The Supervisor's Charge

A project delivery system (PDS) defines how a project is organized, managed and executed, and those systems used for construction have evolved since their conception. Construction originally was carried out under the leadership of a master builder who took responsibility for the entire project from concept to completion. This person typically was a master craftsman who understood design adequately to both design and build the structure. Often design and construction were concurrent such that the design evolved as the construction was in process.

Over time, both design and construction became more specialized, and the designer separated from the constructor, with the designer taking responsibility for product concept and the constructor taking responsibility to design and execute the processes of construction. As the industry advanced further, design evolved into specialty areas under the leadership of the architect, and construction evolved into specialty areas under the leadership of the general contractor (GC) or the construction manager (CM).

Today, the design team consists of the architect; consulting engineers from areas such as electrical, civil and mechanical; and other specialty consultants in areas such as communications and security. Construction today is carried out primarily by specialty contractors (SCs) under the leadership of a GC, who may or may not perform some of the work and who subcontracts out what is not self performed.

Another popular scenario today is where a CM, hired by the owner to manage the construction on the owner’s behalf, coordinates the SCs who are now prime contractors, contracting directly with the owner.

A key feature of today’s construction industry is that, under any scenario, SCs do the actual work. One of the most prominent SCs is the electrical contractor.

Over the last half century, PDSs have evolved to accommodate this diversity in the construction industry. The most relevant PDSs to the electrical contractor are design/bid/build (DBB), design/build (DB), agency construction management (ACM), construction management at risk (CMAR), and job order contracting (JOC).

However, before considering the various PDSs, we need to define a few of the typical responsibilities of the field supervisor under most PDSs. A GC or CM superintendent is responsible for coordinating all of the work on-site. If the GC performs work, the superintendent will coordinate through the various foremen that work for the GC and through the lead supervisor of the various SCs. If the GC does not perform work or if there is a CM in lieu of a GC, the superintendent coordinates through the lead supervisors of the various SCs. The GC or CM superintendent typically does not have authority to direct the work of craft workers or crews. The superintendent can only work through the designated representative of each of the SCs. Chain of command is very important to the organization on any construction job.

Lines of communication also are important. The GC superintendent, by contract, can communicate only with a designated person in each SC, and the SC’s designated person can communicate directly only with the GC superintendent. Lines of communication are more flexible than chain of command. In fact, efficiency in job execution depends on informal lines of communication among the supervisors on the job. Official lines of communication must be maintained, but back-door communication is vital to the smooth operation of the job.

The GC superintendent also has the responsibility to coordinate the job in the best interest of all of the contractors on the job, recognizing that this is the best way to accomplish the overall goal of giving the project owner the best possible project. In like manner, each SC supervisor also has the responsibility to work with the GC superintendent and the other SC supervisors to protect the interests of each contractor on the project. On good projects, this attitude of all-for-one and one-for-all prevails. On projects that seem to fall apart, the spirit of working for the good of all is generally lost with the “every man for himself” attitude.

Having defined several universal supervisory responsibilities, next month we will consider five of the most common PDSs and how the responsibilities of the supervisor change based on what PDS is used on a project.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at

About the Author

Bob Segner

Supervision Columnist
Bob Segner is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at .

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