Last edited 08 Jul 2021

Leadership on design and construction projects

See also: Leadership styles.

Leadership is as important to the internal culture of construction organisations as it is in any other sector. Effective leadership is vital if a client’s needs are to be met and business improvement is to be maintained.

Leadership is a complex process that encompasses a wide range of behaviours, styles and traits, but the aim of leadership at its most simple is to successfully influence others to accomplish an objective.

The concepts of management and leadership are often confused. Managers tend to employ what are termed ‘hard skills’, i.e. planning, directing, organising, and so on. They are occupied with establishing clear targets, driving correct and best practice and making short-term decisions and plans. Whereas, leaders tend to employ ‘soft skills’, i.e. guiding, influencing, motivating, risk-taking, innovating and have a longer-term perspective.

Daniel Goleman popularised the theory that effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence, with four key characteristics:

Other commonly cited traits of effective leadership include:

  • Enthusiasm.
  • Champion of change.
  • Good communicator.
  • Risk-tolerant.
  • Visionary.
  • Brave.
  • Motivational/inspirational.
  • Leads by example.
  • Good delegator.
  • Open to advice and other opinions.

It has been argued that the ‘ideal leader’ does not exist, and rather it is the combination of different factors dependent on the specific circumstance of the organisation or project that contribute to a strong leadership style.

In relation to construction, Chan’s 2008 case study involving 15 industry leaders identified three instrumental factors in leadership development; people, places and events.

The 1998 Egan ReportRethinking Construction’ identified ‘committed leadership’ as one of five key drivers of change for the industry. Egan defined this as follows:

Management believing in, and being totally committed to, driving forward an agenda for improvement and communicating the required cultural and operational changes throughout the whole of the organisation. In construction, there is no part of the industry which can escape this requirement: it affects constructors, suppliers and designers alike.’

A 2008 report called ‘Leadership in the construction industry’ by CIOB found that there was a stark lack of leadership within the industry. Research suggested that within larger construction companies, 18% were not developing their leaders in any way, and 45% had no formal succession plan or leadership strategy.

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