Who Wants to be Managed and Who Wants to be Led in Construction?

Written by LetsBuild

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I’ve been casting my mind back to try and come up with answers to these questions! After much head-scratching I suddenly realised I was thinking about the subject all wrong! Anyway, having sorted out my head, what the question is really asking comes down to the different meanings of managed and led. I had a look in my Oxford Dictionary and both words have loads of different meanings, some pretty much the same as each other! After that I had an outbreak of common sense and settled for these meanings:-

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“Managed” means someone is told what to do and left to get on with it.

“Led” means being taken by the hand and shown what order to do everything in and how to do it.

So who wants to be managed in construction? I reckon most people, particularly the Subbies and the skilled trades. They are a darned sight better at doing what they do than you or I. Where they don’t have the expertise of the sitemanagement is in Planning, forward ordering of materials, arranging labour numbers when they don’t know what is to be done next. Usually all the “management” they need is a 5 minute chat first thing in the morning. They also value very highly quick answers and resolutions to any problems they hit in their work package. The other thing they value very highly is a Detailed Programme to Completion. Give ‘em one and they will pretty much manage themselves!

The next lot who need to be managed, even if they don’t think they do, are the architects and consultants involved in a project! For some reason, which I’m sure they don’t even realise themselves, they seem to lose all sight of project priorities and letting people know what they need to know when they need to know it! We need to treat them with a little sensitivity, though, rather than issuing our edicts. With these guys we have to say things like “I say, old boy, do you think you could let us have the drawing revisions first thing in the morning? If you can’t work will come to a halt.” Subtle, or what? Carries an implied threat of Delay and LAD!

So who needs to be led in construction? On site it seems the ones needing most leading are the young graduate members of the site management team. They have the technical knowledge but little idea of the subtle man-management skills that get the lads on side! It is fine if I call a middle-aged tradesman a “useless old fart that knows nowt!” – from me that is recognised as a bit of in-house ribbing. The same guy doesn’t take kindly to being told how to do his job by a young, inexperienced graduate! Strangely, another area where these youngsters need holding by the hand and led is through H&S on site! They haven’t the experience to fully realise when they are placing themselves in danger. The irony here is that we oldies don’t even think of a construction site as being a dangerous place!

Another group on site who often need to be led are labourers! Sure, many are very experienced and don’t need watching over, but some are new to construction and need taking by the hand. It might not be site management that has to lead these people, but their Ganger Man. I’ve found out the hard way that we may actually have to start “leading” the Ganger Man in this! It may be the first time he has had a newbie and doesn’t realise how much danger they can put themselves in or how clueless they are about how to do what they are told if they are only “managed”. I realised this years ago when I saw a new labourer trying to cut his hand off with a circular saw he shouldn’t even have picked up! Had to give the ganger man a cuppa afterwards to help recover from the shock of having it pointed out to him!

The final group who need to be led, and often the ones requiring the most subtlety to get under our wings, are Clients’ Project Managers! More often than not these people, although they are highly regarded within their organisation, have absolutely no knowledge of construction and don’t even realise they “know nothing from nowt”! Not only are they stuck with us lot but they usually have concurrent I.T. and Change Management projects to oversee. They might have some familiarity and experience with one or the other, but I have often been asked by their own Directors to take charge of both those. Again, my experience, but most of these Client-side PM’s seem to have been women. This does seem to make leading them easier. There is an intuitive knowledge that male and female psychologies are different. Nature arranged it that way for the preservation of our species. Once these ladies realise that they are involved in a “man thing” they accept being led. They do have an advantage from our point of view, too. If something comes up that is a “woman thing”, like sorting out their own people or telling a male architect to be sensible, they just step right in there and save us hassle!

So now we’ve had a quick look at Who Wants to be Managed, and Who Wants to be Led in Construction, I’m left with a very high opinion ofus Construction Project Managers! We must be a very clever bunch to be able to jump from being a manager to a leader and back again so many times in a day!