Set your Sights on the Right Site Supervisors
Site supervisors play an important role in supervising and training the field workforce and managing projects. According to O*Net Online, there will be 70,700 job openings for frontline supervisors of construction between 2020 and 2030. With a workforce of 692,200 employees, and a median wage of $72,010 annually, there are ample opportunities for advancement for craft professionals.
Traditionally, the people who exhibited the best craft skills were the people who moved into field leadership positions. The problem with that is that there are other skills needed to be a good leader. They are required to assign work, maintain and supervise work progress, verify proper safety practices, and develop look-ahead schedules. Additionally, they are expected to be leaders that are fair, motivational, and ethical. Making sure you have the right person in that position requires being intentional with selecting and training crew leaders.
NCCER defines the role of a foreman as follows: “The construction foreman interprets management goals, objectives, and policies; communicates these goals to the crew, and translates them into an action plan. The foreman motivates and leads diverse groups of people and has knowledge in the trade area they’re supervising. The foreman verifies that tools and equipment are available, ensures a safe work environment, plans work, and adapts to changes in the schedule as necessary.”
Having a big picture of the project and communicating and directing others to achieve the ultimate goal of completing the project according to the plan is not necessarily intuitive. According to an article by Colin Baker published by Leaders Media, “Too often, teams struggle with the challenges they face, from low productivity to workplace conflict, all of which threaten to derail projects. The solution involves having team leaders who can motivate and guide their team members. However, possessing those leadership skills doesn’t always come naturally.”
Leaders Media goes on to explain that there is a difference between leadership skills, such as communication, delegation, listening, accountability, and qualities that make good leaders, such as acting as a servant leader, having ethical behavior, and being authentic.
In research released this month by NCCER about women working in construction, female craft workers both self-identified and were recognized by management as being better communicators on the job than their male counterparts. In addition, they are more likely to adhere to established policy, be focused on team performance rather than individual performance, are detail oriented, and focused on safety.
Additional data affirms the positive impact tradeswomen have on overall crew performance. A survey of construction craft professionals conducted as part of the Construction Industry Institute RT-370 asked 2,780 construction craft professionals about their perceptions of a number of issues. Respondents were asked to rate their personal performance record (including safety, attendance, quality, productivity, and initiative) for the previous year. Respondents with at least one female member on their work crew reported a higher individual performance score than those in all male crews, and the difference was statistically significant.
As previously identified, these are the kinds of skills needed in site leaders, and this represents an opportunity for both women and employers. However, a survey of 272 tradeswomen found that 57% had never had a woman supervisor. Women who participated in NCCER’s focus groups for its Women in Construction research (In Her Own Words: Enhancing Project Outcomes) also noted the importance of offering training to increase the representation of women in site leadership roles.
To assist employers with transitioning craft workers into supervisory roles, NCCER has released an updated fourth edition of its Fundamentals of Crew Leadership program. The curriculum now reflects a more modern approach to front-line leadership, including working with diverse crews to build motivated and successful teams, how to address performance issues and how to manage conflict. It also has practical applications for project leadership, including workface planning, field reporting, and resource control.
Finally, as employers become more intentional with identifying and preparing field leaders to meet the project demand, it’s worth noting additional research regarding how supervisors should spend their time. Data collected from more than 1,400 supervisors identified how supervisors allocate their time on a daily basis. According to Construction Industry Institute Report RT-330, frontline supervisors should spend 60% of their time supervising craft professionals, but RT-370 found they actually only spend 37% of their time doing so. Instead, they are involved in a disproportionate amount of administration, planning and other tasks.
This is concerning primarily because the craft workforce today is overall less experienced than in the past and would benefit from more involvement from supervisors at the work site. As companies consider adopting new technologies or processes to improve site operations, consideration should be given to how the change will impact frontline supervision and their ability to spend time supervising the workforce.
Site supervision is critical to successful project outcomes. Companies would benefit from examining the skills needed for successful frontline supervision, expanding the pool of candidates for supervisor positions, providing training for both new and experienced supervisors, and adopting technologies and processes that enable frontline supervisors to spend more time with the workforce.