Career profile - Head Groundsman

A head groundsman manages and leads a grounds team, whose role it is to produce and maintain the grounds to a high standard. This includes turfed pitches and training grounds for high-profile sports clubs, such as Premier League football teams, as well as independent schools that boast a wide range of outdoor sports facilities. The head groundsman is also likely to prepare and manage monthly maintenance programmes and purchase machinery.

What is best about being a head groundsman?

Liverpool FC head groundsman Dave Roberts says: "A sense of pride and responsibility are key to the role. Seeing a sporting venue or a training facility look its best and performing as it should are the main motivators. Never being fully happy with the surfaces and striving to improve them keeps a head groundsman focused."

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?

Communication skills

Steven Moore is outgoing managing director of Sportsturf Maintenance, which has been responsible for taking care of the pitches of many high-profile clubs. "You have to relay and understand the requirements of both the playing staff and the managers," he explains. "This isn’t always easy. For example, if the managers want to use the pitch in November then you need to explain to them how this will affect the state of the pitch in February. From a commercial point of view, getting your message across is vital." Roberts points out that the role of a head groundsman includes "being able to present to people above and below your position and being able to put your point across — and knowing when to back down."

Turf care knowledge

Moore and Roberts say maintaining sports pitches is "very technical" so key skills include having a good eye for detail and being able to produce good surfaces by understanding and working with environmental pressures such as rain. "You have to be able to look at the environmental impact of the job and put in strategies to reduce the negative impact or justify the need [for doing something]," says Roberts. Moore warns that "it’s very easy to blame the pitch when things go wrong".

Health and safety knowledge

Groundsmanship involves the use of heavy machinery and other equipment, all of which has to be used and maintained correctly and safely.

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

Roberts says: "I would be looking for examples in a job interview of what they have done and are planning to do in their current employment. References are very important. Qualifications, for me, are not as important as experience or what they can bring to the new role. However, qualifications, especially recent ones, prove the willingness to keep learning." Moore points out that he has deliberately chosen staff without qualifications over the years and they have learned their skills when working on the grounds. "It takes at least five years before you are in charge of a pitch," he adds. But Moore also notes that work-based NVQs in horticulture are widely recognised, giving people the option to choose specialist modules in sports turf and enabling them to train on the job.

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?

"At a head groundsman level I would say that skills picked up in many horticultural roles are transferable," says Roberts. "If the candidate is in a similar position in another place of work, many of the managerial skills will be the same, just how they can be applied to the new role is important. If they lack the experience in the new role they will need to learn quick and have to win the support of their staff so they come up to speed fast. Sometimes someone from a different sector can bring a fresh perspective."

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