Practical Ways Young Construction Managers Can Become Effective Leaders

Practical Ways Young Construction Managers Can Become Effective Leaders 1

Between April 2006 through January 2011, nearly two point three million construction jobs were wiped out in the United States during the Great Recession.

The construction industry has not been able to make up for this loss of skilled labor, and today there’s not only a labor shortage in the field, there’s also a leadership gap in both the field and office – and a dire need for young leaders to step up and become effective leaders.

Three things are vital for if you’re a young construction manager and you want to be an effective leader. You must:

  1. Face Reality
  2. Lay a Strong Foundation
  3. Act Like an Adult

When I say “act like an adult,” I don’t mean to be condescending. I know many older people who have no idea what it means to act like an adult. I’ll define very clearly what each point means and give you 14 tips for behaviors that demonstrate adult leadership.


Don’t get cocky when you get promoted
NFL football is nationwide obsession from September – February in the United States. It’s a violent game, and injuries happen all the time. When a player is unable to compete because of their injuries, the cliché that coaches always go to is “Next Man Up!” They have a schedule of games to play. They’ve got fans to entertain. When one player goes down, no matter how good they are, the next man has to step up and play.

You're young, you get promoted into a leadership role, and you may think that you're pretty sweetYou’re young, you get promoted into a leadership role, and you may think that you’re pretty sweet. In reality, you may just be the next man or woman up. So don’t get a fat head when you get that new position.

You have lots to learn
If you’re self-aware, you know this is true.  You need to grow in:

  • Institutional knowledge
  • Technical knowledge
  • Relational knowledge

You need institutional knowledge
If you’re in leadership with a company that’s been around for 10+ years, there’s a deep well of knowledge that you can tap. What are the values of the company? Do you understand the strategy the company is pursuing or its value proposition? Do you know the niche that you’re going after? Where are the levers of power in the organization? How do you get things done in a pinch? When you need supplies and equipment delivered to the job site today, whom do you call? Who’s skillful at organizing crews when the schedule is tight. Who’s an expert at getting bills paid?

You must grow in your technical knowledge
Reading books will bring you up to speed on the latest trends and cutting-edge technology, but there is no substitute for time in the industry. Construction is a science, and an art. Acquiring that instinct for the technical aspects of your trade takes time bidding and building projects, actually doing the work.

Relational knowledge is vital
Just because you are in a leadership position doesn’t mean that you’ve arrived. Spend extra time getting to know people building relationships and building credibility with folks.

After you’ve faced reality, the next thing to do is:

Lay a Strong Foundation

Combining a clear vision with an understanding of the skillsYou have an incredible opportunity
What is your vision for your career? Where do you want to be as a leader in three to five years from now? Paint a vivid picture of what you see yourself achieving and the influence you have on others. As you consider your future, give serious thought to how you are going to get there by developing your unique abilities. Combining a clear vision with an understanding of the skills that set you apart will provide you with a strong foundation for leadership success.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the top one to three assignments, projects, or achievements I need to develop expertise and my track record?
  • What are the top one to three key skills or knowledge I need to acquire?
  • The top five mentors, industry leaders, functional experts, and other key people I need to know, and whom I don’t know now?
  • Any specific formal education and training that will help me achieve my career vision.

After you’ve faced reality, and laid a strong foundation for your future success, the final thing you must do is: Act Like an Adult

14 Behaviors of an Adult (Regardless of Age)

1. Be patient
As a young leader, it’s natural to be energetic in executing your role, but be patient in terms of your career trajectory. Build your career consistently, improve your technical and people’s skills.

Be patient with yourself.
You’re going to make mistakes, and when you do, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, take accountability for your errors, fix them if you can, and move on.

Be patient with others.
Did you get promoted into leadership and hop over someone older than you? Don’t be surprised if they resent you. Don’t take it personally, be patient with them, do your best to show that you value them and their contribution.

Be patient in executive meetings.
You may walk into executive meetings with other leaders in your company, full of good ideas about how to improve the business. Understand that you need to build credibility with the executive team before your thoughts gain acceptance. Take things slowly, and don’t expect everything to change overnight.

2. Be useful
Strive to serve people who report to you and other teams and departments in your company. Understand that you have a new role and that you must not only advocate for your team, but you must also have the perspective of helping the business as a whole because that’s what leaders do. They overcome the natural silos that occur in construction and seek to be of benefit to the entire organization.

3. Don’t be jealous
Be happy when others in your company do well. Find out why they succeeded, imitate them, and seek to help them to greater heights. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they got lucky. If you see someone in your organization who has a particular skill or ability that you don’t have and you understand how they might be able to leverage that skill to benefit the organization, promote them to use that skill as much as possible.

4. Don’t boast
Allow the quality of your work to speak for itself. Quality in construction screams. You don’t need to lobby for recognition. Just work. If you’re going to boast, boast in your team, not in yourself.

5. Don’t be arrogant
Don’t allow success to inflate your ego. Think about what you can do to improve and increase your contribution and impact. When you get into that leadership role, don’t get sloppy and lazy. Keep in mind what you can do to improve and increase your contribution and impact. One good year isn’t enough to be successful in construction. Play the long game of incremental improvement, project after project, year after year. Have the mindset that as a leader, you’re always learning, growing, and improving.

6. Adapt yourself to others
Great leaders are willing to adapt themselves to others without violating their values. Study how others prefer to communicate and work and ask yourself how can you contribute to their success. If you’re working with older people, adapt your language to the older generation, and communicate directly and respectfully. Please don’t use your technical knowledge as a weapon, but use it as a tool to help others. Be kind to your elders – they could teach you a lot.

Be yourself when you go into the field. You don’t have to front. You don’t have to fake it. You don’t have to try and be some rough, tough construction dude if you’re not. Earn credibility by going out into the field, looking your guys and your gals in the eyes and asking them what they need to be successful. When they tell you, do everything in your power to get it for them.

7. Stop worrying about a raise or promotion
Good help is hard to find. Focus on being good help – and perks, raises, bonuses, and promotions will follow. If you’re working for a quality company, you will have no problems reaping the financial rewards.

8. Don’t get offended
You work in the adult world now. You’re not in college or high school anymore. In the real world, people have different opinions, perspectives, and lifestyles. There are different religions, political views, and different outlooks on life. Get used to it.

9. Don’t keep track of offenses
There is an old saying from the Book of Job – “Like sparks fly upward, so man is born for trouble.” People are going to offend you and do you wrong. Don’t keep track of those offenses. It’s a waste of your time and your energy. Just keep working and making a contribution.

10. Help others when they fail
Resist the temptation to be happy when others fail. Yes, even your rivals. Try and help them recover. Maybe they’ll be there to help you through your failures.

11. Recognize others
When you notice people excelling, sincerely praise them and tell others about their efforts. In construction, it takes a team to build a project. The guys in the field build. The folks in the office plan and administer. Everyone has a role to play. Make a point of personally and sincerely recognizing their hard work.

12. Don’t gossip
As you get into leadership roles and sit in executive meetings, you’re going to hear things about the company that may surprise you, and even shock you. Human beings do stupid stuff. Don’t gossip about it. If you need to say something to somebody about ethics or behavior that’s unacceptable – of course – go and talk to the right people. However, don’t be tempted to join the “water cooler” talk. That’s a complete waste of time.

13. Be brave
Good leaders hold people accountable and have difficult conversations. Don’t shy away from that pain. Embrace it, knowing that the more you deal directly with the issues, the more impactful you’ll be.

14. Be generous
Don’t hoard your time, energy, and resources. It’s not all about your project or department. Get your head up and think about the overall good of the organization. Understand that you are playing a long game, with a company that’s playing a long game and the profitability of does not define your career. If you have to share resources and your profit suffers just a little bit, be okay with that, and don’t allow silos to damage your company’s success.

In conclusion, if you are a young manager, and you want to make that shift to being a successful leader, the things three things you need to do is number one, face reality. Number two, lay a strong foundation. Finally, number three, act like an adult.

You must commit to incremental improvement over a long periodAs you read this, you might be overwhelmed by what you need to do to become an effective leader.
That’s why you must commit to incremental improvement over a long period. If you’re just 1 percent better as a leader every 90 days, that’s going to have a significant impact on you and your career over the course of three to five or ten years!

To help you overcome the sense of overwhelm, you should try using the Construction Leaders Dashboard.
Here’s what Chris Barkley, Director of Field Operations at Teichert Construction, says about the Dashboard: “Our business ramps up in the summer, and when things are going crazy, our (General Superintendents) keep our field operations running smoothly. They tell me that using the Construction Leaders Dashboard framework that Eric introduced to them has been awesome because they’ve been able to put pen to paper, clarify their personal goals, and relate them to their leadership responsibilities and Teichert’s objectives. It’s helped to simplify their focus and anchor them back into what they’ve committed to accomplishing this season.”

The Construction Leaders Dashboard will empower you to focus on what matters so that you spend your time doing the things that have the most significant impact on your company and the people you lead.

Click this link to download the Dashboard.