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7 Essential Soft Skills for Construction Professionals

by Ken Bradford

Perhaps Alvin Toffler said it best, “Profits, like sausages…are esteemed most by those who know least about what goes into them.” Every construction owner who signs the checks knows the ingredients for profitability. Never just one key, every week the recipe includes a combination of tangibles and intangibles that hit at the heart of the matter, the bottom line.

Spreadsheets showrevenue against expenses, but what about those factors not so easily documented? If you can measure it - you can manage it, but how do you measure essential intangibles for your business success like leadership, relationship building, clear communication, and competence? By paying attention to these critical components of your business.

Hard numbers must be carefully watched, especially in a down economy. But there are also a number of soft skills worth acquiring that can deliver more long-term potential for profit than the simple acquisition of new equipment.

Despite today’s cut-throat emphasis on the dollar, at the end of the day, people still do business with people that they like. How do you quantify the value of a customer who still refers business to you a decade after you’ve completed a job for them? Or a sub who tells their crew to take care of your job first because they value the relationship?
How many of the following skills have you and your key managers perfected?

  1. Clear communication. Leaders cantalk in details and also be concise.They create dialogues not monologues. They are quick to accept responsibility for clear communication as well as blame formisunderstandings. You can’t develop teamwork, negotiate, persuade, or any other leadershipskill if you can’t write, speak, and make a point.
  2. Ability to facilitate effective meetings. If meetings drag out, get off on rabbit trails or involve the wrong people, leaders know how to bring a group back to their agenda and move forward. Caring employees resent the time wasted in meetings as much as wasted money.
  3. Strength in building rapport and managing relationships. The ability to remember names, carry on small talk, and pay a sincere compliment arekey building blocks in any business relationship. People will listen to and work harder for leaders they know, like and trust.
  4. Above average listening skills. Egos aside, pros can be in the moment, focused on the point at hand. They choose to listen 110% or not at all.
  5. Encouragement. The ability to catch people doing things right and tell them so. Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy teaches his managers how to find which employees need encouraging the most. His answer: “If they are breathing they need encouragement!” Leaders must be merchants of hope. It’s essential for teamwork and contagious.
  6. Delegation. If people work harder when “asked” instead of being “told” what to do, then why don’t more managers ask? Perhaps, as in Ben Franklin’s day, “Common sense is not always common practice.” It’s hard to surround yourself with qualified people if you constantly micromanage those you expect to take the lead. 
  7. Organization of thoughts before groups. If your brains sit down whenever you stand up to speak, how can you motivate others to get the job done right? Every year AIA gives awards to outstanding GCs based on the following criteria: “The ability to influence and affect quality workmanship.”Your speaking skills are the reins that either harness or scatter group cooperation.                    

We are in both the ‘building” business and “service” business. Remind your team that whether they are communicating with a customer, vendor, partner, board, inspector, city official, or neighbor, they are marketing your firm and making an impression -- positive or negative. Your people really do make the difference.

Every business owner and manager knows that cost of labor is by far the biggest number that routinely shows up on the balance sheet. A small investment in “soft skills” for your key people today just might provide the competitive advantage your firm needs to outperform its “hard-hat” competition tomorrow.

Ken Bradford is founder and instructor of The Leaders Course®, offered nationally through AGC chapters since 1996.

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