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Before we get into construction leadership styles, here’s a question for you:
What are the first images that come to mind when you think of an active construction site?
Do you imagine a well-organized and clean project site? Are members of the construction crews’ uniform in appearance with hard hats and safety glasses in place, quietly going about their assigned duties and tasks? Is the project running below budget, ahead of schedule and with zero unanticipated problems?
This would be utopia. And it is highly unlikely.
In reality, construction sites are typically controlled chaos. In a construction management course that I took through Drexel University, the instructor stated that an active construction site was the peace time equivalent to war.
Battles, and ultimately wars, are won or lost in large part through leadership. In similar fashion, construction projects are made successful or become failures in large part based on the leaders who are guiding the project from its start to its completion.
It is said that systems and processes are managed while people are led. People are essential to the success of a construction site. People require leadership which in turn requires a leader. The quality of the leader will have a significant effect on how the members of the construction crews perform. Their performance will either lead to a successful project or to a loss.
The style of leadership employed by the leaders on a construction site will have a direct impact on how the construction project turns out. The right type of leader will draw a great performance from the crews. Poor leadership will lead to splintered teams and a loss of morale and focus on the project site.
There are many different leadership styles that can be employed by leaders. Leaders should adjust their style based on the situation while avoiding certain types of leadership styles all together.
1. Pacesetting Leadership
Pacesetters do just that, they set the pace for their groups and teams that they are leading. A leader on a construction site who is a pacesetter will establish the standards and exhibit the behaviors that they want to see and expect from their teams.
2. Coaching Leadership
Coaches build their teams and the individuals on those teams. They focus on the long-term growth for members of their teams and look for opportunities to teach new skills and knowledge. They understand that long-term future success comes from building the knowledge, skills and abilities of their team members now.
3. Servant Leadership
Servant leaders look for opportunities to meet the needs of their team members. They look to remove impediments to allow for greater opportunities for success. These leaders choose to give the credit to the team and take satisfaction in seeing the overall team win and achieve their goals.
While there are multiple leadership styles that can positively impact the performance of a construction site, there are also different leadership styles that can negatively impact construction sites operations.
1. Laissez-Faire Leadership
Laissez-Faire is defined as a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering. Construction projects are defined by a scope of work with an intended deadline for delivery. Letting things take their own course on a construction site can result in missed deadlines, non-adherence to specifications and unsafe work practices.
2. Command/Control Leadership
Most of us who have worked on and around construction sites have run into superintendents and foremen who micro-manage operations. They act like dictators on project sites. These leaders drive their crews to the point where they burn out the team. Employee turnover is a major problem on their crews. Command and control leadership can be used when there are extreme situations that demand immediate reaction, but those times should be limited.
3. Charismatic Leadership
Charismatic leadership is characterized by leaders who influence others through their personality. Charismatic leadership can work as the overall leader of a company to inspire performance. However, very rarely does this style work on an active construction site. Crews typically are not motivated in a positive fashion just because a charismatic leader walks onto the project site. Crews are more likely to be motivated by leaders who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get into it up to their elbows.
Learning when to use the right tool at the right time is a key skill that all employees in the construction industry must master for their specific trade. In similar fashion, leaders must learn when to use specific leadership styles at the appropriate times in order to maximize their effectiveness in leading their crews and companies.
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