Blaney Embraces New Role

California native leads materials team




“I grew up in a small beach town near San Francisco,” muses Joanna Blaney, the new technical team manager for FM Approvals’ building materials team. “And I think because I was from California, they gave me all the green products when I first joined the building materials team. Early on, I worked on vegetative roofs, rigid photovoltaics and flexible photovoltaics.”


Joanna came to Massachusetts soon after graduating from the University of California at San Diego with her master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Her master’s thesis focused on “a numerical study of stably stratified shear flow with a turbulent mixed layer” in support of ongoing research at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 


After spending two years writing standards and researching new equipment and processes as an engineer for NSTAR Electric in Westwood, Mass., Joanna joined FM Approvals in 2007.


In 2011 and 2012, Blaney led the effort to revise Standard 4996, Classification of Idle Plastic Pallets as Equivalent to Wood Pallets, based on years of research by FM Global and FM Approvals in cooperation with plastic pallet manufacturers. Revisions to the standard included new tests for physical properties and refined full scale fire tests that provide a simplified and more consistent test protocol.


Blaney’s recent promotion to technical team manager in the building materials team has led to some revelations and challenging new duties. “Cindy (Frank, vice president, Approvals manager- building materials) asked me recently if I needed something for a project I was working on and my first reaction was to say no I’m all set,” Blaney says. “But then I thought about it and realized I needed to start making decisions based on the needs of the seven engineers who are on my team. That was a big revelation.”


“Mentoring is another responsibility that I’ve had for some time as an advanced engineer as well,” she continues. “I’m hoping to be able to do much more of that in my new position. I love working with someone who may be new to the company and then see them succeed in their job.”


What does she do for herself? “I really enjoy my involvement with the Toastmasters,” says Blaney, a long-time member of the FM Global Norwood Toastmasters Group. “While I never had trouble with public speaking, the organization offers much more than that. It’s a way to develop leadership skills and even learn to handle situations where you have to speak off the cuff or in unexpected situations.”


She notes that this last skill comes in handy when interacting with customers after test programs have not gone as the customer expected. “This skill is particularly important now that I’m a technical team manager,” Blaney explains. “It’s very important for our engineers to maintain a good working relationship with our customers. In my new position, I need to be the one who steps in when there are issues or difficulties to overcome, and help the engineers on my team maintain a solid relationship.”


She adds, “I’m learning a lot and dealing with so many new things. There’s the technical side of the work and the management side, and together it’s very exciting!”