Dr. Robert (Bob) Schneider is the Executive Director of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), where the focus is moving more people onto transit to reduce traffic congestion in the region. PRTC provides commuter and local bus services, as well as ridesharing services in Prince William County, Virginia, the City of Manassas and the City of Manassas Park. PRTC also co-sponsors the Virginia Railway Express in partnership with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Before joining PRTC, Bob was previously the Executive Director of Central Midlands Transit (The COMET) in Columbia, South Carolina. Under Bob’s leadership, The COMET was recognized by the Federal Transit Administration in 2015 for its innovative transit solutions and ridership growth, and VEOLIA Transportation recognized The COMET’s DART operation in 2013 as the top paratransit service within its U.S. corporate footprint.
With his years of experience and accolades, I wanted to hear Bob’s story. I sat down with him to discuss leadership, success, and his career path.
To be a great leader, Bob believes a person must have four essential qualities: vision, courage, passion, and humility. His vision is crafted from information gained from all angles—above, below, and alongside himself. He bases his vision on a combination of understanding his community, defining the challenges he is facing, and looking for people with strong character who can help him address the challenge. His vision goes nowhere without the courage to act on it and the passion to enact the changes necessary to see the vision to completion. The vision cannot be achieved without humility to show the people around him that they play a vital role in the project’s success.
His leadership style reflects his academic mindset with a focus on teaching. He focuses on telling parables, drawing diagrams, and giving examples in order to boil down high-level, complex issues to a level accessible for the audience. When thinking about the difference between management and leadership, he told me the story from the old Ed Sullivan TV show where a performer is spinning a number of dinner plates on poles: a leader realizes that you can’t spin the plates all the time, you need everyone to step up and help “spin the plates”.
One of Bob’s biggest strengths is his natural understanding and appreciation for safety, hard facts, data, and logic. He can look a mile above a problem and see the process that needs to be completed in order to solve an issue. He has placed an emphasis on resolving problems throughout his career which has helped him climb the ranks in transit.
Bob places a high value on networking and has used a “kitchen cabinet” of informal advisors to work through issues, seek advice, and bounce new ideas. Mentorship is also close to his heart. He said, “Being a leader is not only about teaching, but being able to be taught” and mentioned Kenneth McDonald, General Manager, Long Beach Transit, who he met at the 2015 Eno Transit Senior Executive program as being a leader he admires. Not only does Bob have mentors of his own; he is a mentor for many of those around him and encourages his staff to mentor others.
Bob is a 2015 Eno Transit Senior Executive Program (TSE) Alumni, named to the 2013 Mass Transit Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 list, and received the President’s Award from the Transportation Association of South Carolina in recognition of special leadership.