Managing Construction Crews: 5 Characteristics of Great Leaders

qualities of a good construction managerAccording to a recent Gallup survey, more than 75 percent of people left their last job because they didn't like working for their immediate supervisor. This underscores the importance of having managers who not only know how to get the job done, but also know how to create a rewarding work environment for their employees.

The construction industry has been especially challenged in this area. Many construction companies have made it common practice to turn their best workers into leaders. While these standout employees tend to have a strong level of technical expertise, they often lack the necessary understanding of how to lead.

"As careers and people grow, it becomes less about technical expertise and more about interpersonal skills," says Peggy Newquist, a principal at Constructing Opportunity LLC.

Leading vs. Managing People

"Leaders have people who follow them while managers have people who work for them," Newquist says. Of course, employees also work for their perceived leader. The difference is that those employees want to work for their leader. Conversely, employees feel like they have to work for their manager.

So how does a manager become a leader who inspires employees to follow them? The first step is acknowledging that there is also a difference between "leading people" and "managing tasks." Tasks have to be completed as efficiently as possible. Leading, on the other hand, requires dedication, patience and time.

Consider the following scenario: An employee is not comfortable working with one of their co-workers. As a result, there is a lack of communication and coordination between the two that is affecting overall team performance.

A manager might deal with this situation by simply putting the two employees on separate teams. This is an efficient, non-confrontational way to resolve the situation. But it doesn't really solve anything. A leader will strive to identify the root cause of the conflict by mediating between the two employees.

"A leader will describe how the conflict is impacting the entire team, and then stress the importance of working things out together," Newquist says. "That's what leaders want to do, as opposed to just telling employees what they need to do. When leaders just tell employees what to do, they are using their positional power. That always comes back to haunt leaders if they use it too often. This command-and-control style may have worked great in the 1980s and 90s, but is not going to help attract and retain the next generation of our workforce."

managing construction crews5 Characteristics of Great Leaders

1. Self-confident and positive. Employees want to know that their leaders have a plan, especially during difficult times. That doesn't mean leaders need to sugarcoat anything. Leaders just need to be open, honest and positive. When leaders are confident in what the company is doing, employees will be confident, too.

2. Emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is getting a lot of attention in today's workplace environment. "Being emotionally intelligent is about balancing the head and the heart," Newquist explains. "Leaders need to keep their own emotions in check while recognizing and managing the emotions of those around them. It's about displaying empathy. Leaders don't have to dive down into the muck with their employees, but they must understand that it could be a difficult situation for employees."

Emotional intelligence also involves being open and clear with communication. Having good listening skills is a big part of that.

"It's important to remember that as a leader, you are always being watched," Newquist adds. "When you're open to being empathetic, your employees will be more open to that as well."

3. Transformational. The transformational characteristic is another one that is taking on a higher level of importance. This is a tough one for a lot of leaders to master. When you're stuck dealing with the day to day, it's difficult to paint a compelling vision for the future.

"People want to feel like their leaders know what is going to happen — or at least are planning for what might happen," Newquist says. "Leaders need to work on their strategic thinking skills. They also have to be able to articulate their thoughts and vision. If leaders can't get their transformational thoughts across to employees, nobody is going to be inspired."

To develop a compelling vision, a leader must first allow themselves to slow down and think. Even if they need to block time off on the calendar to force themselves to do it, it must be done. Maybe that "thinking time" happens on a treadmill or in the car on the way home from work. It doesn't matter — leaders just need to take time to think.

4. Lead by example. This trait goes without saying, yet is allusive to many leaders. If a leader wants their employees to be accountable for what they do, the leader must be accountable for what he or she does. If leaders want their employees to follow them, leaders must walk the talk.

5. Help employees shine. Good leaders are eager to give credit to their employees. Good leaders are also willing to give employees the room to make decisions and make an impact. Again, the command-and-control style of managing is a thing of the past. Now it's about creating an environment to bring out the best in employees, and then give employees the necessary room to show you their best.

construction management best practicesHow Leaders Create a More Motivating Environment

Most people think the biggest motivator in the workplace is money. For some employees, that is true. For most, it isn't. For most people, motivation is intrinsic and comes from within. "Leaders must create a working environment that fosters and nurtures motivation," Newquist says.

Psychologists have identified three needs that ignite personal motivation:

  • Autonomy. Humans like to have choices. That is why micromanagement tends to backfire so often. Yes, companies need to have processes and standard operating procedures in place. But it also helps to give employees the opportunity to get things done their own way — as long as efficiency, quality and safety are not compromised.
  • Relatedness. This is about knowing how they fit into the bigger picture. Employees want to make a contribution. When they understand how their specific job helps the company reach certain goals or fulfill its mission, intrinsic motivation can happen.
  • Competence – Building on the above point, most people want to do their jobs well. It is a leader's job to set clear expectations, and then provide good training and feedback to help meet those expectations.

It's interesting to note that those three psychological needs are interrelated. Competence feeds relatedness, and relatedness inspires the desire for autonomy. At each step, good leaders play a vital role in bringing out the best in employees. As the leader of any team, it's not about you anymore. Now it's about them.

This article is based on a presentation given by Peggy Newquist at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020. Newquist is a principal at Constructing Opportunity LLC, an organization that provides leadership development, mentoring and people skills training with emphasis on gender diversity in the construction industry. Visit for more information.