Construction Project Supervision


The importance of proper supervision on a construction project

I have just been involved in the completion of a project that was not properly represented by the general contractor, during the construction process. Due to the inability of the onsite supervision on the project, numerous issues developed, that have caused financial hardship, lost reputations and a project that will be a compromise for the rest of its existence. I felt it necessary to identify the qualifications, and the responsibilities of an onsite superintendent, on a project.

1.) Knowledge / The basic qualification for a competent superintendent on a project, is building knowledge. A supervisor on a construction project must identify to the trades on the project, a level of competence and knowledge, to gain their respect and dedication to making the project a success. The worst qualification for a superintendent, is to be that ” know it all “, without the foundation to back it up. The trades will identify the phony immediately, and will take full advantage of the situation. A superintendent must know how to build! This requirement used to be covered due to the popular process of creating a superintendent from a carpenter foreman who grew up in the building trades. This process is being used less and less and the ” so called ” superintendents knowledge has been diluted down to the point that many supervisors have no clue how to build a construction project.

2.) Humility / Although I understand that a superintendent must have a superior attitude, to properly control the manpower on a project, this same superintendent must also show humility as well as an honest desire to understand the issues of the trades. There is no possible way that a superintendent will understand all of the various aspects of their construction project. A basic knowledge, is mandatory as we have already indicated, however, the individual disciplines on the project will all demonstrate levels of knowledge specifically relating to their trade ,that this superintendent is not 100 percent knowledgeable. The latest technology in the mechanical and electrical disciplines is a perfect example of elements of the project, that the superintendent will not be fully aware and knowledgeable.

3.) Consistency / To be consistent on a construction project is extremely important. The professional and competent supervisor must conduct themselves the same, in every situation. Each day must be identified with a consistent behavior that sets an example of required conduct on the project. If the superintendent is moody and unpredictable, the tradesmen on the project will become frustrated, and will not understand the requirements, day by day. Consistency is vital to the proper supervision and communication with the subcontractors on the project. The superintendents mood will be identified on a daily basis and the trades will conduct themselves accordingly.

4.) Documentation conscious / Document, document, document was a phrase that one of the first construction lawyers in Connecticut used to start his lectures with. It is vitally important that the superintendent on the project document everything. If the superintendent informs you that they are not paperwork people, simply get rid of them! There is no possible value in a superintendent that will not document the daily events on the project. The days of not knowing how to type or use a smart phone are over, all superintendents must type, document and photograph. Period!

5.) Communication specialist / Communication is an essential skill for the proper and professional supervision on a project. A professional superintendent will communicate, on a continuous basis, with the tradesmen in the field. It is essential that the manpower on the project understand that their every move, is being monitored by someone who is competent and dedicated to the success of the project. Daily conversation is essential for a mutual understanding of all issues on the construction project. A superintendent that sits at a desk or in the corner, without walking the project on a continuous basis, is worthless, get rid of that superintendent!

6.) Convey a sense of teamwork / A successful project will never succeed without teamwork. This is essential to any group of people attempting to work together. A construction project is the same as a football team. Each individual has their job to perform, and the superintendent’s job is to motivate each individual with a common purpose, winning! Teamwork is extremely important on a project, and the positive attitude that is conveyed when a team is well oiled and working together, will solve all of the problems on the construction project. I have yet to witness an issue or problem on a construction project that could not have been resolved with the proper teamwork attitude. The majority of issues that cause problems on a construction project are due to lack of individual respect for others on the site and simple stupidity. Work together and you can eliminate the majority of the problems, prior to them even becoming problematic issues.

7.) Encourage a positive attitude /  I have been on many construction projects where there is nothing but complaining about the drawings, the specification, the engineers or the architects. It is a very easy avenue to simply formulate excuses for shoddy work and incorrect construction, if there is an easy and popular individual or entity to blame. The professional superintendent will never allow this to occur, and will extinguish immediately any shifting of blame to others. Challenges are part of the enjoyment of building and their solutions by a team of professionals is a much better way to move on from just blaming others for the issues. Solve them, and you will see how good the entire work environment will feel.

8.) Discourage entitlement / The superintendent must discourage any of the trades from feelings of entitlement or importance. Each trade must work together to achieve a successful project, there is no entitlement on the project, each discipline is important within its own scope of work. I have witnessed various projects deteriorate, as one of the trades takes on the entitlement position. I will not identify which of the trades is most consistent, regarding this issue. Anyone in the construction business will understand my insinuation regarding the trades that most commonly take on this role. No one trade is more important than the other, and it is up to the superintendent on the project to convey this equality.

9.) Superintendent meetings /  Although in most cases, the project manager assigned to the project will conduct the formal project meetings, it is important that the superintendent take on a leadership role, by either substantially contributing at these formal job meeting, or having their own field meetings. The interaction between the trades and the superintendent is vitally important, and a formal scheduled weekly meeting, is an excellent method of ensuring that all parties understand the project, the time schedule and the sequencing of operations. I am a big proponent of field meetings, with just the trades and the onsite superintendent. If the superintendent is uncomfortable with conducting meetings, then maybe the project manager can assist, however, I would be extremely careful of any superintendent that cannot hold their own jobsite meetings.

10.) Photos / With the digital photo capability of our phones, there is NO reason that daily photos of all operations is not a formal requirement for every superintendent. The benefits of taking photographs is multifold. If daily photos are required by the superintendent, this ensures that the superintendent is surveying all of the work, on a daily basis. In addition, the taking of photographs will focus the superintendent on the interesting issues, that are occurring on the project, and normally the interesting issues are the issues that will be resurrected on the punchlist as well as the finalization of accounts with the subcontractors. A competent professional superintendent will always understand what issues should be photographed. Encourage more photos than less and demand that the superintendent download all of the photos on a drive that is maintained within the main office of the contractor. You do not want the superintendent for any reason to simply delete all the photos of the project for one reason or the other. Photos are truly worth a thousand words and the more photos taken, the better.

11.) Daily reports / Once again, as I have repeatedly indicated throughout this website, the importance of accurate and professional daily reports is essential to the success of any construction project. Consistency and completeness of daily reports, must be mandatory for every successful superintendent. These reports are the fundamental history of the project and are invaluable for future claim defense, subcontractor claims, owner and architect litigation, etc. The photos should be coordinated with the daily reports to ensure that it is extremely easy to recreate the project, as it was constructed. Daily reports must include descriptions of communication, visitors to the site, deliveries, injuries or safety issues, etc. A full and complete daily report is essential to the success of the construction project. The daily reports should be collected on a daily basis and not allowed to accumulate without submission on a daily basis into the main office. With email and computers, there is NO excuse that daily reports not be submitted on a daily basis. If the superintendent continually fails to perform this extremely easy demand, that superintendent should be let go!

12.) Issue logs /  Superintendents should be responsible for issue logs, that clearly and professionally describe issues on the project. For example, if a subcontractor is obviously struggling, either financially or with the level of skilled tradesmen, it is essential that the superintendent keep an issue report, as a running scenario of their concerns, regarding this issue. I find it easiest to start an issue report and add to it each day or every few days, dependent upon the issue. If a subcontractor is failing to perform adequate quality work on the project, a running account, via the issue report, will be beneficial if this subcontractor must be removed from the site, back charged for corrective work, or litigated against for financial or other reasons. Issue reports should be linked to the daily reports to allow easy coordinated access, when the need occurs.

13.) Subcontractor reports /  I have always been a strong proponent for daily subcontractor reports. The responsibility, by each subcontractor, to produce a daily report, will force the individual foreman on the project to focus on manpower, scope of work and productivity. If the subcontractor is issuing to the superintendent on the project, daily reports, that acknowledge manpower as well as productivity, this is a perfect scenario to correct improper manpower or insufficient work progress. In addition the subcontractor reports will allow the superintendent to add information on the general, daily report, that is over and above the information level of the daily reports without the information of the subcontractor reports. It should be the responsibility of the superintendent to collect all of the subcontractor daily reports on a daily basis.

14.) Look ahead schedules / On every project, the project manager, or even a professional scheduler will create an overall project schedule, that will include all the trades. I encourage the superintendent on the project to create their own 2 week look ahead schedule. This will force the superintendent to analyze the next two weeks of work, identify how the work relates to the overall schedule, and clearly understand the manpower requirements as well as the work progress of all the trades. A very energetic and competent superintendent will require that their subcontractors also create look ahead schedules that are correlated with the superintendents look ahead schedule. I have witnessed this performed, and it ensures a complete understanding by all parties of the future projected work activities on the project.

15.) Safety on the project/ The superintendent must convey a high level of respect, for the safety aspects, required on the project. The superintendent is the official safety officer on the project, and must clearly set an example of safety on the project. Tool box talks are essential, as well as morning safety briefings, that will clearly identify the importance of safety on the project. I have witnessed general contractors engage in a stretching activity, first thing on the project, to ensure that everyone working, is thinking safety. Safety is an attitude on the project and it is vitally important that all workers focus on the need to work safe. This focus must be refocused, everyday, on the project, and an early morning reminder is a very good idea!

The superintendent is the quarterback on the project. Any successful construction project will have a competent and professional superintendent, leading the field construction of the project. The importance of documentation, together with an intimate understanding of all of the pieces required to successfully complete the project, is essential.

Management, you must be aware of the quality of the supervision on your projects. The wrong individual will result in a disaster, and the proper selection of the superintendent will result in a successful project. It is that simple, especially if you find that superintendent that seems to always get it done. It is managements responsibility to evaluate the superintendents on your projects, and quickly replace them, if they do not have what it takes.

SUPERVISION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS / WITHOUT IT / YOU WILL FAIL!