Find and Hire the Best Certified Pool Operator

Blog By: Michael Popke, Owner of Two Lakes Media

Have you ever entered another aquatic facility and thought:

Wow, whoever is the pool manager at this place is doing a terrific job!

Conversely, I’m sure you’ve walked into others and thought something entirely different:

I could do a lot better…

As a swim dad for a good chunk of my adult life, I’ve been inside more natatoriums than I can remember. I’m thrilled my kids have an opportunity to swim meets at some of them, and I can’t wait to go back. On the other hand, our family dreads visiting other pools — one of which overflows significantly during every warm-up and cool-down session, when there are dozens of swimmers in the water at the same time. The pool manager and crew’s solution in that situation? Use kickboards to shove the displaced (and now dirty) water back into the pool. Gross.

I asked some aquatics professionals I know two related questions about finding and hiring the best pool operators.

Here is what three of them told me:

1. What professional and personal characteristics do you consider vital in an effective pool operator?

  • Operating an aquatics facility is one of the most difficult jobs out there. You are in charge of people’s lives. Most people don’t know what it entails and think that anyone can run a pool facility. The fact is, it’s a very unique position and not just anyone can do it. In addition to knowledge of risk management and extremely strong organizational skills, pool operators should never delegate anything to anybody that they would not do themselves.

— Julienne Hefter, Executive Director,
Association of Aquatic Professionals , Austin, Texas


  • Pool operators must have prior experience in overseeing swimming pool operations. They should, at a minimum, be certified in pool operations such as Certified Pool Operator (NSPF), Aquatic Facility Operator (National Recreation and Park Association) and Practical Pool Management PLUS (Aquatic Safety Research Group LLC). Experience as a lifeguard or lifeguarding instructor is preferred. Pool operators should have excellent interpersonal skills, too — perhaps the most important being listening skills. At a community pool, the pool operator must understand his or her role in enhancing the quality of life by creating an atmosphere with customer service and safety at the core. Pool operators also should be critical thinkers. Sometimes, answers to pool problems require analysis, applying key concepts to conditions present at the pool in question. Answers are not always black and white.

Shawn DeRosa, DeRosa Aquatic Consulting
Director of Aquatics, Penn State University


  • Pool operators need to be sensible, dependable and cool under pressure. They need to be able to make the pool their complete focus, and hire people who will not only make the pool a safe environment, but who will share the same goals and focus as the pool operator. They have to be able to multi-task, and they have to know how to save a life, teach a swimming lesson or fill in for a water-therapy class instructor. They must be a diplomat and a juggler, keeping as many patrons happy as possible while they allocate pool time to different organizations, groups and individuals. They also have to understand that if the pool is open, they are pretty much on call. Being a pool operator isn’t a job, it is a lifestyle choice.

Anne Baranski, former pool operator/club coach, Wisconsin


2. What advice do you have for individuals who may know nothing about aquatics but are still responsible for hiring a pool operator?

  • Do not rely on certification alone in justifying a pool operator hire. The most important aspect of managing a pool is managing people, both customers and staff. Someone who lacks people management skills will not gain the respect of staff. Ultimately this will become a liability. Ideally, a pool operator should have worked for other pools prior to being elevated to a pool operator position. Head lifeguards can take the requisite courses to gain basic knowledge of pool operations, but nothing beats having experience learning how to best operate a pool under the guidance of an experienced pool operator. Safety and risk management should be at the forefront of the hiring process. A pool operator unfamiliar with local and state codes, or not familiar with standards of care in the industry, is not a good hire.

Shawn DeRosa, DeRosa Aquatic Consulting
Director of Aquatics, Penn State University


  • Make sure that the individual is good with everyone from the elderly patrons who come in to do classes to the young children who have a scraped knee or a bruised elbow. The pool operator also has to be approachable by teens, because a lot of the lifeguards are going to be teenagers. If a teenager doesn’t feel comfortable with the pool director, the system will fail, because they are not invested enough in a job that requires a good work ethic. Something else to consider: Take the applicants to lunch and watch how they interact with the waiter or waitress. See how they treat people they think aren’t important to their immediate objective.

— Anne Baranski, former pool operator and club coach, Wisconsin


Certified pool operators should approach their jobs the same way serious administrators of any other facility do. The position deserves as much attention and respect as it demands, and people’s impression of your pool rest in large part on how well (or how poorly) the pool operator does his or her job.

Unfortunately, many facilities “settle” for a less-than-best pool operator. An employee of one school district recently told me that as long as nobody dies in its high school pool, administrators don’t care how the facility operates. Not only is that backwards thinking, it’s downright dangerous and dumb.



Michael Popke is an award-winning journalist and owner of Two Lakes Media Group, a writing, editing and content marketing company based in the Madison, Wis., area. For 14 years, he was managing editor of Athletic Business , the leading business-to-business magazine and website for athletic, fitness and recreation professionals. He also is a swim dad; has coached baseball, basketball and softball; worked as a USA Swimming stroke-and-turn official; and is an avid high school sports and aquatics safety supporter. He would like to swim faster. For more information, please visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @michaeljpopke and @TwoLakesMedia.

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