks and forests provided trails and outdoor recreation spaces for the public to enjoy. Social movements—such as scouting; the YMCA and YWCA; organized camping; and, later, recreational youth sports—provided programs and activities for youths and adults. In addition to its social movement roots, the leisure services industry has always attracted private entrepreneurs who created businesses to cater to the entertainment, travel, fitness, and health needs of society.
Today, thousands of recreation and leisure organizations in the public, not-for-profit, and commercial sectors provide facilities, programs, services, events, and activities for millions of people to enjoy. Organizations that call the leisure services industry home include those focusing on youth development, therapeutic recreation, festivals and events, travel and tourism, resorts, outdoor recreation, camping, health and fitness, recreational sport, gerontology, arts and music, adventure, and other areas of human activity that happens in one’s leisure time. The leisure services industry provides job and volunteer opportunities for hundreds of thousands of employees throughout the world. The leisure services industry is, without question, one of the largest sectors of the world economy. While recreation and leisure are associated with fun and entertainment, the organizations that provide these services must manage the physical, human, financial, and technological resources needed to provide facilities, run programs, stage events, and facilitate activities. Given the size, scope, and complexity of providing recreation and leisure services for a large and increasingly diverse set of participants, leisure services personnel must have a solid foundation in management to grow and sustain their operations.
Competency-based management requires the agency to implement strategies to improve the competencies of its staff at all levels—from the board of directors to entry-level employees. This means that the agency provides resources to develop its staff and ensure that competencies are the cornerstone to human resources management, organizational goals and objectives, strategic planning, succession planning, and more.
Competency-based management has several key elements:
- Competency-based job description. This element includes a detailed job description for each position within the agency, listing the job demands and the competencies needed for the position. It should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the job.
- Competency-based hiring. Competency-based hiring practices are necessary so the people hired can meet the job demands. Applicants should be screened based on the competencies outlined in the job description, and interview questions should directly relate to demonstrating these competencies.
- Assessment of competency gaps. This element includes an employee assessment to determine competency gaps—the gap between the current skill level of the employee and where they need to be. Part of this assessment is to create individual development plans for career advancement.
- Systematic training plan. The development of a systematic training plan designed to direct resources to close competency gaps is necessary.
- Skills and strategy alignment. This element includes the development of a strategic plan for the agency and aligning competencies and job demands to help the agency achieve its goals and objectives.
- Succession plan. This element includes the development of a succession plan at all levels of the organization. This includes such things as assessing the “bench strength” at each level to determine what positions have talented staff in the pipeline for the position if needed. The bench strength assessment also shows where staff weaknesses exist. The succession plan builds skills in employees for the present and the future.
A Competency-Based Approach
Although there are several ways we could organize this text, we chose to follow a competency-based approach. Each chapter in this book is designed to help an entry-level professional build skills and gain an understanding of what it will be like to be a manager in this profession. The competencies required for a successful leisure services manager are broad, as can be seen from the diversity of topics covered in this text. By no means are entry-level employees expected to be experts in all areas, but new managers must be proficient enough to make good decisions and be willing to ask the right questions of people who are experts in their specific areas. The competencies discussed in this text can also be helpful for entry-level managers who are moving to middle- or upper-level management positions.
One of the features of great organizations is the importance of people—great organizations create great teams. One of the ways to know who should be on our team is to identify the competencies we expect our employees to possess. As noted earlier, this starts with specifically developing competency-based job descriptions and making sure that our search and screening processes for new employees take these into account during the hiring process. We can also use those competencies to develop training and development programs to ensure that our employees are up to date and that they have closed any competency gaps that might exist.
Competencies refer to the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do a job effectively. These span three main categories:
- Technical competencies refer to the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform a specific task. Technical competencies are practical in that they refer to the things we need to do to get a specific task done. A certified pool operator (CPO) needs to have knowledge of certain kinds of chemicals, needs to be skilled in balancing water chemistry, and needs to have the ability to develop a maintenance schedule. These are all specific and practical competencies needed to operate a swimming pool.
- Human competencies refer to the knowledge of human behavior and include interpersonal skills, human relations skills, communication abilities, and the ability to connect with other human beings (such as the ability to develop relationships or show empathy). Human competencies can best be seen in the interactions that managers have with staff and customers, their knowledge of people’s needs, their ability to motivate and empathize, and their skills in matching the right people with the right tasks to get a job done effectively.
- Conceptual competencies refer to a manager’s ability to see the big picture, to make sound decisions, to manage and lead ethically, and to plan effectively. Conceptual competencies draw on field-specific knowledge (technical competencies) to be able to make sound, ethical, and thoughtful decisions.
It is important to note that specific job competencies tend to vary by position. This is particularly true with technical competencies because the practical skills needed to manage an event are going to be very different than those needed to maintain an outdoor sports complex. However, all management positions in the recreation and leisure industry use technical, human, and conceptual competencies, and job descriptions should reflect competencies in each of these areas.
Hard and Soft Skills
Technical, human, and conceptual competencies can also be further broken down. Hard skills refer to job-specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that are learned through education, training, and practice. Hard skills include things such as building budgets, writing job descriptions, developing communication plans, managing facilities and equipment, using technology applications, or engaging in strategic or master planning. We address many of these hard skills throughout this text. Although there are hard skills that are very specific to particular jobs in the recreation and leisure industry, there are a general set of hard skills that are universal and that cut across most management settings in the field. Having the requisite hard skills is an important base for a manager (or any employee) to possess prior to starting any position in the industry.
Soft skills refer to the personal traits or dispositions that managers possess that enable them to effectively interact with others, manage their time, regulate their behavior, and make sound decisions. Soft skills tend to be rooted in an individual’s personality or developed through their life experiences. Although the most sought-after hard skills change relatively frequently based on new innovations, changes in technology, or business trends, critical soft skills tend to remain fairly stable or change incrementally. A study by LinkedIn identified over 50,000 unique professional skills needed in the world’s companies. Of those skill sets, approximately 57 percent of senior organizational leaders noted that soft skills were more important than hard skills and that hard skills needed to be paired with soft skills to maximize employee effectiveness. That study found that the top five most important soft skills were things like adaptability, collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, and persuasion (Lambert 2021).
Competencies in the Recreation and Leisure Industry
Developing competencies for a broad profession such as parks and recreation is a difficult task. As you will see throughout this book, different sectors have special challenges in terms of management, particularly structure and funding. However, research on competencies in the public sector (Hurd 2005); recreational sport (Beggs et al. 2018); commercial recreation (Hammersley and Tynon 1998); professional certification specifications, such as the certified park and recreation professional (CPRP); and the nonprofit sector has been used to create a competency model to guide the development of qualifications for entry-level positions in the park and recreation field. The topics discussed in this text will help build these competencies and the competency portion of the model of effectiveness.
The competencies for entry-level park and recreation professionals can be categorized into seven general categories: business acumen; communications; community relations; interpersonal skills; management techniques; planning and evaluation; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (table 1.5). Not every entry-level position in the field requires all these competencies, but they are an excellent starting point for future professionals to gauge their strengths and weaknesses. Similar to a strategic plan for an organization, these competencies can serve as a scorecard for developing the skills to be a better manager and increasing your chances of being hired. Each chapter provides a snapshot of the competencies that can be met by acquiring the knowledge from that chapter.