Leadership Styles in the Construction Industry

Lisa LaNoue
January 27, 2022

It’s no secret the construction industry is facing some staggering challenges.

With talent shortages reaching crisis level and safety an ever-present concern, the industry needs to find innovative solutions to leverage new contracts and growth opportunities. Industry leadership will play a huge role in putting the right pieces in place to succeed — but only if they  foster the right leadership styles in the construction industry to effectively lead firms through these challenges.

No single leadership style will produce instant results. So how can construction firms identify the right leaders for each scenario they will encounter?

The solution requires nuance. Construction firms need to foster a blend of styles for the different situations and circumstances their workforce encounters. The leadership style needed onsite, for example, isn’t the same style vital to developing your workforce internally. The key to growth is recognizing different leadership styles and the unique benefits each one brings to specific scenarios in the construction industry.

Here are the leadership styles that will unleash your firm’s potential.

Democratic Leaders Facilitate Success

The top leadership tier of your construction firm—the executive level—relies on democratic leaders for success. Those using this leadership style take other people’s thoughts and opinions into account before making big decisions. Democratic leaders gather information from trusted sources before reaching any final conclusions, especially when their choices could impact the entire organization.

Democracy is crucial at the executive level because leaders at the very top are focused on bigger picture issues. They depend on those in the middle to communicate concerns that could negatively affect those on the ground. Democratic leaders look to the next level of leaders and foremen who work directly on the frontlines to provide the information they need to make the best possible choices for the company as a whole.

For example, an executive leader may decide to shift the firm’s focus from residential to primarily commercial contracts. But if that leader doesn’t consult the next level of leadership (such as heads of operations, finance and human resources) before making that commitment, they won’t know if it’s the correct choice to make.

Instead, a democratic leader consults the leaders below them to determine the viability of each important decision under consideration. In the example above, for instance, HR leaders could advise their executive colleagues regarding staffing and training for commercial versus residential contracts.

While leaders at the very top are expected to be assertive and ambitious, it’s critical that they are also democratic and cautious. As your firm develops the next generation of top leaders and conducts your next executive search, add democratic leadership to your list of priorities. Incorporate elements of democratic leadership into your company’s succession planning and training for future leaders at the executive level.

Executives must always be prepared to make tough decisions. But before those decisions can be made, they need to know how to gather the information necessary to make the right choice for your firm.

Servant Leaders Remove Obstacles

Servant leaders are vital to your company’s success. This is not the exception: it is the expectation in today’s world. The construction industry as a whole has moved forward, and servant leadership plays a crucial role at the C-suite level to drive productivity &profitability.

Servant leaders “serve” the needs of the business by providing for the people who do the work. This is most important at the departmental and team leadership levels. Department leaders — such as chief operating, financial and human resource officers — and team leads must be able to listen and value the opinions of those who report to them. Only then can they truly serve their team members’ needs and support them in their daily tasks and projects.

CHROs, for example, are valuable members of a servant leadership team. Their role is to identify what the business needs in terms of talent. Much of that comes from listening to foremen, identifying skill gaps or  learning opportunities, and then providing those experiences to set employees up for success.

Servant leadership is less about wielding power and more about empowering the potential of others. By doing so, servant leaders put the needs of their people before their own. Prioritizing the people at the lowest levels of your construction firm can exponentially increase company productivity and workforce engagement. In a field where power dynamics tend to be strong and aggressive, employees on the frontlines appreciate leaders who meet their needs so they can do better work.

Coaching Leaders Develop the Workforce

Upskilling and development are imperative for the construction industry, especially given the skills shortage facing the sector today. Coaching leaders take the lead on developing in-house training for their firms. Coaching leaders are natural teachers who are good at communicating what they know and helping others learn how they learn best. This is crucial to designing employee training that sticks.

Offering training in-house can expand your construction firm’s talent pool. Addressing any skill gaps with internal training and development frees your company to hire talent with potential, even if they don’t yet have the necessary experiences and certifications. This can go a long way towards solving one of the most significant drags on the construction industry’s employment rate.

Coaching leaders can also improve safety training to minimize accidents and injuries on site. Effective training can minimize accidents and injuries. The better trained your workforce is, the more cautious and self-aware they’re likely to be, mitigating the occurrence of dangerous incidents.

Because coaching leaders are naturally attuned to noticing other people’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth, they can develop training and development programs that cut across individual learning styles. Continually improving your training and development programs is imperative for expanding employee abilities and growing your market share.


Pacesetting Leaders Set an Example

Jobs onsite often have to be fast-paced to meet deadlines. Although a rapid pace of work is unsustainable for the long term, pacesetting leaders can successfully lead their teams through short sprints. These sprints are crucial for accomplishing specific projects on time and on budget. Pacesetting leadership at the right points in the company exerts a positive influence at the project level.

Pacesetting leaders such as foremen lead their teams efficiently in sprints of activity. Foremen who are pacesetting leaders are capable of keeping projects on track. They’re good at organizing their resources—including time— to make the most efficient use of what they have.

Pacesetting leaders are quick to recognize the value of each team member’s contributions. They can identify the best workers for a specific project, trimming any wasted time or resources. Because they’re laser-focused on getting the job done, pacesetting leaders can make the right decisions to keep projects moving ahead, even if those aren’t easy or popular choices to make.

Autocratic Leaders Take Charge

Onsite jobs can be extremely hazardous. That’s why your company needs leaders who can take charge when things go wrong. An autocratic leader makes difficult decisions with knowledge and authority, typically without explaining why. In the construction industry, there often isn’t time on the job site for lengthy explanations. The job site is fast-paced and dangerous, and often not the right place for learning. To protect employee safety, autocratic leaders need to take action with authority.

But autocratic leaders can’t simply bark orders. There must be authentic substance behind their autocracy. To command the authority needed on the job site, autocratic leaders need to be hard workers themselves. Their employees need to see this type of leader willing to work alongside them. Without that willingness, workers will question their leadership, potentially resulting in an accident.

Because of the specific cocktail of characteristics needed to foster effective autocratic leadership, the best autocratic leaders are raised in-house. They need to be people that your workers know because they’ve worked alongside each other and proven themselves in practice. Identify candidates for leadership among workers with the highest work ethic. Autocratic leaders must command respect, so ideal candidates will already have a positive influence on their colleagues.

Autocratic leaders are necessary on the jobsite. But keep in mind this style of leadership is most effective when workers trust that the leader calling the shots is making the right decisions to protect everyone’s safety and interests.

The Right Leadership Styles in the Construction Industry Carry Your Firm Forward

The right leadership is essential for taking your firm to the next level. The challenge is that no one type fits all leadership styles. You need to identify the leadership styles that work the best at each level of your company culture. Without nuance, you risk putting good leaders at the wrong points in the company where their talents and leadership styles can fall flat.

As you develop your plan to tackle the challenges facing the construction industry, give extra thought to the leadership styles that can have the greatest impact at each level of the company. Taking a thoughtful approach to leadership development now can spell success for your construction firm's future.

Lisa LaNoue
Enterprise Sales Manager, Southeast
SaaS Software Professional | Leader | Contributor “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Nelson Mandela

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