Scapegoat or Hero?

Scapegoating is a hostile social behavior by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and toward a target person or group. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism.

Heroes throughout history are people who have exhibited five common traits, according to descriptions found at These are :1 fearless courage, 2 a commitment to applied actions, 3 a compulsion to learn to be the best they can, 4 a tireless desire to explore new methods and ideas and 5 a humble nature born of love and compassion.

Do either of these descriptions fit your perception of a job foreman in electrical contracting? When a job goes well, who gets the credit? And when things go awry, who gets the blame? Chances are the foreman gets more of the latter and less of the former. It just seems to be human nature. Should that situation in your company be explored and, possibly, corrected? In fact, just what is the expected role of job foreman in your company and how does it impact your bottom line? This is a management concern that gets too little discussion, but it might be critical to the growth and success of any electrical contracting company because job foremen are on the cutting edge of company performance. In fact, the customer’s perception of your firm may depend on the performance of your job foremen.

If he or she performs like a hero, customers often remember a job foreman for a long time. Consider this testimonial posted by Roman Electric Company on its Web site, “Roman’s foreman Sam Kozaczok, project manager Barry Dickenson and design engineer Phil Rose were very cooperative, excellent at coordinating activities and got all the elements in place as needed. The electrical inspector said we were lucky to have an electrical foreman like Sam because of his intelligence, knowledge and desire to get things done right.” It is little wonder that successful electrical contracting companies, such as Roman Electric, covet good job foremen and do all they can to help develop foremanship skills for the future.

Just what is expected from a job foreman? A lot, it seems. One answer to that question is provided by a comprehensive job description published by the city of Phoenix, Ariz. The city has done a fantastic job of describing the electrical job foreman’s role in great detail. It begins with the purpose of the job classification for a foreman and moves through detailed skill descriptions.

“The fundamental reason this classification exists is to supervise skilled electricians in the installation, alteration, maintenance and repair of electrical systems, equipment and fixtures,” the description reads. “The incumbent assigns duties and inspects the work of a small group of electricians and helpers and personally performs some of the more difficult electrical tasks. Responsibilities also include inspection of existing facilities and installations, and making suggestions for alterations and revisions. Assignments are made by written or oral instructions of work to be done and work is reviewed for results in meeting the operating requirements of the system.”

Essential functions of a job foreman

• Plans and supervises the work of skilled electricians performing electrical installation, maintenance and repair work;

• Trains and provides vocational development of subordinates;

• Estimates supplies and materials needed by electricians and requests that they be ordered;

• Reviews for accuracy the written reports of others, such as time cards, mileage sheets and work reports;

• Reviews and updates maintenance procedures of electricians, making recommendations for improvements;

• Inspects facilities and installations and recommends alterations or revisions;

• Monitors the workmanship and performance of subordinates by inspecting projects assigned to and completed by them;

• Remains aware of changes in the electrical field by reading, attending training, actively participating in the day-to-day activities on the job, etc.;

• Demonstrates continuous effort to improve operations, decrease turnaround times, streamline work processes and work cooperatively and jointly to provide quality, seamless customer service.

Required knowledge and abilities

Knowledge of:

• Electrical construction and maintenance practices.

• Procedures for installing all sizes of electrical, communications and data conduit, cables, wires, switches, automatic starting equipment, pole line construction, etc.

• Standard practices, materials and tools of the electrical trade.

• The hazards and safety precautionary methods peculiar to the trade.

• Municipal electrical code applicable to installation, maintenance and repair work.

• Modern communications equipment that connects job site to office.

Ability to:

• Locate and repair defects in electrical systems.

• Perform a broad range of supervisory responsibilities over others.

• Accurately estimate time and materials needed for installation and repair jobs from blueprints or work plans.

• Read and work from drawings and specifications.

• Understand and effectively carry out oral and written instructions.

• Work cooperatively with other construction employees and the public.

• Use electrical test equipment as needed.

• Use graphic instruction such as blueprints, schematic drawings, layouts or other visual aids.

• Read, interpret and comply with local codes and the National Electrical Code.

• Communicate effectively with customers, clients or public using a variety of methods.

• Produce written documents with clearly organized thoughts using proper sentence construction, punctuation and grammar.

• Review or check the work products of others for conformance to standards.

• Calculate quantities, trends, times, distances, measurements, weights, electrical loads, etc., using arithmetic and algebra as needed.

• Work under pressure to handle significant problems and tasks that come up simultaneously and/or unexpectedly, approaching deadlines, etc.

• Work safely without presenting a direct threat to self or others.

• Establish priorities for own workload based upon such factors as need for immediate action, work objectives, work schedule, knowledge of future needs, etc.

• Exercise independent initiative and judgment in accordance with accepted practices.

Additional requirements

Some assignments require the performance of other essential and marginal functions depending upon work location, assignment or shift.

Some positions require the use of personal or employer vehicles on official business. Individuals must be physically capable of operating the vehicles safely, possess a valid commercial driver’s license and have an acceptable driving record.

How in the world can a typical electrical journeyman compile all the necessary knowledge and skills to become a job foreman? Obviously, the desire to do so comes first. Moving from “doer” to “leader” is not for everyone, and the anticipated benefits may not seem worth the burdens. For those who accept the challenge among its member companies, NECA conducts a comprehensive three-level Electrical Project Supervision (EPS) course sponsored by and conducted through its local area chapters. The program “draws on talents of local instructors who have foremanship experience. The program is designed for considerable interaction among participants—encouraging them to learn from one another.”

The first EPS course level is appropriate for newer supervisors to broaden their understanding of the responsibilities and to provide necessary tools and techniques of existing and emerging areas. In the second level, participants learn to become part of the management team. Level three takes them one step further, developing the supervisor through business realities, networking and negotiating, external communications, managing human relations, job site material and schedule management, cash flow and contract case studies.

Job foremen usually carry out their assignments quietly and professionally, with appropriate balance in loyalty toward both the crews they supervise and the employers they represent. This is not an easy assignment as they must work with one foot in the field and the other in the office. Sometimes they wish things could be a little better. From a few experienced foremen, who wish to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, came the following short “wish list.”

More timely support from upper management would be appreciated. If signed company documents are needed to document job conditions that could impact future claims, they should be forthcoming without prodding from the foreman. Materials should be ordered, packaged and delivered to avoid waste of labor hours in delays beyond control of the foreman. Crews should be formed and assigned for the job duration without undue relocations in crews that disrupt productivity and require inefficient repeats of the learning curve. The foreman should be included in planning job cost accounting to help assure that numerical cost codes are beneficial and not onerous, or worse yet, counterproductive. Foremen should be given appropriate discretion in scheduling, material handling and tools and equipment usage to maximize productivity.

Good job foremen know that in life they can’t get everything they like, so they must be satisfied with what they get. But upper management can do a lot more for the bottom line by ensuring the role of job foremen is assigned to capable people who are trained, equipped and authorized to do the best job possible. Then, your customers may realize how lucky they were to have your company on their project and your firm may look more like a hero than a scapegoat. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or


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