Transforming project managers into influential leaders is the cornerstone of predictable profit in construction. In this episode, host Eric Anderton sits with Kyle Nitchen, who launched “The Influential Project Manager”. Together, they discover the secrets of transforming ordinary project managers into influential leaders who consistently deliver on-time, on-budget, and profitable projects. Join us as Kyle uncovers the six critical archetypes for construction leadership success that underpin effective project management. From the charismatic “Business Developer” to the meticulous “Accountant,” Kyle discusses how embracing these archetypes can elevate your project management game. Boost your leadership skills, foster lasting client relationships, and propel your construction projects to new heights. Tune in now!
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Predictable Profit: How To Develop Effective Project Managers With Kyle Nitchen
If you’re interested in developing your project managers so that they deliver predictable results and help you make more money, this episode is for you. My guest is Kyle Nitchen. He is a senior project manager. He has been in the business for a little under a decade. He has developed a framework that he has executed in his own personal experience and communicates to others to help people be more effective as project managers.
It includes seven archetypes. An archetype is a fancy way of saying an ideal example or something to model yourself after. Those archetypes are a communicator, an enforcer, a builder, a leader, an attorney, an accountant, and a business developer. In other words, if you want to be a well-rounded successful project manager, you need to develop those aspects of skill and ability. That’s what we talk about here on this episode. Join my conversation with Kyle. Feel free to share it with other people who you think would benefit from it. Thank you for tuning in to the show.
Kyle, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me on.
It’s a pleasure to have you on. I’d like you to introduce yourself to my audience. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into construction, all that good stuff.
I’ve been in construction for coming on a decade. I work for a world-class national construction management firm called Layton Construction. I am a senior project manager for them. I’m managing a chunk of operations here in the Southern California region. That is what I do. For how I’ve gotten there, I didn’t have the typical path into the construction management world. Growing up, I grew up in Canada and traveled around quite a bit for my father’s job. I landed myself in Colorado, finishing high school.
I wasn’t always a typical very good in a formal education. I didn’t get the best grades in that. When it came to graduating high school, I took some time and got into working. What I wanted to do was start working. Going right into school didn’t sound too great to me. I wasn’t ready for that in the right head space for it.
I got a job with a local landscape contractor. I was a laborer, working for a landscape company. It was fun planting sod, pouring concrete, and landscaping homes and commercial buildings. It was really cool. It was a lot of work, but I worked on a crew with some good guys. I learned a lot about working on a construction site, building projects, and creating something. I did that for a few years until I finally got my head wrapped around going to school and pursuing a degree to open up the next set of doors.
With that background in construction, that led me to a construction management degree. From there, which was at Colorado State, I networked and got connected with Layton Construction and ended up taking my first assignment with them. That was in Miami Beach, Florida, where we did some hospitality construction and built a few hotels and a performing arts center. Ever since then, I’ve been traveling around. I found my way into Southern California where I’m doing healthcare construction focused. That is my quick origin story.
It’s very interesting. You said you spent a number of years in landscaping. How many years total?
You reached a certain point where you decided it was time to go to college. What did it take to get there? Some people go to work and keep working.
It was maturing a little bit. When I was 18 or 19, I couldn’t see and plan my future. I wasn’t in the headspace to do that. I know I’m not the only one in that boat. A lot of people expect to have their life figured out at 18, 19, or 20. That’s unrealistic, in my opinion. There’s no reason why people should put pressure on themselves to do that.A lot of people expect to have your life figured out at 18, 19, 20. That's just unrealistic. There's no reason why people should put pressure on themselves to do that. Click To Tweet
I wasn’t in there, so I wanted to take some action and do something. I wanted to work, make some money, and take a step forward. I did that until I could figure out, “This isn’t what I want to do my whole life. I know I can do a little bit more than this.” Once I got into that space where I could finally say, “I can connect some dots here,” I started to create a little plan.
First, I wanted to move and get out of my environment because that wasn’t ultimately where I wanted to be also. I had a little bit of drive going for me at that point. I took that drive and made some plans and some next steps. That’s key for younger folks coming and starting their career and the next generation of construction. Explore things, take action, and pivot along the way if need be.
I love that. You decided to go to college. Did you decide right out of the gate to go construction management?
No, I didn’t. I took one step and I had to get in first. You don’t have to pick your degree right up when you get in. There is a set of general requirement classes I’m sure everyone’s aware of. I got into those general classes that you’d have to take no matter what and then I started reviewing some options. When I looked at the construction management option, I was like, “I have this background. I can connect the dots here.” I saw that world, and then I saw what the CM degree could offer. I was like, “That’s cool. That makes sense for me,” other than all these other degrees that were vague. I didn’t know what they would lead to. I took a chance on that. It was all about moving in forward motion.
How valuable was your field experience as you were going through college in terms of perhaps giving you more insights into the material you were learning?
It was valuable. I could grasp the concept of the basic concepts that were being talked about. I’m not going to say it helped me so much because I was very labor-focused, but I could grasp the concept of a project, a crew, man hours, and things of that nature. It was helpful.
It sounds like when you were in college, was Layton there recruiting people?
Yes, they were.
What was it about the way that Layton went about the recruiting that caused you to choose them?
Honestly, it was a leader. I met a leader inside of Layton through that connection. The way he spoke and the way he treated me, to be honest, especially during our interview, was phenomenal. I admired him for what he did. It seemed like he took a lot of time out of his day and out of his schedule to dedicate to this college kid. I respected that. That was a big driver in that decision.
Let’s explore that a little bit more. You say it was a leader. You don’t need to name him unless you want to, but what title did he hold in the company?
He was the executive vice president of one of the biggest business units.
Was he visiting the campus and out reaching specifically or did you get connected to him through what they were doing on the campus?
Correct. I got connected to him through what was happening on the campus. I had a good conversation with the person on campus. He said, “I need to introduce you to this guy.” I said, “I’d love to chat with him.” That connection happened. The next thing you know, he flew me out to come visit him. He picked me up and we had a great time. I knew after leaving that day and that interaction or that interview, I said, “I want to spend time around people like that. I want to be like that. I want to surround myself like that.” He seemed like he cared about my professional goals and my personal goals, which was important.
Did you start off as a project engineer with Layton?
What was the biggest hurdle that you faced in the first 90 days to 6 months of your career?
Honestly, the biggest hurdle was this internal battle I had with trying to figure out my role and my path in my career. I had this big internal battle with passion. I kept questioning and doubting myself about, “Is this what I’m passionate about? Is doing these RFIs, submittals, and this construction path that I’m on what I’m meant to do?” That comes up in a young person’s mind a lot when they’re being engulfed in work, tasks, and responsibilities. I battled with myself a lot about that about, “Is this what I’m passionate about?” It almost led me to make some wrong decisions, and I’m glad that I didn’t, considering different options or thinking about things like that.
Eventually, how I overcame that was instead of worrying about what I was “passionate” about, I started focusing on getting really good at something. That was the big moment for me that pivoted when I said, “Let me get good at this first. It doesn’t matter if I’m passionate about it.” Getting good allowed me to find my passion in other things which was more along leading teams, leading situations, helping people, and being able to deliver a good service. It wasn’t until I got good that I could deliver a good service.
Let me ask you. When you say getting good, what is it that you wanted to get or you needed to get really good at?
I needed to get really good at this game of construction management. I had to work on being a good communicator, a good risk manager, and a good builder. I had to learn a lot of stuff about building and how different materials, methods, and processes worked and scheduling. It was pretty much the basics of it. I had to get good at the task or the game that we played. I started to become much more passionate about it and then I found my lane. I found my value in that.
What do you think are some of the key aspects of team building that a construction leader needs to focus on?
Number one is psychological safety. The space, the environment, and the team dynamic need to be a safe environment. It is where people have the feeling that they can speak up and share their opinions, feedback, and comments without the worry of being judged, criticized, or condemned in any way. There needs to be a free and open space for collaboration.
Let me explore that with you before you move on because it’s interesting. You use the term psychological safety. It’s a term that is common in a lot of business realms. You defined it as creating a space where people feel free to speak up and share their opinions without being worried that they’re going to get judged for their opinions.
How does a leader create that space where someone feels free to speak up and, at the same time, retain the ability to say, “I appreciate your opinion on this, but you’re wrong here.” How does a leader handle that? Sometimes, you might create that space, but somebody may be speaking out of the side of their mouth. What they’re saying is off base and you need to tell them that. How do you handle that?
You have to master the artful critique. You have to first recognize, like, “Thank you for sharing your opinion. That matters and that’s important. Now, let me dissect this a little bit for you so I can explain that this is not the right path to go on or this is not the right idea because of X, Y, and Z.” Recognize and empathize with that opinion or that perspective and say, “Please continue to bring things up like this to me because I do want to hear what you have to say.” It’s an artful delivery of your critique. It’s how you deliver it. Not everyone’s ideas or perspective is going to be an effective one, so that’s on the leader to deliver a message like that.
It’s interesting because as you’re talking here, I’m thinking about generational differences. Someone who’s older in their 40s or 50s, maybe like me, you’re hearing what you said and you’re nodding your head because you understand that younger people, generally speaking, want an environment like that. At the same time, you’re sighing because it is like, “Why can’t I tell you your idea’s wrong? I appreciate you sharing it, but you’re wrong. Why can’t I be that direct with someone? Why do I have to be this artful? I don’t have time to be artful. I don’t have the time and energy. I don’t want to be artful. I want to be straightforward, blunt, and to the point. This is construction. Let’s move on.”
You are right, but we are human beings and we are all not wired the same way. Are you familiar with the DISC personality test?We are human beings and we are not all wired the same way. Click To Tweet
Everyone is wired in a certain different way. People who are very influential and can communicate extremely effectively know the person that they’re speaking to. For you, I can tell that you can handle a direct comment. If I’m working with you, I’d recognize who you are. I would come at you very directly because I can deliver that message to you. I know you’re not going to lose any sleep. I know you can move about your day and say, “Thank you. Roger that,” and that’s fine.
The person on the other hand, they are a little bit more analytical. They’re a little bit more in the weeds. They question things. They like to learn every detail. If I were to come at that person very directly, they would probably think that I’m hurting their feelings or I am judging them when in reality, I’m not. I want to get straight to the point and want to reach my goal. We want to stay on track. That’s what we have to recognize. You have to know your audience.
DISC is one of them, but there are a few other ways that you can get quick reads on people. You have to tailor your communication to who you’re speaking to. It’s important when you’re managing a team and leading a team that you know the personality and the behavior type that each of your team members fall into. You have to remember that when you’re communicating with them, working with them, receiving their ideas, and critiquing their ideas.
That’s interesting because you’re talking about this idea of psychological safety. I like the way that you defined it because you defined it as creating a space where people are willing to speak up and able to speak up. You brought in this other element here about a leader needing to understand the difference between personalities. I know that my audience is shaking their head and saying, “I agree with that,” but that is the challenge, isn’t it? It is understanding the differences between people.
One of the hardest things for people to do is to be able to get out of themselves and see things from another person’s perspective. One of the things leaders struggle with is adapting themselves to other people without compromising or feeling that they’re compromising their values. Sometimes, when leaders choose to approach someone in a way that feels unnatural to them, they feel like they’re doing something wrong. They feel like they’re compromising in some way because they’re changing their approach. Is that something that you’ve experienced or something that you’ve seen?
Yes. That might be an ego thing, to be honest. You have to keep your ego in check if you are uncomfortable with getting outside yourself and maybe detaching from your direct style of communication. Most CEOs and top leaders have a direct style. They’re the eagles. They’re the people that go for it and have a direct style of communication. They also should be able to detach, go to the other side of the spectrum, put that full humility on, and take on a different hat. I’ve seen that.
At the end of the day, your responsibility is to grow your people and make sure your people are well-understood and can do their job. That requires you to see things, put yourself in different situations, and get outside yourself. There’s a quote that I love, “Match the moment, not the mirror.” Don’t act like yourself all the time. You have to put yourself in the moment. It means behave like you need to behave in the moment with that person instead of behaving like you’re naturally wired to behave.
I really like that quote. I’d like you to give us some insight into how you apply that yourself in a conversation or a situation that you face as you’re leading a team.
In context, if I’m going to my assistant project manager and I knowingly know that they’re a little bit more analytical, more supportive, like to subordinate themselves a little bit in typical scenarios, like to work in the spreadsheets and stuff like that, and analyze things, they’re not very direct. I know that my direct communication is going to rub them the wrong way or not come across right. They’re not going to hear what I need them to hear.
I go in very calmly and with a calm voice. I’d lower my tone and maybe start with the question, “Do you have a second?” They say, “Yeah,” I’m like, “What do you think about X, Y, and Z? What are your thoughts? Where are you at on this? What do you think that we need to do next in order to meet this timeline that we’re on?”
I’d peel it back, and then I would slip in delicately the request or the thing that I need them to do. That’s from a delegation perspective, but I’m going to massage around and go with the indirect approach. That’s the key. It is not raising your voice and not coming up to them very directly. They’re going to interpret that the wrong way and maybe get a little defensive. It’s going to be inefficient.
That last thing that you said there, how you connect your communication style with efficiency, that’s a helpful perspective. Someone is reading what you’re saying and most people are saying, “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m still going to do it the way I do it.” Perhaps if you continue to communicate the way that you are naturally wired to communicate, you’re creating inefficiencies unintentionally in your organization.
Spot on. In complex projects, we need to be efficient. We need to have everyone on the team rowing in the right direction together all at the same time. Those projects are very successful. They start with these types of things at the communication level. When everyone’s being heard and valued for their own naturally wired personalities, you get a lot done. You are effective.When everyone's being heard and being valued for their own naturally wired personalities, you get a lot done. You're very effective. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting, I had this picture when you were describing going in and talking to someone. Perhaps a leader would have a little cheat sheet prior to going into a conversation. If you’re using the DISC profile for instance, and those of you who’ve taken DISCs, you know what I mean, and you’re a D and you’re going in to talk to an S or a C, then you’re reminding yourself of that prior to going into the conversation. It is so that you’re in the right space to have an efficient and effective conversation with the person that you’re leading.
Those tools are available. I have that. I have everyone on my team’s DISC chart in front of me so I know their personalities. That’s one of the cool things that we can do. Internally, we do that. We take the DISC. It’s a tool for us to help understand people.
Another thing that I’m picking up in what you’re saying is sometimes, as leaders, we’re moving at such a pace. There’s a saying that they have in the Military that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Sometimes, as leaders, what we need to do is slow down and think for a minute or two about the conversation we’re going to have and the person we’re having it with. If I take that extra time, then when I’m in the conversation, that efficiency and effectiveness are able to kick in. I can get more done over a longer period of time.
If you have everyone on your team working at their highest potential and their maximum, they’re giving you everything they have because that’s what happens when you have good leadership in place. That efficiency is compounding. People are growing. It’s an amazing thing when you have that.
As a leader, we’re creating these safe spaces, and it’s in a positive way. That psychological safety as opposed to a safe space, you’ve done a good job defining that. You’re being thoughtful in the way that you’re approaching people. How do you approach issues of accountability? Another challenge that a lot of leaders have is holding people accountable and making sure that regardless of how they behave, they’re doing the work. Regardless of their personality, they are getting stuff done that they’re supposed to be getting done.
That is a good one. Accountability is key. I have a framework of what The Influential Project Manager looks like and behaves like. We can get into that later. One of them is the enforcer. One of the archetypes that he or she embodies is the enforcer archetype. That’s enforcing accountability throughout your chain of command and throughout your systems.
Let’s go into that a little bit more. You said the enforcer archetype. We can go into this idea of The Influential Project Manager. Tell me what you mean there by the enforcer archetype.
An archetype is a model or a pattern that we get from stories that people can learn. They help us understand each other. That’s what an archetype is. You’ve heard probably or can picture what the enforcer archetype would be in stories. That’s that enforcer on a sports team or enforcer in an action movie or something like that.
In a business context, that would be somebody who’s enforcing the rules and the responsibilities that everyone holds as part of your job. That’s what that is. That comes through in your communication and the way that you run your systems and your businesses. That’s a key thing that we, project managers and project leaders need to behave as. We need to embody that enforcer archetype.
Let me ask you about that. How’s that practically seen in a project leader or a project manager’s daily behavior, that enforcer archetype?
That is seen in the day-to-day staff meetings or daily huddles when we’re talking about things, sharing the goals, the tasks, the to-dos, breaking them down and divvying them up by responsibility, and saying, “We need to do X, Y, and Z. Let’s say you’re going to take X and Y. That’s going to be assigned to you. You’re going to be the owner of that item. When are you going to have that done? Please commit to us to the group of when you’re going to deliver those responsibilities.” You’re going to say, “I got X and Y. That’s going to be done next Tuesday by 12:00 PM.”
If that doesn’t happen, then the enforcer needs to come in and say, “Let’s talk about why that didn’t happen. Let me understand that, and let’s talk about why that’s not acceptable. Let me remind you. We’re running a business here. We’re servicing our client. That’s what we’re here to do. I can’t have that because it doesn’t allow us to get to our highest, most strategic initiatives here. Remember, we’re here to do this. We’re here to succeed. We’re here to win. I need you to step up and complete these. You are accountable to those.” That conversation will continue if something doesn’t happen or maybe you’ll get back on track on that time. That’s a snapshot of how that would look.
Let’s explore that a little bit more then. What are some of the other archetypes? You use this word archetype, so I’m assuming that there are other ones that you’ve articulated in terms of an influential project manager. Do you have a couple more of those?
I do. There are seven in total. This framework is the seven archetypes/behavior types of what I call The Influential Project Manager. That is the project manager who’s well-rounded and ultimately generates predictable outcomes. With these seven behavior types, these are what I’ve found to be the most common leading indicators that lead to a predictable, successful outcome, whether that’s a happy customer, a project that finishes on time, or a project that finishes within budget. I’ll get into what those are.
Let’s do it. First, give us the seven.
The first one is the communicator. The second one is the enforcer. The third is the builder. The fourth is the leader. The fifth is the attorney. The sixth is the accountant, and the seventh is the business developer.
Which one do you want to start with?
Let’s start with the leader, one of my favorites. We are not all perfect. Each of us has strengths in some of them and we’re weaker in the others. It’s an exercise that we can all do as project managers to pick out 1 or 2 and think, “If I rate each one on a scale of 1 to 10, how can I bump up my weak 1 to be an 8 or a 9? What do I have to do? What does that look like?” It’s more of an exercise to figure out, “How can I become more well-rounded in this project management game?”
The leader archetype is a lot of what we’d already discussed. It’s the one who always puts the team first. They put the team and the mission before themselves. They’re willing to do thankless tasks in the shadows and not receive any recognition. They create and nurture other leaders. They’re constantly trying to develop other leaders. They take extreme ownership over everything that happens underneath them, around them, and with them.
How does the leader then distinguish doing thankless tasks from being stuck in the weeds?
I wouldn’t say it is stuck in the weeds. Thankless tasks can be something like, “This person on my team needs support in this area. I can see it. Let me go ahead and do this because it’s the right thing to do so that person can get back on track,” or, “Maybe my team’s being a little distracted right now because of something that’s going on. Let me go ahead and take care of that distraction so my team can stay focused on what’s most important.” It’s filling in some gaps of what needs to be supported or where that needs to happen. It could be as simple as staying up in the 30,000-foot range where leaders need to spend most of their time, and not doing it for the recognition. It’s simply giving recognition and recognizing people.Leaders need to spend most of their time just dishing out, not doing it for the recognition, but just simply giving recognition and recognizing people. Click To Tweet
How do you distinguish this idea of thankless tasks from micromanagement? The reason I’m asking this is because I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I’m curious because a lot of leaders get stuck either doing things that other people should be doing or micromanaging people while they’re doing their tasks. That’s what popped into my head when you talked about those thankless tasks. I want to make sure that we’re distinguishing that for the audience so that we can think through this clearly.
Those are two separate things. Micromanaging is never a good thing. You’re going to have to understand that your people are not going to do everything perfectly and exactly how you want it to be done, and that’s fine. If they can get it to 80% or 90%, that’s good enough. That’s okay that it’s not going to be done exactly how you would do it. We got to get out of that mindset of, “That’s okay.” As long as it gets done, It might not be the way you did it exactly or the way you thought you would’ve been doing it exactly. From my personal experience, that has never put me in a bad position or put anyone in a bad position.
If you dealt with micromanaging and doing things that you shouldn’t be doing, you should ask yourself, “Does this thing require my expertise or not?” If not, then you need to delegate that and get that off your plate to someone else. If it does require your expertise, then maybe you should have some involvement in it depending on what it is. That’s usually my indicator of, “I know that my expertise is not needed here. My exact perspective is not needed here. Maybe some of my expertise is, but someone else can do this. I have to get it off my plate because I have to focus on what’s most important. I got to focus on the future and what’s coming down the pipeline.”
Let me highlight that one phrase really quickly. Your exact perspective is not needed. That, to me, is something that you were talking about earlier where a leader needs to let go of their ego sometimes. That’s interesting. Is there anything else on the leader archetype before we move on to the other ones?
Tell me about the communicator archetype.
The communicator archetype is the archetype of the person who is, and you’ve probably seen it, an excellent communicator. It is the person who’s always keeping everyone on the same page. They’re communicating a lot and communicating effectively. They’re tailoring that communication to their audience, to those personalities. They’re thinking about who that is being received by, what they’re doing, and how they might receive it. They’re tailoring that message accordingly.
They communicate with all the tools. They communicate with thoughts, words, visuals, and body language. They got the full spectrum. They are the masters of clear communication. Let me define what that is. Clear communication is when the idea in my head and the idea in your head are the exact same after I communicate it to you. There is a match. When I’m communicating my idea and it goes into your head, it’s the same. I might even double-check, “Do you want to repeat that back to me so I know that we’re on the same page?” You say, “There was one little detail that I may have misunderstood, so let me add that in.” That’s clear communication.
Let me ask you about body language. What is a particular aspect of body language that you focus on when you are communicating?
If I am communicating, I’m going to be making eye contact. I’m going to be listening as well if we’re going back and forth. That is a huge component. There’s more listening than there is speaking in communicating. When I’m listening, I’m going to make sure my body language is open and not closed off to that person.
If someone’s coming to my office and they want to speak, I’ll make sure I open up and address that person. I’ll make sure I make eye contact. I’ll make sure that as I’m listening, I’m nodding at certain points and making sure, “I acknowledge that.” If you keep going, I’m following you. It’s little micro gestures and micro facial expressions that are very important in being understood and making sure someone else is feeling understood as well.
What do you think are some key strategies or tactics you can use to be a better listener?
Body language is one of them. Opening up your body language, maybe not crossing your arms so much.
You’re saying that body language affects your ability to listen?
Yes, it does. Your mind and your words will typically follow your body. There’s a physiological aspect that I’m not an expert on, but people can look that up. There is a connection between body and mind, especially with other people, too. You can notice it in other people. If their language is a little bit closed off, then you can either point something out and it’s opened up a little bit or you can maybe say, “This might not be the right time to talk. I might need to come back at a later time when something’s clearly on a person’s mind.”
As far as listening, it is asking questions during the conversation to make sure that you understand, nodding, and acknowledging like, “That’s interesting.” It is something like that. As the person is talking, it is letting them know that you’re following the message and thinking about this. You’re not worrying about what you’re going to say next. That is huge.
Listen and put your biases aside because that’s another thing. You might be triggered by your certain biases. The way our mind works, you need to put your own ego and perspective out of it and hear the other person’s side. After they’ve got everything they need to say, you can formulate your next move and your actual response. It’s going to be very effective.
We’ve done the communicator. We’ve talked about the leader. We’ve talked about the enforcer to kick off. Tell me about the builder. What do you mean by the builder archetype?
The builder archetype is a master of the art of building and has in-depth knowledge of materials and building systems. He knows how to efficiently run a site and an operation construction-wise. You’re ultimately taking on the superintendent archetype or the superintendent mindset or how they think about things. That is an important component because that’s what we manage. We manage construction.
The more you know about the work, how it’s executed, and what the challenges are for the people who are doing the work, the better manager you can be and the better you can ultimately control your outcome. That’s key. I may have missed that when you asked previously what was a big mistake that a lot of young PEs that come into the industry. They don’t invest enough time into the field learning the building aspect of it and spending time with their superintendents. I made that mistake for a little bit, too. I wish I would’ve done it sooner.
Why do you think PEs make that mistake?
It’s because it’s uncomfortable. It’s outside their comfort zone. When you go on the job site, sometimes, it can be intimidating when there’s a lot going on. These guys are experts. They’re talking a different language. There might be an intimidation factor there. That’s important, investing that time as a young PE and a growing project manager, taking on that builder archetype of learning a lean construction operation, how to reduce waste, and maximize value, and also being able to see what’s not on the plans. You can look at a set of plans, but it doesn’t show everything. A true superintendent or a true builder will able to see the things that aren’t shown there because of what it would take logistically to make that plan a reality.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it because some people may think of themselves as, “I’m a PE and then I’m going to be a PM, and then I’m going to be a PX.” They disconnect themselves in their thinking from the field even though they know the field is where everything gets done. What I like about what you were sharing is the idea of the superintendent mindset. It’s not that you are the superintendent, but you’re learning to think as a superintendent thinks about a project in a more hands-on and direct way. It is so that you get a real feel for what needs to be done as you’re leading a project team in a particular situation.
The way we structure our jobs or I structure is the superintendent is our business partner. We are equal leaders in executing this project. To be able to see it from their perspective is key as a partner. We need to exercise that archetype and embody it.
I’ll make another point on that. If you are a leader in your construction company and you can communicate something of what Kyle was hitting on there in terms of encouraging your PEs and your PMs to take on a superintendent-type perspective, that can help bridge the gaps that occur often between the project side of an organization and the field side of an organization, or the office in the field. Let’s go on to the attorney archetype. That’s an interesting one. Not many builders think of themselves as attorneys. I know where you’re going with this, but explore that with us, please.
The attorney archetype is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the risk management side and compliance side of what we do. I’ve had my mentor tell me in the past, “You’re not just a project manager. Think of yourself as a risk manager. Get your mind on that.” That stuck with me. It’s important because of how we’re all working together and building this project, but we’re all tied together via contracts. We’re all tied together via this contract, like the owner to GC, GC to sub, and sub to vendor.
Everyone’s tied together contractually. You need to know how to navigate the world of contracts. Contracts are often in a bunch of jargon that a lot of people can’t understand. As The Influential Project Manager, you need to be able to be comfortable in that world of contracts and be able to communicate what this means contractually to other people and how to enforce it properly, ethically, and correctly to other people. That is how this game is played and how we manage our risk as organizations.
How does understanding the contract affect a project manager’s ability to influence and gain credibility with the folks who are doing the work out in the field?
For me, I wouldn’t go to the field and talk about anything related to a contract, but my communication would be backed by the contract requirements. I would make sure by knowing the contract and everything that it means, I would help people and guide people to stay within the limits and within the guidelines of the contract. That way, it keeps everyone safe. It’s not a weapon. It’s not something to beat over the head with people. It’s a roadmap. It’s something that all of our companies agreed to and abide by when we went in and set off to execute this project. I would do it to help keep everyone safe. If I know how to articulate it and understand it, then I have the best ability to do that.
Let’s talk about the accountant then. Give us a little bit about the accountant archetype.
The accountant archetype is also what it sounds like. It’s being well-versed in cash and financial literacy. As big-time commercial construction project managers, we are managing millions of dollars. It is big money that has come in across our desks on a daily basis. We need to understand how to organize money, budget a project, manage those budgets, forecast expenses, do these fancy reports, and ultimately understand our money so we can make high-quality informed decisions on our projects.
We are running a business. A project is a mini business. It is very entrepreneurial, which is an aspect I love about what we do. We’re running our own little business, and we need to know how to run our resources properly. Taking on and embodying yourself as the accountant archetype, that person who knows assets, liabilities, expenses, and things of this nature, you give yourself a lot of skillsets that you can make some good decisions and run a good project.
It’s interesting. As you’re describing this, I’m thinking about how you don’t introduce this framework the day that someone gets promoted from PE to PM. It’s something that you’re integrating into your recruiting efforts and your development efforts from day one. You can take a framework like this and emphasize this as someone is growing in the business.
I talk about this with project engineers, superintendents, and project managers. It’s key. Everyone needs to be on board with this.
We’ve talked about the communicator, the enforcer, the builder, the leader, the attorney, and the accountant. One that many people dread is the business development archetype. Tell us about that.
The business development archetype is that persona or that behavior type. It may be the salesman or the person who develops business and relationships because, at the end of the day, we can’t make a career and make a living off of doing one project. It’s not like that. We need to do another one, and we need to keep doing them. We need to keep that in mind as we execute and go about our business. We have to develop very healthy relationships. We want to make sure that there’s a next one, our customer’s satisfied, or our customer is pleased. You’re doing business development-type things. You’re making sure that relationship’s taken care of and they’re satisfied.We need to keep that in mind as we execute and go about our business, we have to develop very healthy relationships. Click To Tweet
That persona and archetype come down to your ability to care about the people on the other side that’s getting the service or who you’re servicing. It’s being charismatic. It’s being a likable person. It’s being a guy that they’re like, “That was a great experience. I really liked working with Kyle. I want to do another project. Not only was this good, but I’m looking forward to the next one we do with them.” It’s getting that repeat business. It’s keeping that in the back of your mind as you’re not only doing the work and managing the issues because things can get a little heated from time to time. It can be stressful, but it is making sure your relationships are intact and taken care of.
I often think about how you are selling the next project as you’re building the current project. The very act of the service that you’re delivering and the way that you interact on a daily basis is selling that next opportunity. Tell me what you mean about charismatic though. When you say charismatic, it could be something like some Tony Robbins dude standing out in front of a bunch of people. Someone reading this may be thinking, “I’m an engineer. I don’t know many engineers that are that charismatic.” What do you mean by that?
What I mean by that is likable. It is a person you’re drawn to. It is like, “I like the way Eric treated me. When I was around Eric, he always made me feel good. He made me feel acknowledged. He’s funny. He had an aura to him that I gravitate towards.” That’s how I’m thinking about that charismatic being. Typically, business development people and salespeople are like that. They’re charismatic. They draw attention and make people feel good, from my experience. That’s why they’re in that role. It is because they attract like they’re magnetic. That’s the word that I’m looking for.
When you say that, some people reading may be thinking, “That’s not me. I got to be a magnetic guy.” What I’d like to suggest to the audience is that if you are a good communicator, a fair enforcer, a skilled builder, or a consistent leader, then it will create magnetism for you that isn’t dependent upon some sort of flashy style. It’s based on the core of who you are as a person, both character-wise and technical-wise. That creates a charisma that is undeniable.
That is well said.
This is great, this framework that you’ve developed. Tell us a little bit more about how you’re using this in your daily interactions and a little bit more about how people can contact you and get to know a little bit more about you.
In my daily interactions, I present this to the people I work with and anyone who wants to learn how to be a better builder or a better project manager. Ultimately, what is most desirable in our business is a predictable outcome. Those are the things that I believe lead to those predictable outcomes. Those behavior types and knowing how to navigate them give you a wide skillset to manage the chaos that comes with a project. I touch on them whenever the situation or the context arises. They often come up some weeks and days. We’ll see a theme and we’ll talk about it. That’s how that is typically discussed.
As far as what I’m doing on the side, I have a little passion project that is called The Influential Project Manager. It’s a weekly newsletter that I send out every Tuesday. Each Tuesday, I’ll do a deep dive on an actionable topic or an actionable idea that relates to what we talked about in this episode, which is becoming a more influential leader and generating a predictable outcome. I’ll talk about industry best practices, productivity, lean construction, and anything in between.
My goal and mission with it is to ultimately generate more leaders inside the industry who will go on and join me in tackling the industry’s biggest problems. We have a few challenges that we’re all working through. The industry is growing and disrupting itself. With more leadership and more people committed to delivering good quality, predictable projects, we will be able to create some change for good. We will make this a more exciting and fun business and, hopefully, draw more new people to it because we need that. That is what my goal is and what I’ve been up to.
I appreciate your time. I have one last question. I know you’re down there in Southern California. If you’re going out for a meal, what’s your favorite restaurant to hit?
I’ll typically hit a farm-to-table type of restaurant. It is something that has got a good protein, whether it be a steak or fish and a nice healthy salad.
Do you have any particular recommendations?
In Southern California, check out the 101 North. That’s a recommendation for you. It’s in Westlake Village.
If you’re ever down there in LA and you want a little farm-to-table, that’s a good tip. Thank you for joining me here. I appreciate your time and your insights. I do wish you the best in all your endeavors.
Thank you. I appreciate it. It was fun.
Thank you for reading my interview with Kyle. Have you ever wondered why project executives and area managers struggle with leading teams? In my experience, it’s because most construction leaders have an engineering background. They’re comfortable with tools, detailed plans, black-and-white specifications, and hard work, but when they step up into senior leadership roles and shift to overseeing people instead of projects, they struggle and fail to reach the profit goals that they’re responsible for. One potential answer to that struggle, particularly for a newly promoted leader, is executive coaching.
What is the role of an executive coach? An executive coach is a sounding board who can help new leaders navigate through the challenges that they’re facing, clearly define goals that they need to achieve, and then hold them accountable for the achievement of those goals. I do a ton of executive coaching like this for my clients.
If you have a leader or leaders in your organization who could use some outside help, reach out to me on my website, ConstructionGenius.com/Contact. Put your details into the contact form. I’ll get in touch with you and we can have a short conversation about if or how I can help you and your company. Thanks again for tuning in to the show. I look forward to you checking out the next episode.
- Kyle Nitchen
- Layton Construction
- The Influential Project Manager
- Restaurant Recommendation: https://www.101NorthEateryAndBar.com/
- Eric’s Book: https://www.Amazon.com/gp/product/B0BHTRDY1T/
About Kyle Nitchen
Kyle is a driven and disciplined professional, committed to delivering predictable outcomes through his expertise in managing large, complex projects. Utilizing lean thinking and principles, he has successfully executed over $300M+ in complex construction projects, unlocking additional benefits through Lean Construction, Last Planner System, Early Design Involvement, A3 Thinking, Building Information Modeling (BIM), Target Value Design, and Visual Management.
Starting his career as a laborer, Kyle gained a comprehensive understanding of both working on and managing construction projects. His diverse project experience spans land development, commercial hospitality, and healthcare, with a focus on leading state-of-the-art HCAI projects on active campuses.
Kyle also curates ‘The Influential Project Manager’, a complimentary weekly newsletter delivered every Tuesday. Specifically designed for Construction Project Managers, this newsletter aims to enhance leadership skills, deepen knowledge of industry best practices, and accelerate career progression. It’s your guide to unlocking the secret of consistently achieving predictable project outcomes.
Kyle currently resides in Los Angeles with his lovely wife, Nataly, and their son, embracing life and growth together.