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Labor Woes: A Guide to Identifying Emerging Talent


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Between 1985 and 2010, the average age of all U.S. construction workers jumped from 36 to 41.5 years old.  As these baby boomers continue to age out of the workforce, we are going to need a succession plan to begin developing new quality talent. 

Although there are several self-proclaimed manuals, "How to Be a Good Project Manager in 10 Easy Steps", there are no silver bullets for becoming a good leader. So how do we go about training the leaders of tomorrow? 

We can't wait for the next generation of construction professionals to come in and learn how to be the good leaders we need. It has to start with us.

We can start by analyzing the characteristics of great project leaders. And when it comes to pioneers of architecture, engineering, and construction, there is no shortage of emulatable figures. 

Learning from History

James P. McHugh led from the front, putting his vision and team-building ability together to create some of Chicago’s most iconic buildings. He championed the use of innovations like fiberglass, concrete, and the climbing tower crane that are now staples in the construction industry.

Legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright had vision. He designed over 1,000 residential homes and pioneered an “outlandish” style of organic architecture that gave birth to the concept of living rooms, carports, and open floorplans.  

Emily Roebling was tactful and well-spoken. During the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge her husband and chief engineer fell ill. To secure her husband’s job, she acted as his project manager – visiting the jobsite multiple times daily, delegating tasks to crews, and relaying information back and forth. She was described as an “invaluable woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel".

The common thread between these three is that they have qualities we’d all recognize – drive, passion, commitment, to name a few. Identifying these qualities in talent on your jobsite can help educators and organizations develop the world’s next generation of construction leaders while assisting the existing supply to become even better at their jobs.

When looking for the next great construction leaders of tomorrow, here are 10 characteristics to look for:

1. Foresight

One of the biggest problems facing construction companies is how to stay competitive in the future. What are the latest trends? Where is the best technology? No one has the ability to perfectly predict the future, but a good leader will have the creativity to recognize what will be good for a company in the long term. 

2. Inquisitive Nature

We all have a certain elasticity to change. But, great leaders ask questions. They become relentless about knowing how things work and how to improve them. They attend tradeshows, adopt new technology, and continuously educate themselves to get the answers they seek. By nature, this person needs to know as much information as possible.

3. Team player

Dictator should not be a word that is heard in the same sentence with this title. A good project manager commands authority naturally and respectfully, while being able to collaborate and listen to team members on all levels of the company. 

4. Initiative

Initiative moves the world. In our industry, change happens fast so organizations need leaders who can think on their feet and take action without waiting for someone to tell them what to do. After all, this type of courage is what pushes teams and organizations to innovate, and to overcome competition.

5. Agility

As we know, in construction not everything goes as planned. Designs change, materials prices fluctuate, and occasionally, weather happens. At times like these, your fearless leader needs to be able to pivot quickly and responsibly. That is, first make sure objectives can still be met, and then find a new way to reach these goals.

6. Problem Solver

Good leaders don’t view risks or delays as objective deterrents. Instead, they are seen as a strategic enabler for their field and office teams to continuously improve their best practices and streamline their processes.

7. Communication

A successful leader will make sure that the project objective is clearly communicated throughout a project. Team members and vendors know exactly what they are supposed to be doing and are clear about how it must be accomplished. By the same token, they not only share their thoughts with the team, but they also empower those who work for them provide collaborative input.

8. Transparency

Being transparent is a powerful thing and technology is empowering leaders to leverage open work cultures. For leaders on the job site and in the office, this means it’s time to communicate openly. This means less emails and more personal engagement with their teammates by collaborating more frequently. This openness build trust, and sets a precedent that will transcend throughout an organization.

9. Delegate

The ability to delegate is one of the chief characteristics that separates great leaders from good ones. Delegating responsibilities demonstrates that a project manager or owner trusts his or her team members to get things done on their own. 

10. Optimism

In order to persevere through the chaos that is involved with project management, a great leader will see this as a career and not a job. It should be an exciting challenge. Treat it like so by seeking additional training and education.

Our time is running out

We can't wait for the next generation of construction professionals to come in and learn how to be the good leaders we need. It has to start with us. The good news is that we don't have to figure it out as we go along; we have examples like James P. McHugh, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Emily Roebling.

We can look at what they've done and learn from what they've learned. And if we are diligent enough, we can recognize those same qualities in young talent and develop them to become the leaders of tomorrow. The more leaders you can develop, the stronger the business will be, and the less you will have to worry about your long term business goals.