Leadership in the Construction Industry

By Michael Tobias

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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Globally, the construction industry is one of the most costly and risky endeavors. It is also technically demanding and commonly involves long time frames.

Construction professionals are involved with every project, and without proper leadership, there is always the threat of failure.

But with an experienced and dedicated leader maintaining channels of communication and collaboration and ensuring schedules and budgets are kept, the promise of success is sustained.

Of course, there will always be ups and downs, and there will be obstacles along the way. But the challenge for any leader will be to avert conflict even when it is clear that different parties have underlying interests that compete with one another.

The Challenges and Benefits of Leadership

Learning to lead effectively is a challenge that comes with enormous demands.

The most potent challenges are balancing my technical abilities and leadership skills and doing whatever I can to revolutionize the construction-based MEP Engineering industry and help disrupt the traditional, somewhat anachronistic nature of the construction industry as a whole.

It’s not enough to lead by example or provide answers that everyone must follow. Instead, great leaders encourage their teams to develop their solutions to perform at the very highest level.

In other words, it’s about influencing people rather than attempting to control them.

Leadership vs. Management in the Construction Industry, a report by U.S. and U.K. researchers Dean Kashiwagi, Charles Egbu, J. Kovel, and William Badger, argues that leadership structures are more efficient than typical management-based arrangements.

They propose that leadership-orientated processes might minimize many of the efficiencies of the construction industry since they found, during their research, that the management process is a direct contributor to delivering process inefficiencies.

Construction Industry Leadership

Management and leadership-based systems are direct opposites, even though many people confuse the two.

While construction management is considered necessary in construction environments that are commodity and price-based, the leadership versus management research found it to be an obstacle to improving value and efficiency.

The question is, will leadership-based education accelerate the implementation of a delivery environment for construction that is performance-based?

As John C. Maxwell states, “To be a leader, one must not only be out in front, but also have people intentionally coming behind, following the lead, and acting on the leader’s vision without coercion.” They need to influence people rather than control them.

Leaders also need to be flexible and efficient and elicit trust. Good leaders don’t have to say a lot, and, in Maxwell’s words, they “don’t do work.” They hire the best people to work for them and empower them by helping to develop their leadership skills.

Additionally, team work is hugely important in the construction industry because of the inter-disciplinary nature of the work, and the fact that members of the broader team work for many different companies.

After all, a team isn’t going to win if the different team members have different agendas. But streamlining processes and automating repetitive tasks will have a positive impact.

How Good Leaders Can Improve the Construction Industry

Some books talk about ways the best leaders can make everyone more competent, which applies to every industry, including construction. But how?

Undoubtedly, the best tactical leadership guide I’ve ever come across is the award-winning Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t, which is a significant revision (75% new) of the business classic, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

It shows how a company can run successfully using the leadership methodology discussed above.

While it rarely happens overnight, four critical issues to scaling up are:

1. People

It’s vital to have the right team with the correct core values. Ultimately, you need to attract the right people and keep them.  

2. Strategy

This needs to be truly differentiated from the companies you compete with, and it must matter to your customers (or potential customers).

3. Execution

The drive to deliver must be there, and the execution must be flawless, regardless of obstacles. “Those who pulse faster grow faster,” says Verne Harnish.

4. Cash

It would help if you had plenty. A business that is either under-capitalized at the start or runs out of cash while scaling up is doomed.

Capability and Scaling Up

One of the primary barriers to successfully scaling up is a lack of sufficient leaders capable of leading the business or organization.

I lead a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from our company headquarters in New York City and our integrated Chicago Engineering firm. And I’ve led more than 1,000 projects across the U.S., Singapore, and Malaysia. I couldn’t have done it without scaling up.

But I also concentrate on managing my own time, which involves many clients, internal meetings, and site meetings.

I try to stack multiple meetings back-to-back on a single day rather than spreading them through the week, and I re-prioritize daily, ensuring I get the most important things done first.

Finding the Best People to Work With

You can’t choose everyone you work with within the construction industry simply because many team members on a particular project, including sub-contractors, come from different companies.

But you can hire smart and ensure that you work with the best people in-house. You can also work with top-grade vendors in your particular supply chain.


Topgrading is the most awesome method for hiring, and I have relied on this approach to get New York Engineers where it is today.

Essentially, Topgrading is a screening system developed by Bradford D. Smart, author of Topgrading. It teaches those in business to hire, promote, assess, and coach those who will be genuinely high performers in their fields.

It is used to identify the best people for the job (A players). It involves identifying strengths and weaknesses and finding the best person for a particular job – someone who will likely improve in the areas they already excel in.

So what has your experience been in the construction industry, and how does leadership fit in? Let us know.

How Does Leadership Function in the Construction Industry?

If you have ideas about leadership in the construction industry that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Michael Tobias
Michael Tobias
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. A graduate of Georgia Tech’s class of 2004 and the GE Engineering Leadership Program, he is passionate about green technology and energy efficiency and has designed to both Passive House and Net Zero energy standards.
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