Managing resources outsied the span of control

Last month’s article introduced the concept of managing resources outside the span of control. Now, let’s see if we can identify the resources that are outside the span of control. A supervisor accomplishes work not by using craft tools and skills but by working through others. In other words, a supervisor brings together diverse resources and focuses them on executing work to provide a product.

Some resources are physical, such as tools and equipment. Many resources are not physical but rather take forms like information, clarifications and permission. For the supervisor, much of this information and permission comes from those above them or outside the direct chain of command. Yet, it is still the responsibility of the supervisor to bring these resources to the job at the right time and place to support the physical work. Where do these non-physical resources reside?

Anyone that can add value to a job can be considered a resource to that job. Within the company, resources to the job include the project manager, estimator, purchasing manager, information manager and even the company executive ultimately responsible for this job.

Outside the company, resources to the job are the designer (including but not limited to the architect, engineer and perhaps other consultants), the owner, the general contractor or construction manager, and supervisors working for all the other specialty contractors on the job.

Of course, there are many others who add value to the job, such as inspectors, and those working for many governmental agencies, such as building authorities and safety officials. In short, there is a vast array of resources the supervisor must be able to influence to successfully accomplish the job.

The first step to influencing these resources is to establish an environment of trust and respect. This is done so those who provide resources to the project recognize when you have a request, that request is in the best interest of the project, not from a standpoint of personal gain, ego or simply protecting your turf or your company. An environment of trust is established over a long period of time by demonstrating honesty and integrity. You need to say what you do and do what you say.

You must demonstrate respect, speak quietly and listen intently to others. You cannot have hidden agendas or be motivated by personal gain or personal vendettas. You must be knowledgeable and demonstrate a thorough understanding of the project as a whole and the part your workers play in the project. You must be thoroughly prepared when interacting with others, so you can communicate clearly. When questions arise, you must be able to provide a well-informed response or to acknowledge that the question needs more thought and that you will return without delay with a response.

Being personally prepared is essential in working with others, especially those outside the span of control. That may mean learning new skills through training and practice. Do I need to learn to speak and write better to learn more about the other professionals with whom I am working? Do I need to develop skills in negotiating or persuasion? Just as we learned craft skills as an apprentice, we can learn these new skills through training and practice.

Another part of setting the stage is to look for and create opportunities to interact with those who might be able to add value to the job. Look for opportunities to interact with others at meetings, both during the meeting and outside the meeting, either before or after. Make it a point to talk with as many meeting participants as possible, and make sure they know who you are. Set up informal lines of communication by asking if you can call directly for questions and clarifications.

However, since construction projects typically have a well-defined protocol for communication, make sure those in the formal line of communication between you and those with whom you set up informal lines of communication understand what you are doing and approve, and always copy the appropriate people on any communication.

Outside of meetings, look for other ways to establish and nurture relationships. Owners and designers often make site visits. If you see one such person on the site, make it a point to pass by and say hello. If you have a question or a need, such a chance encounter might give you the opportunity to bring that up on an informal basis.

Next month, we will consider what can be done to exert influence once the environment is set up. EC

Rounds is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at rsegner@archmail.tamu.edu.