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By Rowan O'Grady, President, Hays Canada

The construction industry is a tough business. It’s highly competitive with razor thin margins. And while that aspect of this sector isn’t new, the pressure to find talent in a candidate-short market means today’s construction leaders must develop a new skill set to retain staff and motivate employees to maximize profits. They need soft skills – empathy, clear

communication and the ability to mentor.

According to data collected from more than 100 Canadian vice presidents of construction as part of Hays Canada’s DNA of a VP of construction report, almost a third (28 per cent) maintain that the single most important attribute that has helped them achieve success is soft skills.

This will come as a surprise to people outside the industry who might typically describe a leader in construction as hardened and gruff. Today’s VP of construction is the complete opposite. In fact, 83 per cent of construction leaders describe their leadership style as “friendship-based” – compassionate and focused on building relationships, rather than “directional based” and focused on strict structure and allocating work.

The VP of construction has evolved with the times, as soft skills have risen as a priority skill set across a wide range of C-suite functions for today’s business environment. It is even more pronounced in construction because of how complicated this industry is.

Long-term planning in construction is very difficult due to continuous boom and bust cycles that force the industry to shift and pivot to meet new market demands, which can suddenly slow or change quickly from condominium to infrastructure work. As a result, forecasting five years out is difficult to do with any accuracy. Being flexible and possessing strong communications skills allows human capital to be deployed accordingly and cushion the blow in times of dramatic change.

And even when business is predictably humming along, the day-to-day of a construction leader is fraught with the challenges of coordinating a build project. On massive projects, a director or VP of construction can be managing 50 to 60 independent organizations. Project plans are constantly changing to accommodate inevitable kinks in the chain of development. In this kind of environment, construction leaders have to accept that mistakes will be made, and the unexpected will happen – all you can do is navigate your way through.

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.