Strategy & Leadership

Leadership in the building industry just about passes the test

November 12, 2015

Project staff in the civil construction industry give themselves the lowest passing score for their leadership contribution to the successful completion of projects. But project staff do consider effective leadership to be important for the successful completion of a project. These are some of the findings of the "Redefining Leadership in Dutch Civil Engineering" study by Marcel van Herten. He did this research as part of his MBA course at TIAS School for Business and Society.

The culture in the construction sector is still oriented toward technology. This has also led to an overdevelopment of hard management skills and underdevelopment of soft leadership competences, even though the literature points to the existence of a consensus about the importance of leadership and leadership effectiveness. The construction is in fact also a social process: by, with, and for people. Good leadership is, therefore, not a luxury.

The construction industry that not always set aside the time required for good leadership, while it is becoming increasingly important. "The construction market is very competitive. Although most tenders are still judged on "price," there are fortunately more and more public clients, such as municipalities, provinces, and water boards, that procure on quality," says Van Herten. And that demands different competencies from employees, including, according to Van Herten, good leadership. "To be able to fully exploit these competencies, people will want and need to be continually inspired and motivated to provide that little bit extra that helps you stand out. That is why we must make time for leadership. My research also shows that successful projects are always founded on good leadership!"

Leadership is different from project management

Good people and resources are vital to running a good construction project. Motivating, inspiring, good communication and dealing with change are crucial elements in that. Leadership is different from project management, but the two are still too often used interchangeably, says Van Herten. "Management focuses on hard skills, such as managing project issues (e.g. time, money, and quality). You can acquire these skills by mastering the right tools. Leadership, however, is primarily concerned with the soft side of directing, coaching, and supervising employees. Leadership is, therefore, more a competence that, to a great extent, you need to possess naturally, but it can certainly be polished." Leadership and project management are definitely linked: if one of the two is wanting, this will undermine the end result.

Since the start of his career, Van Herten has been wondering why some project leaders or project managers are more successful than others, why the teams of these managers function better, and why people like to work with them. "These questions always played a role, and as I developed in my career and became a leader myself, I copied parts of the behavior of the people who led me. That is sometimes effective and sometimes not. The question: What, actually, is effective leadership? kept on spinning in my mind. I suspected that there was more to this than just the belief that good leadership will contribute to successful projects."

More about the thesis of Marcel van Herten

Marcel van Herten MBA is a manager at Dura Vermeer Beton & Waterbouw BV. In 2013, Van Herten completed his MBA at TIAS School for Business and Society with the thesis "Redefining leadership in Dutch Civil Engineering."

Read more about the TIAS Executive MBA

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