Maintenance Hero or Reliability Leader?

The fact is, organizations and their management teams create heroes and leaders through their behavior and actions. This article explains the differences between heroes and leaders and defines the attributes of a special kind of leader, reliability leaders: the real heroes.


The dictionary definition of heroes are people who are admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. They do extraordinary things. In organizations, particularly plants and factories that operate in reactive mode, when an asset breaks down, they may have a couple of people on the plant floor whose knowledge they can count on to fix the asset quickly. Sometimes, they are called in from home if they are not in the plant. These individuals may already have the parts in their toolbox or take the initiative to find the parts, tools, or support they need. They can anticipate when failures are going to happen and are ready to fix the asset.

Organizations treat these people as heroes and encourage them with rewards and recognition. They celebrate their accomplishments in fixing things so quickly; to some, they saved the day. Management supports this notion by their actions of recognizing them publicly for a great job. From watching management’s actions and behavior, the workforce gets the signal that responding to breakdowns quickly is this organization’s mode of operation. Preventive and proactive steps, such as finding the root causes, are not recognized and not appreciated by management. Their main focus is to simply get the asset fixed to an operating mode as soon as possible.

These so-called heroes may not do all the right things, but people start treating them as heroes anyway.

Do you have this type of employee(s) in your workplace?


As renowned management author John C. Maxwell stated, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” President John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” There are many similar descriptions about leaders. All of them can be summarized in a simple statement: A leader is one who guides others and exercises a high degree of influence over others to do more.

A reliability leader, as defined in the Uptime® Elements Dictionary for Reliability Leaders & Asset Managers, is “one who helps another person, a machine, or gadget to do a better job.” Reliability leaders eliminate or minimize defects that can cause failures by their actions or by influencing others to do the same or better at any stages of the asset’s life cycle.

A broader and newer definition of reliability leader, described by CEO Terrence O’Hanlon in 10 Rights of Asset Management, is “one who creates a new future by eliminating defects, reducing total cost of ownership, and supporting the organization’s objectives.”

In organizations, besides the group of so-called heroes, there may be another group of people that management can count on to not only perform the needed repairs as quickly as possible, but with safety and quality in mind. They also find the root cause of the problem, when possible. Later on, they get involved in failure analysis. Whereas the team and the manager may be interested in simply repairing the asset, these others also focus on finding the root cause of the failure and in developing and implementing a long-term solution to build reliability. They have this focus all the time.

Management encourages them by recognizing their proactive actions. In these cases, the workforce gets the signal that proactive actions are the organization’s mode of operations.

People who take proactive actions are the real heroes. They are the people who are reliability leaders.

Do you have this type of employee(s) in your workplace?


The four fundamentals of reliability leadership, as identified in the Uptime Elements body of knowledge, are:

  • Integrity;
  • Authenticity;
  • Responsibility;
  • Aim or objective.

Integrity – Reliability leaders do what they say they will do to achieve a state of being that is complete and whole. Integrity is built on consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes.

Authenticity – Reliability leaders are who they say they are. Authenticity is important in reliability leadership discussions. Today’s workplace environment is more informal and less hierarchical than in the past. Command and control management doesn’t fly with people hired for their creative work. They want leaders who inspire them and give them reasons for working beyond a paycheck. “Being authentic is much more than ‘being yourself,”’ says Gareth Jones, coauthor of Why Should Anyone Work Here? What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization. “If you want to be a leader, you have to be yourself—skillfully.”

Responsibility – Reliability leaders are accountable and take a stand for reliability. Responsibility implies a duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task assigned by someone or created by one’s own promise or circumstances, and take ownership and responsibility for its success or failure.

Aim or objective – Reliability leaders work for something bigger than themselves. Their aim is the purpose or intention they hope to achieve, the desired outcome for an organization based on its objectives.

A reliability leader can be anybody, and may or may not be a manager or supervisor. Nothing in the definitions of leader or reliability leader suggests or implies that notion. Rather, a reliability leader can be anybody, regardless of rank or position, at any level of the organization during any asset/equipment lifecycle phases, such as:

  • Specifications/requirements;
  • Design;
  • Sourcing/procurement;
  • Build/fabrication;
  • Installation/commissioning;
  • Operations and maintenance (i.e., utilization);
  • Improvement;
  • Disposal/decommissioning;
  • Manage, all phases.

Anyone who supports eliminating or minimizing defects and failures to improve reliability and availability and reducing the lifecycle costs (i.e., total cost of ownership) can be classified as a reliability leader. It’s not a position or rank, but a philosophy—a culture that supports working together with all stakeholders to eliminate defects so assets can be operated safely and cost-effectively.


Are you a leader? If you work in the reliability, maintenance, or asset management field, the better questions to ask yourself are:

  • Am I a reliability leader?
  • What qualifies me to be a reliability leader?
  • What attributes do I have or do I need to become a reliability leader?


The workforce may have people who are called heroes. They are good at fixing things, but don’t focus on the proactive steps required to minimize and eliminate failures. By recognizing and rewarding these employees in a way that creates heroes, management encourages a reactive culture.

The workforce also may have employees who don’t just repair assets, but also try to find the root causes of the failures. Management supports such actions by recognizing and rewarding only those who take proactive steps. These are the workers who are reliability leaders—the real heroes.

Reliability leaders help others, or even a machine or device, to do a better job. They create a new future for the organization.


  1. Gulati, Ramesh. Uptime Elements Dictionary for Reliability Leaders & Asset Managers. Fort Myers:, 2016.
  2. Gulati, Ramesh and O’Hanlon, Terrence. 10 Rights of Asset Management. Fort Myers:, 2017.

Ramesh Gulati

Ramesh Gulati, CRL, CMRP, CRE, is an Asset Management & Reliability Leader with Jacobs. He is an author, change agent, teacher and also known as a “Reliability Sherpa.” He is a frequent speaker at many maintenance, reliability and asset management events and has been involved  in supporting societies and standards organizations.

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