Essential Leadership Skills for Top Construction Professionals
By Grace Ellis
Quality leadership in construction is more vital today than ever before. In this changing and uncertain world, leaders must be able to adapt to the times to ensure they are supporting their teams and clients in the best way possible.
So what makes a quality construction leader in the current era? Here’s a look at the essential skills today’s construction leaders should develop to create stronger businesses and remain resilient, relevant, and ready for the future.
The New Skills Construction Leaders Need
From cultivating a strong vision and earning trust to championing inclusivity and staying connected, being an effective construction leader today means embodying the following key traits.
Resilient construction organizations have a clear company vision that permeates all organizational levels. This begins with leaders who establish the company’s foundation by setting goals that will put their organization on a successful path for the coming years, in spite of continuous uncertainty. The key to being this kind of leader is to continuously be reminded of what your firm’s vision is and how it can transform the company for the better.
Take, for example, CJ Best, Director of Manufacturing at McKinstry. Here is an exceptional leader and an agent of change in the construction industry with a proven track record for adopting new concepts and ideas for fabrication.
Even in an unprecedented era, when large projects and long-term goals are being stymied by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including safety concerns, budget cuts, and generally low morale, CJ has never lost traction on the company’s most important manufacturing initiatives. CJ has particularly shown shrewd leadership in his ability to prevail over virtual obstacles presented by the firm’s shift to distance learning, a key effort.
With his astute and methodical approach to fostering a manufacturing mindset at McKinstry, CJ has been instrumental in helping the company build its long-term vision for modernizing its fabrication techniques.
In today’s construction industry, inclusivity is vital. Diverse teams, talent, and perspective all tangibly benefit a construction business. When a variety of expert and professional voices are involved, more ideas and better decisions are bound to emerge.
According to Angela Battle, Director of Subcontractor Diversity & Development at Sellen Construction, diversity is the most important mindset that construction firms will need to adopt in order to become more resilient and build a business that is future-proof and set up for success.
“To be competitive, stay at the forefront of innovation, and attract superior talent, they must foster a culture of inclusion,” Angela says.
“A diverse workforce offers a wider range of experiences and skills, leading to improved decision making, enhanced employee engagement, and retention, as well as increased profitability.”
Moreover, having strong diversity and inclusion initiatives will make people feel better about working at your firm. And when employees are happy, dedicated, and empowered, they tend to perform at a much higher level.
“When you have folks who are feeling good about themselves, their colleagues, and the culture of the organization, they’re going to produce really great outcomes,” says Kim Bates, Corporate Service Leader, DPR. “This naturally garners innovation and creativity; this, coupled with a sense of belonging, is a win-win.”
Consider industry thought leader Dana Erdman, Director of Technology and Innovation at Bulley & Andrews, who created a Virtual Design and Construction department from the ground up at one of the oldest construction companies in Chicago. Dana is also a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and recently created and currently co-chairs a new Diversity & Inclusion group at the firm to empower more diverse voices at the company and within the construction industry.
“I recognize there are challenges for women in any industry,” Dana said in an interview last year. “But as a traditionally, male-dominated one, construction is particularly difficult. However, it’s important to note that within the last few years, support and encouragement for women to become involved in this industry has been stronger than ever, and leadership positions haven’t looked as diverse as they do now.”
The ability to build trust is an essential skill for today’s construction leadership, especially when it’s done with empathy and authenticity.
As David Horsager, CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute put it, “Contrary to popular perception, developing a high trust culture is not simply a soft skill—the highest performing leaders and organizations recognize that trust is an urgent necessity to stay ahead of the ever-growing competition.”
Ramona Moon, owner of Schulz Construction Corp, used her determination and diverse background to build a thriving business in 2020. She started in the drywall and ceiling trade, but in the last year, she has grown to take on General Contractor projects due to the trust she built with her clients.
With a focus on building a business rooted in trust and professionalism, Ramona’s employees stick with her, and her clients come back for more projects and opportunities to work with her firm.
With a growing influence in the industry, data is becoming more important to construction every day. Leaders who understand the importance of data and focus their teams and initiatives on it will be better positioned to react to changes and determine risk for their companies.
According to a McKinsey survey, “Companies with the greatest overall growth in revenue and earnings receive a significant proportion of that boost from data and analytics. Respondents from these high-performing organizations are three times more likely than others to say their data and analytics initiatives have contributed at least 20 percent to earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) over the past three years.”
This idea holds true for Katerina Milovanoska, Director of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) at Gafcon, Inc., one of the companies leading the digital twin property technology revolution and a founding member of the global Digital Twin Consortium.
An influential proponent of shifting the AEC industry to a more data-centric BIM- and VDC-based approach, Katerina’s perspective helps clients turn digital architectural design models into three-dimensional reference models to help mitigate risk during the building process.
By using construction cloud applications and predictive analytics, Katerina has managed to connect all data and workflows from design to build, allowing for more effective decision-making throughout a project.
The last year has fundamentally shifted not just how but where construction industry professionals work. With more employees spread out across cities, states, even countries than ever before, today’s great construction leaders act as connectors, able to forge bonds that strengthen teams and hold them together.
One way to foster connectivity among your colleagues is by building morale and relationships, essential components for high-performing teams. Great connectors can also apply this mindset to innovation and technology initiatives to make a large impact at their companies.
As Granger Construction’s first-ever Continuous Improvement Facilitator, Kate Capeneka demonstrates outstanding leadership in helping Granger develop, implement, and improve Lean processes that increase efficiency and reduce waste. Kate goes beyond technology research and application development to make connections between what project teams are doing and what processes and technology they’ve adopted. Taking a holistic approach, Kate regularly visits project sites and meets with teams to see if they are having any issues. By continually immersing herself in new ideas to train and lead teams and implement best practices at Granger, Kate developed an innovative COVID-19 health screening process that has received an abundance of positive feedback from owners and partners across projects, noting how effectively Granger teams are responding in these uncertain times.
These Skills Are Essential for Strong Construction Leadership
The construction industry’s top leaders are visionaries, inclusive, trustworthy, data-minded, and connected, as shown by these examples of exceptional construction leadership. What skills do you consider vital for construction leadership in today’s industry? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.