Ken Philmus



“If You're Going to Collect Tolls – Do it in Uniform” - While Manager of the GWB in the late 1980’s, I learned one of the most lasting management lessons I ever received from a Toll Collector. I always felt it important as a manager to try hard to understand the jobs performed by staff and make sure that they knew that I was trying to do so.

To that end, I decided it was important for me to get out into the toll lanes and collect cash tolls. I had heard many times from the Collectors that management didn’t understand what they went through every day taking money directly from the traveling public. The Collectors had been constantly complaining to their supervisor and to me that they were being very poorly mistreated by those paying tolls since they were the only contact the public had to show their disdain for having to pay those tolls. This was particularly true soon after a toll increase since in those “pre-EZPass” days since the Collectors were the only Port Authority employees they came in contact with.

So during a mid-week rush hour, I collected a Toll Bank from a Toll Supervisor so I would have funds to make change and headed out to a “bullet” lane which was called by that name because it was so active. I steeled myself for the kinds of negativity the Collectors had been supposedly receiving from our customers as well as for the likelihood that I was going to make mistakes collecting the tolls and making change.

Everything went incredibly well. The customers were polite and the Toll Collector looking over my shoulder was impressed at how few mistakes I was making. After two hours of collecting, I commented to the Collector in the booth with me that the customers seemed polite and respectful and I didn’t see the negative factors that all had been telling me about, Her response was priceless and so instructive:

Of course, they were all polite to you! You are wearing a suit and tie and the customers all figure that you must be a boss. Next time you come out to collect, do so on a Toll Collector’s uniform.

So I did. And it definitely was a different experience the next time when I did not feel that the customers had respect for me as a person and treated me quite differently than when I was dressed in a business suit. What an incredibly instructive situation where I learned that while it’s great to really try and understand what staff is concerned with and they are experiencing, you have to be sure to do it “in their shoes”-- and NOT in your own suit and tie!



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