Communication Is Key To Project Success

By The Superintendents of Hoar Construction

Ask a superintendent what tools he or she uses to keep a project on track, and communication will be high on the list. Not so many years ago, construction superintendents had a reputation for being tyrants, who relished the chance to yell – really loudly – at workers not following instructions. But the industry, and the role of the superintendent, has changed. Today’s most successful superintendents know as much about leadership and communication techniques as any Wall Street CEO. And perhaps they feel the need to excel at these skills even more. They do, after all, often make decisions that can directly impact the safety and well-being of those they lead.

Senior Superintendent Lou Feliccitti understands those expectations particularly well after 40 years as a field leader: “You have to make sure you communicate yourself clearly as a leader, and you give clear direction whether it’s to your workers, or to subcontractors. You need to make sure the owner, the architect and the engineer understands you. You have to communicate well with people.”

So much of effective leadership and management is being a student of people. Senior Superintendent Mike Broadaway says, “As I get older, I like the old attitude of working smarter not harder. We’re always fighting time. It’s okay to get excitable every now and then as long as it’s for the right reason. People need to know you’re still breathing and you care, but you have to do that constructively because getting overexcited is like a virus. It can drag the whole team down. Some people get the wrong message from it and it’s hard to cure that. It’s like a wildfire.”

Senior Superintendent Ricky Calderon agrees with Mike, noting listening is also critical. He says “Communication is very important. You want to hear and relay what’s needed. If you miss what somebody is trying to tell you, there could be problems associated to not listening or being too busy to do that.” Senior Superintendent Clayton Salmon is even more emphatic: “Everything boils down to communication. You can achieve so much if everything is communicated from the get-go.”

Senior Superintendent Steven Harter believes communication is not just a management tool, but also a foundation for relationship-building: “If you walk around with the superintendent during the day, you’ll think they spend a lot of time just shooting the bull with people. But what they’re really doing is building relationships, and in the middle of that conversation you’ll get to the meat and potatoes of what you’re trying to accomplish. Those relationships are what drive people to want to deliver a good product for you; it’s getting your quality, getting your safety.”

Senior Superintendent Al Stewart agrees, citing the ties between communication and teamwork. He says, “Communication is the most important thing we have on our jobs. Subcontractors come in, and they know what they have to do. Making sure you talk to everybody and you don’t send out just blind e-mails and blind statements is key. You keep everybody in the loop. You keep them on a constant. They know what the schedule is. They know where they need to be. That’s what makes a good project. You’re going to have ups and downs but you keep everybody together as a team, moving with same focus and you have a better end.”

Assistant Superintendent Michael Vacciana believes what you give with communication is what you get: “Communication, that’s the key. The way you communicate with not only your team but also with the owner and subcontractors. You start having bad communication, you start falling behind schedule. If you communicate the right way to a person, that person is going to react back to you in the right way.”

Assistant Superintendent Jon Pratt looks at the need for effective communication through a very practical lens: “If you don’t have communication on a job and a job schedule, then this trade is gonna be doing one thing and that project manager is going to be doing another thing. If you’re not all implementing the same thing, the project can be built wrong.”

Assistant Superintendent Donna Strange is also practical. She sees the challenges of communicating clearly in an industry that can be resistant to change – and knows she has to make her point to ensure quality: “You have to keep that communication, so if someone is irritated, you have to back off and then come back to them. ‘I understand you have done it this way for 30 years and it has worked for you for 30 years but the product is not what it used to be so you have to read those specs. You have o know how it goes in.’ If you make him prove to you what he is doing is how the manufacturer is telling him to put it in, you hold him accountable to the contract, to the submittals and the specs, what the product is supposed to be, what it is supposed to smell like, look like, taste like. If we paid you to do this job, then you have to do the job we paid you to do.”

Mike Broadaway offers up this advice to young superintendents looking to improve their communication skills: “Be a student of people. Everybody has a different personality. Learn their personality when they’re happy. If you get in a situation where things are not quite as happy as they need to be, if you understand their personality, it helps you work through those situations better.”