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Bridging the Leadership Gap: Construction Career Paths to Grow Your Own Leaders

Thursday, August 16, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Hilary Korabik
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Bridging the Leadership Gap: Construction Career Paths to Grow Your Own Leaders
by Jenni Scott, Managing Director, Chicago--Hays Construction

Construction firms nationwide are experiencing a leadership shortage as the retirement boom begins. With few Gen X or Gen Y construction professionals in place to move into these positions, employers urgently need to grow their own leaders by developing the junior and intermediate people in their organization. This will also help with retention, as your teams will feel valued and supported in their career goals, reducing the likelihood that they will look elsewhere for their next career step.

In the Hays DNA of a VP of Construction report, Hays interviewed more than 25 construction leaders about their career paths and what they learned along the way. From this we can learn a lot about how employers should support their teams in learning the skills they’ll need to become company and industry leaders.

Entry level: Give junior professionals a broad base on which to grow

Asked what they considered most important for career growth, construction leaders rated day-to-day operations and construction/technical knowledge as the two most important skills for junior construction professionals, illustrating the importance of getting field experience early on. Half of those interviewed have an undergraduate degree but almost 20 percent have reached their position with a high school or technical diploma, showing that construction is one industry where hard work and on-the-job training can still lead to successful senior management.  Creating opportunity for young construction leaders from diverse levels of education to experience site supervision roles will help in building their front-line skills and knowledge for their future career growth. 

Mid-level: Go beyond the technical to grow great people and project managers
Communication skills

Director level construction leaders spend three times as much time developing their soft skills as their technical skills. Construction projects will involve different stakeholders with many point of views, making communication and interpersonal skills crucial for working with them, not only for clearly articulating concepts and instructions, but also onboarding feedback, which is a key part of the skill set. Construction leaders need to develop their commercial understanding and business acumen to better comprehend the different roles, requirements, and resources that go into each project. This will support professionals in ensuring seamless cooperation internally between individuals and departments, and externally between developers, sub-contractors and other stakeholders, to improve productivity, efficiency and results.

Problem solving

At its heart, problem solving is about assessing each situation and finding specific behaviors, programs, or processes to overcome the challenge. One-third (36%) of VPs tell us the biggest mistake they have made was a managerial one, while 26 percent say it was a strategic error. Problem solving and providing solutions to meet organizational goals are considered two of the most important skill sets for a mid-level to management professional. One piece of problem resolution, according to Jim Brownrigg from Turner Construction, is the ability to make decisions based on all the available data. “The ability to do the research, to educate yourself on all the different factors, and then be able to make an informed decision is crucial,” he says. “The inability to make a decision causes a domino effect throughout the business, which can end up being worse than making a bad decision. An effective project manager is not frozen by too many data points or possible outcomes, but is able to make a fast, effective decision for the good of the project.”

Senior leadership: Support overall business and strategic understanding to create trusted leaders

Business acumen

Beyond your department, function, team or region, a VP of Construction must have a business sense that transcends silos and technical experience. All the VPs Hays surveyed had key skills from more than one function and two-thirds say they have skills from more than 10 functions, showing their investment in building a holistic understanding of the business operations beyond developing expertise in just one area. Knowledge across functions, including areas such as HR and finance will give the context needed to make better high-level decisions.

Strategic planning

The number one skill required for construction executives is strategic planning. It is also rated as one of the top three skills for senior management and above. As business leaders, construction professionals are being asked to drive short and long-term strategy, contributing to organizational goals and planning.

One-quarter of construction VPs have an MBA, masters, or other post-graduate education, showing they are seeking broader business education beyond their niche construction skills, and 43 percent say these qualifications are imperative for the role.

Ambitious professionals would be advised to invest in their own education if they don’t have employer support. Half the VPs said the most difficult move of their careers was management to senior management, or senior management to director, and 49% said this difficulty was due to a lack of opportunities within their organization. Employers should be conscious of providing opportunities for progression and new challenges across their business.

About the author: Jenni Scott of Hays Construction specializes in search and select/direct hire placement of construction & property professionals across the Chicago/Midwest region. Working with exceptional customers within the private sector, Jenni's primary focus is to partner with candidates and clients, using the depth and breadth of her expertise and market knowledge to ensure they make they unique match that makes individuals and companies flourish. Jenni can be reached at

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