You’re a good superintendent, however, you’re not getting raises and promotions commensurate with your education, dedication, sophistication and presentation.

In short, you’ve hit the “grass ceiling.” Despite your best efforts you’ve run into a layer of thatch that keeps you and your career from growing.

The principal cause of the grass ceiling is discrimination: club members and management think of us as sod-busters, clodhoppers, farmers, grass growers, dirty fingernails … I’ve heard them all. They think all we do is fertilize, water and mow, and that anyone with a shovel and seed can keep the turf green and the course playable. They think our asking to be fairly compensated and move up the ladder is an attempt to rise above our station.

But those of us in the industry know how important our jobs are and that we do much more than most members and others realize. Many of you have become the “chief operating officer” of your facility, yet without the title, recognition or compensation that goes with this role. Along with managing turf, you deal with infrastructure, highway management, roads (plowing up north), major property projects, tennis, marinas, pools fitness, security, environment and community relations. And that’s just before lunch.

So how to change this perception and stick up for our efforts?

First, tap into the competencies of successful people, members or customers at your club. Understand their skills and mindsets, which are often closely tied to a business culture and strategic vision. Watch, listen and learn from those more successful than yourself and begin preparing a personal model for yourself, as well as a business model for your club.

Remember, the key is to convince everyone at the club that the proper care and maintenance of the golf course is a business and only one part of what you do.

Second, if you’re going to fight, be well armed. Always have your numbers and facts well documented. Show how what you do is done well, done efficiently and at good value. Start here:

  • Show how you save the club money
  • Justify your value compared to other clubs and other superintendents
  • Explain your environmental efforts and why they are important
  • Show how you complement other key personnel at the club
  • Show how no one else has the expertise to manage the club’s key asset, the golf course, which is critical to member perception and enjoyment
  • If at a municipal club, compare your efforts and responsibilities to others in local administration
  • Explain what you’ve done and what you do for personal and professional growth, attending seminars, taking classes, volunteering in the community as well as within our industry, and so on
  • Explain how the job is one of an operations manager, responsible for more than just the course
  • Stress your impact on member safety and enjoyment
  • Show how what you do has direct impact on real estate values
  • One prominent super told me recently, “I’m more of a city manager with responsibilities ranging from golf turf to the lighting in the fitness club parking area and member safety.” Does that describe you?

Third, before demanding more responsibility and money, make sure you understand the following:

  • What are the values of the club you work for? Do you reflect them?
  • What professional behaviors does your club value? Do you exhibit them?
  • What type of professional should you become? Not just for your club but for yourself.

Understand your purpose and place within your club’s organizational structure and, if necessary, set goals that align your career path with the club’s values. Then set a personal path to improvement and follow it.

Fourth, deal with the incorrect perceptions. As I noted above, the average golfer – and even many board members – don’t recognize what we do is key to their business success. But simply explaining it to them with numbers, surveys and a healthy bottom line is not enough. We must manage our responsibilities like a business. We must make sure everyone understands we protect and preserve the biggest and most valuable asset of the club. And as it improves, the entire club and its bottom line will improve.

Fifth, to take it to the next level, keep proving yourself.

  • Tell club officials or your immediate supervisor your desire to achieve a higher level of performance
  • Ask for and listen to input from club officials regarding those areas you need to work on
  • Be dedicated to your improvement, expanding on what you’ve learned from others with what you’ve learned about yourself
  • Monitor your efforts and successes at improvement, but don’t get hung up on meeting a time limit or be ready to suffer discouragement

Sixth, understand why the grass ceiling exists. Despite the hours of work, education and working our way up the ladder, and even if we reach a comfortable financial level, some people are going to freak out when the “farmer” is making as much money or holding as much responsibility as they are. Our salaries could be getting too close to that of the general manager, the pro, even some of the members. That’s when, despite our scientific expertise, we become a threat.

To overcome these negative perceptions and earn the recognition and rewards, make others see your competence, leadership abilities, technical knowledge and the other competencies typical of successful businesspeople. To do this, you must build a reputation fitting of someone in a top management position.

On the conference circuit last fall I noticed more of you in coats and ties. I attended and conducted more professional-development seminars focused on financial, career and business planning. I heard and had more conversations about economics, not just agronomics. All of those are good signs that superintendents are taking themselves and their profession seriously, which is critical if we want to be taken seriously by others, particularly those who employ us.

I’m also seeing more supers assume the role of COO, another step toward showing others we care about more than just turf.

To get ahead and reach a level of leadership, you need to champion and market yourself. This means actively managing every step of your career, and may mean working harder than ever before. We all can’t become the upper-level employee our club/company is looking for, but we can develop the talents and skills the club/company prizes. Create a personal-growth plan with the help of a mentor, association and industry network. Commit to it and commit to building and showcasing yourself and your skills.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan