Excerpt from: McCarty, Jason. Construction Leadership Success: The Construction Foreman’s Definitive Guide for Running Safe, Efficient, and Profitable Projects (pp. 35-40).
Chapter 4 – Production:
Who Has the Biggest Impact?
The only possible answer to the question of who impacts production the most is the foreman. There is no other one individual who impacts a project’s production, both positively and negatively, more than the on-site foreman. Just ask yourself: Does your project manager or company’s owner come to your site every day to make sure that your crew is operating at maximum efficiency and production? Do either or both of them call you each day to ask you if you are doing everything you can to make sure your crew is as productive as they can be? If your answers are no and no then the answer is obvious: you have the biggest impact on production. Besides, if that is how owners and managers operated, why would they need you anyway?
Owners and project managers are too busy with other tasks to spend that kind of time watching over you and every other foreman’s movements. In their minds, and rightfully so, you have been put in charge of the project, and as far as they are concerned you should be doing absolutely everything in your power to keep your job running smoothly.
When it comes down to it, you are the person who is accountable and will be held accountable. Your crew looks to you, their leader, for direction. If you leave too many questions unanswered or leave your crew without the material, tools, and information they need, the project is guaranteed to suffer. It’s as simple as that.
Why is it so important that one person be responsible for having a thorough and concise plan, including the assignment of multiple tasks and the tools and materials necessary to complete them? Think about the alternative. Let’s say you have a crew of 10 people and you leave it up to each individual to find something to work on, to purchase his own material, and to supply his own tools. How profitable do you think your project would be? What if you and your crew only had one set of prints to reference and had to take turns trying to figure out what they were going to do? Is it likely this project would run efficiently, let alone make a profit? I know these examples may sound basic, but the things I’ve witnessed in my career tell me that they need to be said.
For example, while working as a journeyman for someone else, I have often been in the position where my foreman has come to me, told me what he wants done, and then turned around and walked off—without first making sure that I had everything I needed to complete the task. Keep this in mind while you explore the following On-the-job Training segment.
On-the-job Training: Material Handling
Your foreman comes to you to lay you out (that is, to explain the details of a task he needs you to complete). After he gives you the information, you ask him if the material is on site. He tells you, “Well, I bought some a while ago…I’m sure the material is here somewhere; you’ll have to look around and find it. Let me know if you don’t find what you’re looking for.” And then off he goes. While in principle this might work—you may eventually find the material you need—it would be a much more common scenario that you would find yourself on a wild goose chase, trying to scrounge up what you need and wasting all sorts of time doing it.
What mistake is this foreman making? First of all, it is the foreman’sresponsibility to have all the tools, material, and information the crew is going to need. Second, if the foreman explains a task to one of his crew and then walks away without knowing if he has what he needs, the foreman may never know how much time is being wasted while that person searches the job site for the materials the foreman “bought a while ago.” I think we can all agree that it may not be glamorous, but the foreman still needs to be a material handler as much as he needs to be the person leading the crew. Any time you force your crew to figure something out that you should have shared with them…any time you send them on a treasure hunt to try and find material or tools that should have been readily available to them…you are losing money for your company.
Any time you force your crew to fend for themselves, you can be losing money for your company
I can hear the protests now. “I don’t have time and I can’t do everything. The crew needs to be responsible, too.” And you’re absolutely right that you can’t and they should. But you are the one who orders material and you are the one who directs the crew. You are the one who signed on to do more than anyone else and they are the ones who signed on to help you do it. Your crew is only going to be as productive as you allow them to be. It falls on you to provide them with direction and the things they need to get the work done.
I’m going to touch on something here that I’ll be discussing in more detail later because, based on my experience and the attitudes of many foremen, I feel it’s too important not to mention at this point.
Many foremen reading this book will now be saying the same thing, “I can’t help it if when I buy material and stock the job with tools my crew misplaces them. I can’t help it that they don’t organize and take care of what I give them. I’d have to spend my entire day cleaning up after them to keep things organized and orderly.” To which I say: That’s unadulterated hogwash. It’s simply not true.
Here’s why. Your crew works for you. You direct them and you tell them what you need and expect from them. If you allow them to be slobs and abuse your tools and equipment then you have to take what you get. You can make excuses and point fingers all day long, but at the end of the day you are in charge, so it’s you who are letting it happen.
You are not the only foreman thinking like this, however. Unfortunately, it’s a common problem—but one that can be improved with a little knowledge and understanding of the benefits of thinking differently. That’s why in Part 4, Chapter 21 we’ll talk about communication skills and some of the tools that have worked for me to effectively put an end to this kind of predicament.
Running work isn’t easy. It will take a big effort on your part to convey to your crew what is expected of them. This means you have to be willing to tell people what you want and expect and also be willing to confront and deal with those people who don’t want to cooperate and do what you are asking them to do.