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CFMA Coverage: 6 Expert Leadership Strategies for Construction Financial Managers


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The role of Construction Financial Manager is continuously evolving and changing.  The success of a CFM no longer means flying solo and crunching numbers. Today, the CFM must be able to work collaboratively, communicate clearly and effectively and be a solid financial storyteller, according to industry experts who recently led a session at CFMA’s 2018 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Miami this week.  

The presentation, called “Practical Leadership Strategies for the Emerging Construction Financial Manager” was led by Vickie Spotts, CFO at Zartman Construction and Garrett Sullivan, president of Sullivan & Associates. Spotts and Sullivan discussed the ever changing role of the CFM amid a new economic, political, and technological climate. Now more than ever CFMs need to consider the big picture.

To help you stay on the path of success and become the best CFM you can be, check out these six strategies from Spotts and Sullivan: 

  1. Lead, Don’t Manage: While managing tends to focus on the “here and now” with a retrospective focus (“Were goals met?”), leading tends to have a forward-thinking approach that helps steer employees toward desired goals. In other words, it is proactive, rather than reactive. In doing so, leaders serve as guides and let their teams manage their work. They inspire others and instill the importance of accountability in the entire organization to help drive action toward the team’s financial goals.

  1. Know Your (and Your Team’s) Communication Styles:There are four styles of communication: Driver, Analytical, Relator, and Expresser. During the session, attendees took a brief survey that revealed their particular communication style. The overwhelming majority of the room were Analytical (meaning they are receptive, reserved, patient, and thorough) and Relaters (meaning they are receptive, responsive, warm, and relaxed). Yet these styles, Spotts and Sullivan explained, often are vastly different than that of other team members. In order to effectively communicate financial goals to non-financial team members, it is crucial to recognize both your own style and that of the team member to whom you’re communicating.

In order to effectively communicate financial goals to non-financial team members, it is crucial to recognize both your own style and that of the team member to whom you’re communicating.

  1. Frame Your Message: Framing is the ability to strategically craft one’s message to fit with another team member’s communication style. This includes what you say, when you say it, and how you say it (both the words you use as well as the means, such as email or phone). Keep in mind that this may require you to adjust your communication style. In other words, speak the listener’s language rather than your own. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that different generations—from millennials to baby boomers—each have a unique communication style. How you speak to one may not be as effective for the other, and vice versa. Take note of body language as well which is as much a key indicator of meaning as the words you use. In fact, some studies have shown that body language is a higher indicator of underlying meaning than both tone/voice and words combined.  

  1. Build Integrity and Trust: During the session, attendees were asked what they thought to be the primary character trait necessary for CFMs; the overwhelming response was integrity and trust. In a second poll, the speakers asked what the attendees thought was the primary competency of a CFM; building an effective team and communication ranked the highest. It’s crucial to note here that each of these works symbiotically with the other. Building a culture around integrity and trust undoubtedly leads to building an effective team and increased communication. Efficiency and increased communication consequently lead to higher productivity and lowered costs—key drivers of business success.

  1. Lead with an E: Envision, Enable, Empower, Energize— CFMs can help inspire and drive team members toward success.

  • Envision: Create a shared vision by setting goals. This helps to create buy-in from the rest of the organization so that the entire team is aware of desired financial targets and outcomes.

  • Enable: Provide the proper tools, resources, and training for employees to carry out tasks effectively; this may include technology of educational opportunities. Employees who are enabled to perform tasks will often deliver better results, faster, and of higher quality.

  • Empower: Facilitate building better relationships. Being part of a team helps instill accountability which will help motivate performance and drive the team to build on prior successes. Encourage peer-to-peer influence when appropriate.

  • Energize: When communicating, remember to listen. Ensure that the team is on track to reach financial goals, and set an example by “walking the walk.” Provide feedback on what is or isn’t working, and be specific. Create a dialogue and ensure that plans are made mutually as a team to ensure buy-in.

  1. Network: Lastly, joining associations such as CFMA (Construction Financial Management Association) allows CFMs to learn and grow in their careers. These organizations can serve as a valuable resource for you to help you and your team reach your projects’ financial goals.

By employing these strategies, CFMs have the opportunity to not only provide insight into their company’s project finances, but it also allows them to serve as a trusted partner at the company who leads the team toward successful financial outcomes.

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