What it takes to be a leader in design and construction - by Nancy Greenwald

December 21, 2018 - Connecticut
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“Everything we know about our industry is wrong in terms of what we will be doing tomorrow.” 

Jim Cramer, Former EVP, AIA, Founder, DesignIntelligence, from his keynote address “Leadership and Value Migration in the New A/E/C Industry” at the Construction Institute’s A/E/C Leadership Conference, November 2018. (1)

On November 15, a multi-generational group of professionals met at the region’s first A/E/C Leadership Conference to discuss the future of the industry and what it will take to be an effective leader in an industry undergoing revolutionary change. New technologies like augmented and virtual reality, generative design, artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), integrative information technologies like Building Information Modeling, and processes like the 3-D printing of buildings and modular construction have already changed and will continue to change the ways we design, build, use and maintain all built structures from large commercial facilities to office buildings to homes, as well as our roads, bridges and other infrastructure. The pace of change is accelerating. Construction-technology firms garnered $10 billion in investment funding from 2011 through early 2017. The investment in the first 6 months of 2018 was 1.05 billion.(2) 

These technologies rely on shared data and shared experience and the effective sharing of information has not been one of the industry’s strong points. Breaking silos and managing change was a recurring theme of the day as both veteran and emerging leaders presented to the conference. Petina Killiany, senior vice president, Arcadis shared her expertise in a workshop entitled “Leading Across Silos.” Susan Klawans, lean strategist consultant, led a workshop on “How to Create Systems to Allow for Change.” An introduction to “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” was given by Daniel Weitz, director at division of professional and court services, New York State Unified Court System. 

The culture and personal qualities needed to cultivate leadership were an important part of the conversation. Jim Cramer urged the group to understand that leadership is at the center of a company, not something that comes from the top down. In his words, “Culture trumps vision.” 

Jim McManus, chairman emeritus, The SLAM Collaborative, emphasize that there is no single type of leader and that two main attributes that identify the best leaders are communication and collaboration. 

Hamid Abid, president/CEO, Adib Group, described six personal qualities individuals need to cultivate to become leaders. They are 

(1) technical excellence; 

(2) business acumen; 

(3) professional activity and development; 

(4) clear communication; 

(5) passion, and 

(6) trust. 

Our panel of young leaders emphasized flexibility, curiosity, and a passion for learning as personal characteristics of leaders. Their message about effective corporate leadership included the importance of transparency, a policy of “empowering the doers” and staying engaged with workers at all levels.

As the world continues to get more and more complex, the time of the siloed expert is gone and teams of people with diverse skills and backgrounds are what is needed.(3) 

The mission of the Construction Institute–to promote cross-industry collaboration–is at the core of the industry’s future. 2018 has been a year of great change in the industry. 2019 promises to bring increasing change. The Construction Institute is committed to providing the education to equip our industry leaders with the tools they need to succeed now and in the future.

Nancy Greenwald, executive director, Construction Institute, Hartford, Conn.

(1) The acronym, “A/E/C” stands for Architecture, Engineering and Construction.

(2) The state of construction technology. (2018). JLL.postclickmarketing.com. Retrieved 25 November 2018, from https://JLL.postclickmarketing.com/construction-technology/report-35YU-529J6.html?#Section-1

(3) Paraphrased from “A Turning Point in Industry Relations,” by Jim McManus, The Future of the Design and Construction Industry, Chapter One, 2018, Construction Institute, University of Hartford. 

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