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By Lauren Masser
October 10, 2016
The superintendent's job is much like a symphony conductor's job. While the conductor guides the sounds of 100 instruments in a concert's conclusion, a superintendent guides innumerable activities in a project's conclusion. But to do that, superintendents need support from the very beginning of the project and ongoing support with training and tools.
Here are 6 steps to help you empower your superintendents:
The superintendent you pick should have the right experience for the project. Building a multi-story residential structure is nothing like building a single-family home. Sure, you need supers who can work the entire range of projects you undertake, but there's a right way and a wrong way to get them the experience they need.
The right way is to have them intern with a more experienced superintendent when introducing them to a project type they have never handled before. The internship doesn't have to be continuous or for the entire time of a project. Over time, and across several projects, the super can gain the necessary experience.
Look at the hours your supers have to spend on the job. People often accept that someone on salary "works till the job is done," but don't be fooled into thinking you're getting ahead if people are routinely working 50, 60 or 70 hour weeks. Productivity losses, mistakes and accidents will line up to claim any gains.
If supers have to regularly step in to help sort out poor design documents or spend large amounts of time escorting people around the site, that's time spent away from the critical task of keeping the schedule on track. If your job description for superintendent lists every task in a typical project, it's most likely unrealistic and not well defined.
One of the greatest gifts a project manager can give to a superintendent is the one of quality subcontractors. Orchestrating the daily activities of 5, 10 or 20 subcontractors so their combined efforts blend in the right way and with the right level of quality so they can complete their activities on time, is no small feat.
Things get more complicated as subcontractor quality goes down. Subs chosen for their cheap prices often have difficulty meeting job requirements, whether it's completing on time, or completing with the necessary quality. Subs with little experience might get high marks for their willingness, but willingness alone won’t make them successful. Whenever possible, match subcontractors with supers who have worked well together before.
Much like subcontractors, suppliers come in all degrees of quality. A lumber supplier that delivers products with high moisture content is creating stealth problems for the superintendent. A steel supplier that is stretched thin on delivery equipment can contribute to schedule backlogs. When you use a supplier that has a record of consistently delivering quality products, the super can spend less time dealing with returns, late deliveries and quality issues, and more time keeping things on track.
As jobs get bigger and more complex, superintendents need newer and better tools. Today's supers spend more time using technology then they do hand or power tools, and that's predicted to continue. Since superintendents deal directly with the schedule, they need up-to-date tools for monitoring the schedule and interacting with it to solve problems.
Superintendents also spend a great deal of time interacting with a wide range of project teams. Whether dealing with subs or designers or government officials, superintendents have to be able to streamline communications while still adhering to security, compliance, privacy and proprietary requirements. From the day's beginning to its end, supers also must record project events and track progress to activity completion.
For handling all this, an always-available, project management tool like Procore's cloud-based project management software application saves your super time by simplify all of a project's management details. To interact efficiently with the software, supers also need practical tools like tablets, smartphones, and laptops to manage project in real-time no matter where they are.
Beyond dealing with schedules and drawings, superintendents have a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to dealing with people. It's not just the numbers of people they deal with, but the different types as well. The first thing in the morning a super might be sorting out scheduling problems with subcontractors and by noon might be solving an equipment shortage with a rental agency, while escorting a building inspector through the project.
Unfortunately, few superintendents ever get training in interpersonal communications, conflict resolution or managing change. You can boost a superintendent's skills and confidence by also including training in topics such as contract management and human resources.
With today's online and flexible training options, people can grab blocks of training whenever they have some available time. You can make the process formal and require completion of various blocks of training in an ongoing fashion, so that learning new skills, and improving old ones are part of the job. Over time, your superintendents will evolve into better and better managers, and eventually be ready for promotions into other roles.
Construction superintendents have come a long way since they were routinely called "clerks of the works." On today's projects they manage complex situations within complex environments. Whenever you help them be more effective at what they do, you advance your firm's productivity, reduce problems and bolster retention.
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