Supervision and the Supervisor


The supervisor, and the function and domain of construction supervision, can be defined in a number of different ways. Company policy and company organizational certainly will influence the definition within a construction company. Collective bargaining agreements frequently contain their own elements of definition. A variety of different management references likewise contain various definitions of construction supervision.


For our purposes in this book, we will base our definition of construction supervision in the federal statutes. The federal government has, in two federal statutes, provided a legal definition of a supervisor.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (which is also referred to as the “Minimum Wage Law”) defines a supervisor as follows:

An executive whose primary duty consists of the management of a customarily recognized department or subdivision; who customarily directs the work of two or more employees; who has the authority to hire or fire other employees, or whose and recommendations as to the hiring and firing, and as to the advancement and promotion or any other change of status, will be given particular weight; who



customarily and regularly exercises discretionary powers; and who does not devote more than twenty percent of his work to activities which are not closely related to the work described above.

Additionally, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1941 includes the following provision:

[A supervisor is] . . . any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or to effectively recommend such action if, in connection with the foregoing, the exercise of such authority is not merely of a routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.

According to the federal statutes, then, the supervisor is defined as a member of management in the . This is significant in construction, inasmuch as most people who perform construction supervision advance to that stature and function after having been construction craft workers. With a background and training in performing skilled construction craft work, individuals who excel and who also demonstrate leadership and management potential are often promoted to the position of supervisor. When this occurs, these individuals become members of management on a construction project and in a construction company. While these individuals clearly retain their affinity for, and certainly their identity with, their craft, and perhaps with their craft trade union as well, when they become supervisors, they have, according to the definition provided in these federal statutes, become members of management.


In a functional sense, supervisors provide the operational link between the construction craft workers and the management team, both on a construction project and within a construction company. Figure 2.1 depicts schematically the typical functional organization of a construction company and of a construction project team, from the executive level in the company, through the project manager and superintendent, to the construction supervisor, to the construction craft workers.

The supervisor, then, can be said to be the link between those who actually perform the construction work on a project (the construction craft workers) and those who have responsibility for the management of the project (the superintendent and the project manager), and in turn with those responsible for management and operation of the construction company (the support and executive levels of the company). The management functions performed by the supervisor are critically important to the success of every construction project, and in like fashion, are vital to the profitability and to the continuance of the construction company.










































Figure 2.1 Construction Company Functional Organization

Although he or she may well continue to perform some craft work on construction projects, the supervisor is decidedly a member of the management team, both for the project and for the construction company. As a craft worker, the construction worker utilizes a set of skills referred to as craft skills or technical skills. These are the skills that are directly related to the performance of the construction work on a project, such as building concrete formwork; installing reinforcing steel; assembling structural steel components; installing conduit, junction boxes, wiring,


transformers, and switches; laying masonry units; installing pipe, connectors, and fixtures; installing heating, ventilating, and air conditioning components and equipment; placing, finishing, and curing concrete; and so forth.

In the role of supervisor, the constructor may continue to exercise some craft skills in the performance of his or her daily work activities. However, in supervision another set of skills must be learned and applied, if the supervisor is to be effective in this role. These are the skills of the manager. These skills are referred to as management skills or as human relations skills. These skills are decidedly different from craft skills. It is important to realize that the constructor's success in supervision will depend upon the success with which he or she masters and applies these new and different skills. In addition, it is true that the longer the supervisor remains in the role of manager, and the further the constructor advances in management, the less important his or her craft skills become and the more important these management and human relations skills become.

Figure 2.2 illustrates some of the differences that have been referred to here. Construction craft workers have different characteristics and different attitudes than the construction supervisor, and they use different tools and apply different skills from those of the construction supervisor. Similarly, the construction supervisor, while he or she is typically well grounded in craft skills, must develop different skills and attitudes in the performance of the supervisory function.

It is important to note, and it is critically important for the reader as well as for the supervisor to understand, that while the characteristics and skills of the supervisor are different from those of the craft workers, this does not in any way imply that they are better. It is emphasized that both craft workers with their skills and management workers with their skills, are absolutely essential for the performance of a construction project and for the operation and continued profitability of a construction company. In fact, they are mutually dependent—neither craft workers nor management workers can function effectively without the other.

In similar fashion, if we again turn our attention to the depiction of functions performed in a typical construction company, as illustrated in Figure 2.1, it is to be emphasized that no one of these functions, departments, or levels within the company is more important than any other. The “office functions” are just as important, and are just as valuable, as the “field functions,” and vice versa. In fact, neither would have relevance, and neither would even exist, without the other. Rather, all of the functional components and all of the individual members must function together as a team. Further emphasis regarding the importance of the concept of teams, and of and team maintenance, will be provided in subsequent chapters of this book.


As we have noted, when construction craft workers become construction supervisors, they become part of management of both the construction project, and also of the construction company. In this supervisory capacity, they perform management functions rather than construction craft worker functions.





Usually are paid (compensated) on an hourly or on a piece-work basis.

Take great pride in their skills and abilities.

Take pride in knowing how to utilize the tools and equipment associated with construction work, and with the performance of their craft.

Think in terms of fulfilling assignments and performing tasks.

Are grounded in the philosophy that their responsibility is to provide an hour of skilled labor for an hourly rate of pay.

Operate on the basis of “I get paid for what I do; if I am not going to be paid for it, I will not do it.”

Interact on a day-to-day basis primarily with the members of the craft team—the supervisor and the other craft workers.

Tend not to think a great deal in terms of “big picture” concepts. They are not greatly concerned about project planning, schedules, resource management, cost reports, documentation, invoices, change orders, RFIs, etc.

Operate from a perspective that it is management's responsibility to assign the tasks to be done, and to have available for the use of the craft workers the proper materials, tools, equipment, support elements (water, sanitary facilities, etc.), and safety gear as necessary for the proper performance of the assigned work.




Usually are compensated on a salary basis, or often on a “guaranteed hours per week” basis.

While retaining their affinity for their craft, and their understanding of craft work, increasingly apply the skills of management.

Think in terms of fulfilling , and learn that their success is measured in terms of achieving project objectives through their management of the work of the craft workers.

Think in terms of planning for the fulfillment of project objectives, through assigning work tasks to the craft workers, and to managing the successful completion of those work activities.

Think in terms of doing what is necessary for the success of the work, and for the success of the project. They are willing to perform a great deal of work, and to give a great deal of thought, outside the 8 AM to 5 PM, 5 days per week project work time, often working in the evenings and on weekends.

Take part in hiring and dismissal decisions regarding craft workers, and in evaluations of craft worker performance.

Deal with discipline issues regarding enforcement of company policies, project policies, regulations, and legislation.

Increasingly, the tools with which they perform their work are the project contract documents, and estimates, schedules, cost reports, change orders, RFIs, purchase orders, elements of documentation, written communication, verbal communications, etc.

Develop a much broader vision regarding the craft work, and how it fits in as a component of overall project success.

Frequently interact with other members of the project team, both those within their company and those of the general , and subcontractors, the superintendent, the project manager, and sometimes with members of the office staff.

Often interact with the owner, and architect and engineers for the project.

Frequently interact with other consistencies beyond the members of the project team— building inspectors, safety inspectors, etc.

Figure 2.2 Characteristics of Construction Craft Workers and Management Workers

There are five basic functions that have been referred to as the “fundamental functions of management.” They are: planning, organizing, directing, controlling, and staffing. Each of these functions will be defined, and its relevance to the construction supervisor will be set forth, in this section.


Planning can be defined as setting goals and objectives, and determining specific elements to be accomplished, in order to ensure their fulfillment.

Planning involves determining how to get from where we are now to where we want to be.

Planning is done at all levels of the construction company organization and by all members of the project management team.

Planning is done in terms of both long-term and short-term planning.

Planning is best accomplished by deliberate thought, followed by writing down the plan. When the plan is written down, it becomes part of project documentation, and importantly, it then also becomes a communication tool for assessing the plan, and for communicating it to others. (The importance of documentation and communication will be further emphasized in subsequent chapters.)

It has been observed that planning is the management function that many managers do not perform as well as they should (even though they frequently believe that they are doing so).

Failure to plan properly, and/or failure to properly monitor the plan, is the source of innumerable problems and difficulties of all kinds on construction projects.

Planning avoids many of the problems and difficulties that occur when planning is absent; additionally, proper planning enables the finding of effective solutions to problems that do occur.

Planning is the management function that the supervisor does well to focus on, and to which he or she should devote a great deal of time and attention.


Organizing can be defined as lining up and obtaining all of the necessary resources to fulfill the plan, and giving them the to implement both the long-term plan and the short-term plan.

The resources necessary for the fulfillment of the plan include: materials, equipment, tools, people, documents, and time, and so forth.

These resources do not simply appear. Rather, management effort, in the performance of the organizing function, is necessary to obtain each of them and to place them into a proper array for the fulfillment of the plan.


Directing consists of communicating the plan and energizing the human resources to accomplish the plan. Directing entails setting objectives, assigning tasks, giving instructions, and communicating and enforcing policies.


Controlling can be defined as monitoring the plan and its execution. Controlling entails measuring results, comparing results with expectations, evaluating the significance of differences, and doing what is necessary to make corrections when there are deviations from expectations.

Controlling also involves making the determination as to whether to “stay the course” with the existing plan, to modify the plan, or to formulate a new plan.


Staffing is defined as locating, hiring, training, and developing the people who are necessary to implement the plan, and to fulfill the objectives.

Staffing includes recruiting, hiring, evaluating, promoting, reprimanding, dismissing, compensating, and rewarding the people who are performing the project.

It is important for the supervisor to understand that the staffing function also includes training and professional development of the people in a construction company. Making it possible for the people in a construction company to expand their skills and to enhance their knowledge base is a basic function of management. This investment in people through training and professional development is an investment that will pay dividends over a long period of time.

These are the fundamental management functions that the supervisor will engage in during the course of performing his or her role in management. In other chapters of this book, further reference will be made to these management functions and to the manner in which they apply to construction supervision.


As can be gathered from the foregoing, the construction supervisor must become skilled in a variety of competencies as he or she functions in a supervisory capacity. If the supervisor were planning, and setting a goal to be the very best he or she could be, that person might do very well to seek to learn as much as possible regarding effective supervision. Providing some of that learning is one of the intents of this book.

One of the most effective methods of developing the competencies needed to be an effective supervisor may well be to emulate accomplished supervisors

Good People Skills Teacher
Good Communicator— Verbal and Written Dedicated
Respectful—Treats People with Respect Develops People
Charismatic Consistent
Organized Problem Solver
Knowledgeable Goal Oriented, Goal Setter
Leads by Example Good Planner
Earns the Respect of Others Disciplined
Open-Minded Optimistic
Confident Calm
Honest Fair
Good Decision Maker Motivator
Delegator Humble
Sincere Provides Recognition
Follows Through Trustworthy
Visionary Accessible, Approachable
Willingness to Share Information Team Builder
Crisis Management—Can Be Counted on in a Crisis Sets High Expectations
Good Listener Personable
Figure 2.3 Attributes of the Best Leaders and Managers
who have demonstrated their supervisory and leadership effectiveness over time. A synopsis of the attributes of such supervisors is shown in Figure 2.3.

The list of attributes in Figure 2.3 was derived from queries made to the participants in construction supervision and construction project management seminars. These seminars were presented in all parts of the United States, over a span of


more than 10 years. The responses are those of thousands of participants in these programs.

During the conduct of these seminars, the facilitator provided the following guidance to the participant group. “Think of the best, and most effective, construction leader or supervisor you have ever worked for; one whom you intuitively recognized as a good leader, one whom you admired and respected more than any other, one whose effectiveness was unrivaled, one who was universally regarded as one of the very best at what he or she does. Now think about, and then say aloud, the attributes that this person possessed, that caused him or her to be as effective as he was in supervision and leadership, and/or that caused you to admire him as much as you do.”

The facilitator wrote the participants' responses on a whiteboard or flip chart for all to see, as the participants voiced their thoughts. The exercise continued until the responses from the group slowed significantly or stopped. While there was some small amount of variance in the responses, it is interesting to note that those attributes summarized in Figure 2.3 were repeatedly provided by the different groups of participants, with a very high degree of consistency.

It should also be noted that no survey validation criteria were applied, and no statistical analysis was performed with regard to the responses that were provided. The responses shown in Figure 2.3 are simply a compilation of the most frequently repeated responses to the query, made to a large sample size of constructors, in various regions of the country, over a long period of time. It is noteworthy to recall that these responses were provided by constructors who were describing the attributes of the very best and most effective supervisor and leader they could envision.

It is suggested here, as it was to each group of participants in the seminars, that this set of characteristics may well provide the best possible specification or profile of attributes that a person seeking to become a better construction supervisor could aspire to. It is recommended that the supervisor who is setting a goal of being the best he or she can be might do well to make note of these attributes, and to make frequent reference to them, and then seek to cultivate these qualities, if he or she wishes to be considered in the same manner, as the best of the best, by those whom he or she supervises.


Many construction supervisors spend their entire careers working in a supervisory capacity. People who function effectively in this capacity can have extremely rewarding and successful careers.

For those who are successful in construction supervision and who wish to further broaden their horizons, to continue learning and developing, and to assume further responsibility, numerous additional opportunities await. Some of those additional opportunities are discussed in this section.

Some supervisors may aspire to become a project superintendent, a position that is referred to in some companies as a general superintendent. The


superintendent is usually the primary manager at a construction site and typically has overall responsibility for the management, scheduling, and coordination of a construction project. This management position involves coordinating all of the trades who will perform work on the project. Additionally, it entails managing all of the day-to-day operations and making the day-by-day decisions relative to all aspects of the project throughout the time of construction.

Others may aspire to become project managers. Project managers are best described as the link between field operations and office operations in a construction company. A project manager might perform management functions for one project at a time, assisting a foreman or superintendent in managing the daily operations on that project, and providing the interface between the foreman or superintendent and the company's office management. Alternately, depending on company policy and also on the size and complexity of the projects being performed, a project manager might perform these functions on a portfolio of several construction projects at a time.

Additionally, in some companies the estimating and project management functions are combined. A person might prepare the cost estimate for a project, culminating in the submittal of a proposal. If the proposal is accepted and a construction contract is awarded, the person who prepared the estimate becomes the project manager, who assists in managing and coordinating the construction of the project.

Whether the estimating and project management functions are combined or separate is a matter of policy determined by the construction company's management. Some companies prefer to keep the estimating function discrete from project management functions, while other companies have found advantage in having the same person prepare the estimate and then serve as project manager for constructing the project.

Additional opportunities may also await the supervisor in the performance of any of a variety of different functions in the construction company office. For example, becoming an estimator may be an attractive option. Estimators have the responsibility for analyzing the construction documents for a forthcoming project and determining what the costs of construction for that project are predicted to be. The estimated costs that result from the estimator's determinations are used to prepare proposals, with the hope that the contractor's proposal will be accepted and that a construction contract will result. Further discussion of construction cost estimates and the process by which estimators make their determinations in an estimate, is provided in Chapter 12. The supervisor should know that good estimators are among a contractor's most valued assets. If a person has an interest in and a talent for estimating, he or she can enjoy a very rewarding career performing this function.

Additional opportunities are also available in construction scheduling (discussed in Chapter 14), and in schedule analysis, management, and updating. In addition, there are opportunities in construction project , cost analysis, and cost control. Additional insight into the cost control process is provided in Chapter 13, as well as in several other sections of this book.

Similarly, the important matter of expediting, coordinating, and controlling the purchase of the materials and equipment to be installed in construction projects


that the company is performing, may be appealing. The purchasing and expediting of materials and installed equipment are discussed in various sections of this book, so that the supervisor can form an idea of what these functions entail.


For the person who is in construction supervision, or who is preparing to enter the world of supervision and management, and who is aspiring to be the best and most effective supervisor he or she can be, a challenging, and satisfying, and rewarding opportunity awaits. If he or she enjoys supervision and is effective in the many facets of construction supervision, a person can have a fulfilling and bountiful career performing these functions. If he or she has ambitions of performing additional tasks, the world of management of construction offers numerous additional opportunities.

Learning Activities

1.  Make a copy of, or write out, Figure 2.2, “Characteristics of Construction Craft Workers and Management Workers” from this chapter, and then think of items you could add to the list, both for craft workers and for management workers.

Think of yourself and your work in both categories.

Reflect on how different your work as a supervisor is from how it was as a craft worker, and think of the different level of responsibility you have now as a member of management.

2.  Make an organization chart for your company and its office management and staff personnel. Include the names and contact information for all of the people. List the project manager and superintendent and general foreman (with contact information), as appropriate, who interface the management of your project with the company office.

3.  Look again at Figure 2.3, “Attributes of the Best Leaders and Managers.”

Add to the list with any additional qualities or characteristics you may have thought of.

Write out the list on a tablet or sheet of paper, including your own additions. Underline or highlight those qualities you most admire, and those you would most like to emulate and to cultivate in yourself, in order to be thought of by those with whom you work as the best of the best.

4.  Do some long-range planning and goal-setting, and think in terms of where you would like to see your career evolve, perhaps in supervision or in some other role in the company.





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