On a construction job site, it is the construction supervisors that are the glue that holds everything together. Also known as the crew leader or foreman, or in residential remodeling, the lead carpenter, it takes a specific set of skills for supervisors to excel at their jobs.
Experience, knowledge and skill are important to being a good construction supervisor
Construction supervisors do everything from working closely with managers to determine hiring needs to setting deadline for specific tasks and making sure safety protocols are enforced among workers. They also hold job-site meetings, work with suppliers to make sure materials are on-site when needed, and they report to the construction project manager, who in turn works closely with the project architect and engineers. Construction supervisors are key to the completion of a project, and act as a point of reference for both workers and other supervisors.
Warren Kiesel, director, curriculum development at The Associated General Contractors of America, says contractors often have a difficult time filling supervisory positions with properly trained people. “Supervisors are made, not born, but many companies are too small to have an in-house training program. Job demands on supervisors are increasing because of rapid changes in workers’ attitudes and technology. Project locations are scattered over large geographical areas. New laws and regulations covering construction have restricted and complicated production and increased the focus on compliance, quality and cost control.”
However, there are still many opportunities that exist in construction, with new work to be done, as well as rehab, rebuilding and renovation projects. “Increased competition brings pressure to do things more efficiently,” Kiesel says. “Companies that meet these challenges by developing and maintaining an effectively supervised work force of well-trained people survive and prosper.”
The specific role of a construction supervisor can vary from company to company and project to project, but overall, the supervisor is responsible for overseeing the daily operations at the job site, ensuring the completion of projects in an efficient manner.
As Timothy Mongeau, director of workforce development at the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), explains, leadership is key to the role of supervisor. “Developing competencies that would enhance communication, building relationships and trust, developing people, cultivating talent and generating alignment are also of vital importance. Some examples of courses that would increase knowledge, skills and abilities in these areas include conflict resolution, building relationships, coaching and mentoring, change leadership, customer focus and time management. Understand that leading people is very different than managing people because people are led and processes are managed.”
“Construction supervisors are a critical link in the production and profit-making process, and much is expected of them,” Kiesel explains. “Supervisors are expected to control costs and meet specifications. They are expected to complete projects within tight time schedules and optimistic budgets; they are expected to maintain high morale among their workers; they are expected to be the contractor’s representative on a daily basis, dealing with the labor force, subcontractors, suppliers, owners, architects, engineers, the public, and other various inspectors and governmental officials. This is an extraordinarily difficult role, to be successful supervisors must learn new skills and sharpen others they have already learned.”
“A supervisor is a critical role on a construction project and requires core competencies, knowledge, skills and abilities in many areas,” says Mongeau. “These include but are not limited to safety, quality, planning and scheduling, trade competence and of course leadership skills. Many ABC chapters offer these courses to contractor members’ employees. It is important to note that developing next-in-line leaders at any level should be a proactive and consistent effort, preparing them before they assume the leadership role.”
Those interested in becoming supervisors should have sufficient experience, knowledge and skill to perform the tasks associated with construction work. “Knowing the steps to perform safely and correctly, and demonstrate the attributes of a role model,” adds Kiesel.
The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) recognizes most supervisors are promoted into their roles because they themselves are great installers and have personalities and perceived work ethics that align with companies’ expectations of the role. “Individuals may receive training about company expectations and managing jobs, but most often they do not receive specialized training before jumping into their jobs,” says Amy Staska, vice president, NRCA University. “Even if they do receive training and information about the production end of the role, they rarely receive anything about the leadership part of the job, even though leading others to do the work is, in fact, their main responsibility.”
“Supervisor education can be delivered proactively, meaning prior to advancement, or retroactively, meaning after advancement,” explains Mongeau. “In many cases, supervisor classes could take several weeks or months depending on the scope and content of the program, education schedule and participants’ attendance. In some cases, the project schedule may impact the participants’ attendance. For example, the participant may be on the night shift or working overtime hours.”
As Mongeau adds, “In many cases a supervisor will be leading a crew in a specific trade, so they should be at least journey level in their trade. Achieving journey level may take two or more years depending on the complexity of the trade and, if applicable, state licensing requirements.”
There are a variety of training programs available to learn how to become a construction supervisor.
AGC’s Construction Supervision Fundamentals course is designed to train supervisors and potential supervisors how to improve their ability to supervise, resolve problems and create win-win situations for all parties involved in a construction project. Offered via AGC EDGE, the courses are offered virtually with expert live instructors.
The Construction Supervision Fundamentals course is the first step in the path to develop construction supervisors. The interactive course allows the building trades and craft workers to experience construction supervision techniques firsthand and create a professional development plan to achieve personal career goals. The course is roughly 24 hours of instruction broken down into eight sessions. Students who complete all sessions receive a certificate of completion.
NRCA offers two types of leadership and management training opportunities. Foreman Management Training is a scenario-based online program, housed within the TRAC (Training for Roof Application Careers) program. It focuses on four pillars, including: Customer Service, Productivity, Quality and Safety. This self-paced course takes five to six hours. Meanwhile, the Foreman Leadership Training is a day-long trainer-led program (including in-person and virtual opportunities) focusing on how to better engage with people and lead them effectively, aimed at helping them fulfill production goals and engender loyalty. This program comprises Level 1 and Level 2 courses.
David Beard, president of the Ironworkers District Council of St. Louis and Vicinity, notes they offer a variety of courses for those looking to expand their education and construction knowledge. “The Ironworkers and their Labor Management affiliate, IMPACT, have a curriculum to enhance the skills of foremen and superintendents,” he says. “We also have business development courses to assist companies in creating a successful business plan.”
Leading a crew is an important and rewarding opportunity. “However,” Mongeau says, “someone who is a talented craft professional may not have leadership strengths. As the crew supervisor, you willingly accept responsibility for each crew member’s safety, performance, professional development, successes and near-misses. As such, prior to beginning a supervisor program or taking courses, consider if you are comfortable with this type of role and level of responsibility. If you are interested in becoming a supervisor, inform your boss. They will be able to provide support, opportunities and guidance.”