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How to Effectively Lead a Construction Team 

How to Effectively Lead a Construction Team 

In these economically fraught times, as we’re hit with headline after headline detailing the sad collapse of Australian home builders, one thing has become clear; leadership in the construction industry has never been more important. 

Indeed, construction plays a vital role in the Australian economy. It generates nearly 360 billion in revenue and contributes to about 9 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

As I said, it’s important. 

But with all that said, you can’t ignore the fact construction project managers have one of the most difficult roles going. 

Not only do they have to ensure a job is delivered on time, they must hit budget, deliver a safe work site, make sure everything is done to the gold standard – all while handling a large team of skilled workers. 

Talk about a juggling act. 

Under that fraught situation it’s understandable a leader may, at times, have trouble discerning the wood from the trees, losing sight of what really matters; the people. 

This is when disaster can strike as happy employees are the biggest asset when it comes to delivering a project safely and on time.

In this article we will explore the different styles of construction leadership, and delve into the key components that make for an effective leader. 

But first, let’s take things back to basics and explore why leadership in this space matters. 

Why leadership in construction matters

Anyone who has been on a construction site knows they are chaotic at the best of times – even under the most skilled leaders.

With buzzing power tools, cranes, forklifts, and workers reaching dizzying heights, employees need to understand not only how to stay safe, but what their deliverables are at the end of the day, month and project. 

This all comes down to the project manager. 

Failure to communicate these key deliverables can result in blown out project times, costs, injuries, and potentially death. 

But there is more than one way to lead and it’s been proven construction managers can follow several different approaches. 

Different styles of construction leadership

A 2018 study investigating leadership styles of those in the construction industry found there are seven main types of leadership. 

These are: 

Democratic leadership: These leaders engage the team when it comes to decision making. There is direct engagement, and these leaders are not the sole decision-maker.

Authoritarian leadership: Autocratic leaders sit on the other end of the spectrum. They make all decisions, assuming employees will follow them. They set all agendas.

Laissez-faire leadership: These leaders follow a “hands-off” approach, and will allow a group to perform based on their own decisions. 

Transactional leadership: This form of leadership is centered around a barter-system. For instance, if a task is performed to a certain standard employees will get higher pay, or time off.  

Transformational leadership: These leaders serve as role models and aim to motivate and inspire employees. They typically lead change within organisations based on their own values. 

Strategic leadership: This style focuses more on leaders at the top of an organisation, and how they drive processes and results. 

Charismatic leadership: This leadership approach is driven by personality. Charismatic leaders are mission driven who inspire work through their charismatic personality. 

So, how do we know which one works best?  

What makes for an effective construction leader

As construction projects are technically demanding with lots of interrelated tasks an effective leader must have the following attributes: 

  • Have the ability to make tough decisions 
  • Can communicate clearly 
  • Be transparent and approachable
  • Have experience, without bragging about it 

Effective construction leaders need to strike the fine balance of having a strategic, cool-head, while being open and transparent with workers. 

What’s more, there has been a push away from autocratic and “aggressive” construction leaders at both organisational, and state levels. 

Instead, to retain today and tomorrow’s generation of younger workers leading with empathy is a must. This requires a lot of flexibility, and so, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” leadership approach. 

Instead project managers should osciliate between being strategic, democratic and transformational leaders. 

This will not earn the respect of a crew, but also help them feel safe, allow two-way communication, which ultimately ensures greater productivity and retention. 

In my opinion, three of the leadership styles mentioned above should be avoided at all costs in construction. 

These are; laissez-faire leadership, charismatic leadership and authoritarian leadership, as mentioned. 

Why so you wonder? 

They’re not firm enough approaches when it comes to handling a large team and they don’t facilitate clear two-way communication. 

I hope you have found this blog useful. If you’d like to read more, please check out my previous article “Elements and tips for hope-centred leadership”. 

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She is also the founder of LeadershipHQ and is a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.

Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.

As a full-time single parent, Sonia has a passion for women in business and teenage mental health. Sonia travels and speaks across Australia and Globe, and she is on a mission to building a world of great leaders and leadership.

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