Author: Chris Swan

**As published in Construction Executive

People who design and construct things are a different breed. There is no factory, no store, and they often work out in the open and all kinds of weather. Cutting corners in construction entails risk. Misjudging one task could mean threatening the safety of people or the integrity of the project. Success hinges on the decisions and actions of the team and each team requires leadership.

There are many levels of leadership in construction, from the field crew to the executive suite. Identifying great leaders is pivotal to the success of an organization. Following are qualities in every effective leader.

1. Leaders Understand Hard, Intelligent, Committed Work

Everybody knows leadership requires hard work, and that great leadership requires committed effort. One poignant story is the 30-year-old regional engineering executive who, in the middle of one night, dashed from his apartment as fire engulfed the building. He carried only his shoes and a suit. Everything he owned burned that night. The next morning he drove three hours to complete the unsavory task of permanently closing one of his offices. When asked why, this regional manager said, “My people and the organization deserved that I was there.”

Leadership requires presence. Great leaders in the construction business need to be onsite with their people during important moments. Without hard work, commitment and intelligence, leadership is just a buzzword. Great leaders produce effective work that motivates others and supports the organization’s values versus work that merely seems important.

2. Leaders Reflect the Values of the Organization

A commitment to safety, open and transparent communication, and high-quality work with no shortcuts tend to be cultural values that make a difference in workplaces. Great leaders understand how values impact the organization and why they are crucial to success.

Furthermore, they understand the hierarchy of values and can differentiate between what should and should not remain a value in the organization. Rarely are the values bad; rather it’s the application, expression and focus (or lack of focus) of those values that can result in dysfunction. Exceptional leaders can see through the clutter and embrace the right values.

3. Leaders Incorporate Diversity

The world is changing fast, and construction along with it. Despite the resistance that some managers may have with diversity, great leaders recognize the strength that genuine differences in people bring to a team. Sure, it seems easier to hire for sameness and avoid diversity. However the willingness and enthusiasm by which a leader incorporates diversity speaks volumes to his team about the leader’s personal character and confidence.

A leader who aggressively incorporates diversity is committing the team to active listening, collaborative thinking and higher expectations. A leader who dares to diversify also should understand he must be present during the collaborative process for the team to succeed.

4. Leaders are Outstanding Communicators

Construction is a business filled with uncertainty. Coordination between architects, engineers and construction professionals is a challenge in the best of times. Add in a project owner with shifting demands and a construction project can become chaotic.

The best leaders in the construction business understand how to frame a discussion to clearly identify their needs and engage fairly with the needs of their counterparties. Congeniality matters when looking for the win-win, the optimal outcome and highest value solution. An outstanding negotiator understands how to listen carefully and identify opportunities for higher value. Thoughtfulness and genuine human concern break down barriers and help great leaders connect with customers, coworkers, contractors and consultants.

5. Leaders Take on Big Challenges

Great leaders take chances. There are many examples of newly hired CEOs saying, “Wow this is harder than expected.” But it’s the height of the challenge that allows leaders to achieve greatness. An ability to envision the possibilities and the grit to achieve success is what sets great leaders apart. Great leaders are thoughtful risk-takers and active doers. They know when they have overextended themselves and are quick to redirect their energies.

There is no static list of great leaders waiting to emerge. If a constructor is committed, focuses on the right values, advocates for diversity, smart about negotiating and willing to tackle the big challenges, then they just might join the ranks of great leaders.