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December 8, 2016

AGC Education Foundation tailors leadership program to project managers, future bosses

  • The construction industry is changing from an autocratic management style to a more collaborative style.
  • By ADRIENNE WOODS
    AGC of Washington Education Foundation

    Photo by Shelly Oberman/AGC Education Foundation [enlarge]
    Lead instructor Gary Polain last month taught a module on change management.

    With the Seattle crane count at a record high, the busy construction market needs workers more than ever. Finding skilled labor is one problem, but developing quality and experienced leaders continues to be a challenge for many companies.

    Bob Adams, senior vice president of Guy F. Atkinson Construction, recognized the need to send his project managers to formalized leadership training to prepare employees for promotions into leadership roles. Adams sent his employees through the AGC of Washington Education Foundation's Construction Leadership Series when the program launched in 2014, and has continued to send multiple employees through every session.

    “After sending our senior managers through the program, we concluded that the material was equally valuable for those about to become managers,” Adams said. “Most of our leaders come from technical backgrounds. As they advance in their careers, the ability to lead others and to get others to want to work with them becomes more important.”

    Since the program's inception, the series has graduated nearly 80 students to sold-out audiences. Atkinson Construction has sent the maximum amount of employees allowed to each series.

    “We have seen our managers become better communicators, more involved in the direction of the company and making better decisions,” Adams said.

    Working with industry leaders, the seven-module program was created specifically for the construction industry, fulfilling a need that many other leadership development programs didn't address.

    Gary Polain, the lead instructor and developer of the series curriculum, said the number one reason companies continue to send their employees is the diversity of relevant topics to today's changing industry.

    Woods

    “The basic technical skills haven't changed at all, except for technology, which has obviously had a huge impact,” Polain said. “But the key thing is the style of leadership and management of people has changed dramatically. Vulnerability in construction has been really tough for a long time. We've come from this historically fear-based, demanding, autocratic management style in construction, to a more collaborative style of leadership, which is very different.”

    Polain is the principal and director of the OzMosis Leadership Consultancy. He began his career as a mechanical engineer in Perth, Australia, and eventually made his way into “human engineering” because he was fascinated by what made companies good versus great, he said. Polain used his unique background to identify relevant challenges and skills needed to be successful in construction today.

    “Over the years with the many companies I've worked with, I've learned that project managers are the heart and soul of every company,” Polain said. “They have a really, really tough role of being at the center of the project.

    "They're managing the client, developer, the contractor, colleagues, project engineers, etc. They need to be the most skilled artisans because of all the various influencing bodies surrounding them, and if we get them armed and dangerous with these skills, they'll be effective in their market space.”

    Construction firms in the region have found the program essential for any employee showing potential to rise through the ranks. While the topics are geared toward project managers who are 10-plus years into their careers, many of the skills learned are applicable to any construction professional taking on new leadership roles.

    “Participating in the series has helped to develop my skills to be more collaborative instead of taking a directing approach, and basing it on the situation's needs,” said Jaycene Marini, western regional operations administration manager for Centennial Contractors. “The strategic thinking portion of the program has expanded my perspective and better prepared me to assist my organization.”

    Topics in the series include communication and time management, risk management, change management, financial management and strategic planning, encompassing many of the construction-specific and broader challenges leaders face every day.

    “Developing leadership skills has always been an important part of becoming an effective construction professional,” Adams said, whose career with Atkinson spans more than 40 years. “What it takes to motivate others has changed over time, but the basic skills remain essential to success in our business.”

    The next Construction Leadership Series starts Jan. 17.

    Adrienne Woods is the development and marketing coordinator for the AGC of Washington Education Foundation.


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