Managing a construction crew is no easy task, even for the most skilled project managers. You’re always juggling budgets, schedules, on-site problems, weather changes, and communication with dozens of workers. It’s time to make your job a little easier!
To manage a construction crew, settle conflicts quickly, offer bonuses, set expectations for crew members, assign tasks to specific individuals, and keep an eye on the weather. Also, set-up a chain of command for communication, monitor tool usage, and schedule deliveries to arrive ahead of time.
Even minor changes to your leadership style and behind the scenes tactics can make a massive difference in your crew’s success. So, keep reading to find out the 12 best tips for managing a construction crew more efficiently.
Choose an Authoritative Management Style
There are two different management styles that you can adopt as a construction manager: Authoritative or authoritarian.
As an authoritative manager, you’ll set the stage for what you expect from your crew members. For example, you’re sure to arrive on-site wearing a hardhat if you expect the same from your workers. You have an open-door policy where crew members can air their grievances (such as a lack of appropriate materials). You then put a plan in place to remedy the situation.
Crew members respond well to authoritative management styles in most cases.
Authoritarian management is the exact opposite. You lead your crew with an iron fist and expect obedience from your employees simply because you’re their manager. As an authoritarian construction manager, you view your crew members as “servants” and don’t care to hear their feedback about worksite conditions or unrealistic schedules. You like being in complete control.
Being an authoritarian leader is the quickest way to mold disgruntled crew members who begin to resist your leadership. Research even shows that just 7% of workers will find this style of management to be their “ideal.”
You’ll notice many of these characteristics as we continue to go over the remaining tips.
Settle Conflicts & Site Conditions Immediately
No worksite is perfect, but it’s your job as a construction manager to make all of your worksites as close to “perfect” as possible. Doing so, you’ll keep your crew members as safe as possible and maintain a sense of harmony on-site.
Think about everything that can go wrong on a construction site:
- Unfair workloads (some crew members feel they’re responsible for more slack)
- Lack of tools (crew members are hogging equipment or returning it broken)
- Power-trips (workers assuming an aggressive leadership role without being asked)
- Unsafe conditions (no safety gear, poor weather, or sloppy work by crew members)
- Personality clashes (some members just don’t mesh well together)
Just having conflict or issues on your construction sites isn’t problematic in and of itself. The real problem arises when these issues fly beneath the radar, or you do nothing to remedy them as soon as possible. As soon as you recognize that there’s a problem impacting productivity or the worksite atmosphere, it’s your responsibility to get involved.
Here’s how you can do that if the problem is between two crew members.
The first thing you want to do is bring both crew members together, serving as the mediator. Get down to the root of the problem and find out where the problem is stemming from. Allow both crew members to tell their side of the story and work on reaching a mutual agreement. If you’re not making any headway and both are being stubborn, you might want to keep their schedules from overlapping or move one to another worksite.
We’ll touch on the other issues (like tool shortage or budgeting) later on.
Offer Bonuses or Benefits to Employees
The relationship between yourself and your crew members is purely transactional. They come into work every morning and leave with a paycheck every two weeks. You’re able to finish your projects on time and build your reputation in the community. Yet, even the most dedicated crew members will get restless after back-breaking work and no extra compensation.
To keep morale up and workers dedicated, consider raises, bonuses, or incentives.
Incentives aren’t a new concept in the construction community. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, among construction workers, about 11% earn end-of-year bonuses and another 6% earn holiday bonuses. However, handing out rewards or even holiday gifts (like restaurant gift cards) to every crew member doesn’t make logical or financial sense.
You want to recognize the crew members that go above and beyond and hit every milestone set for them, not just the crew members who show up to work. To do that, you’ll want to create an incentive program with standards for all employees.Here are a few ideas for how you can offer benefits to your crew:
- Gift cards
- Bonuses (end of the year, post-project, holiday, etc.)
- Paid time off
- Flexible work hours (preference)
It’s important to avoid linking these incentives to the time it takes to complete a job. The last thing you want is for your crew to rush through a job for a few extra dollars and skip steps along the way. You’ll end up costing your company more in the long run and run a liability risk.
Reward things like getting referrals, avoiding worksite injuries, and finishing a job on time.
Clarify Rules & Expectations From Day One
There’s an old saying that goes, “What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.” So day one is the perfect time to let new crew members know what you expect from them. These rules and guidelines should relate to OSHA standards, interactions with peers, tool distribution, and anything that encourages productivity.
Not setting these rules from the get-go sets you up for a future lawsuit or disputes. Accountability is critical, and it’s your job as a construction site manager to avoid any excuses that may arise down the road. For example, a worker should know that a scaffold supported by bricks or barrels is unsafe for the entire crew. Breaking this rule should have set consequences.
Training is essential, so be sure to train your employees in or remind them of the following:
- How they should interact with their peers (respectful, polite, etc.)
- How to distribute tools among the crew (no hogging, return them, report damages, etc.)
- How to do basic tasks (using a ladder, setting up a scaffold, working in trenches, etc.)
- How to be safe on-site (steel-toed boots, helmet, reflective vests, etc.)
- How to communicate with superiors (calling out, rescheduling, taking time off, etc.)
There’s always the risk that your crew members break the rules and claim they were unaware of the expectations. It’s good to have all employees sign a contract to agree that they understand the rules in their entirety. Employees should know that doing XYZ while at work will result in X punishment.
New workers may also benefit from a short mentorship period and video training.Here’s an example of a safety video related to construction that you might want to require your workers to watch. This video reviews more than 40 construction-related topics that all workers can benefit from knowing:
Assign Individual Employees to Specific Tasks
When you have dozens of crew members on a job site, confusion often ensues. You may have 15 of your crew members laying a 100 square foot foundation while only two members erect the support beams inside the structure. Doing so can add days or even weeks to your project timeline and cost you thousands in wasted labor.
Letting your crew members do as they please also sets the stage for laziness later on.
So the best way to prioritize time management and efficiency on the construction site is by creating a daily schedule of tasks divided amongst crew members. All workers should arrive on-site and know which tasks they must complete during the day and by what time. The result is a well-distributed workforce and accountability put on crew members.
Downloadable apps and software can make juggling multiple worksites more simple on you as a manager. Apps like Raken will give you the job of assigning daily tasks to each member scheduled for the day. Workers can signal to the office that they completed a specific task (like unloading materials) and take a picture through the app to document it, keeping you in the loop.
Two other things can impact organization: Workers scheduled and the tasks they’re assigned.
Some jobs require all hands on deck, especially if your desired completion date is just a few weeks away. Other times, such as during inclement weather, there wouldn’t be a need to bring the entire crew out to the site.
Also, think about assigning tasks based on the strengths of crew members. While you’d like all of your workers to handle any job you throw at them, some workers will be better at roofing than others.
Set Up a Communication Chain With Crew Members
As a construction project manager, it’s nearly impossible for you to travel to all of your work sites daily. Yet, you owe it to your clients to always know what’s going on at their property. In these cases, it’s useful to set-up a logical chain of command to allow two-way communication for updates along the way.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to give all 60 crew members a call to get updates.
The first thing you want to do is establish a platform that the crew will use for communication (like FieldChat or Crew). By doing so, you can keep all contact in one place and prevent any important messages or calls from falling through the cracks. For example, you wouldn’t want to find out three hours later that your crew couldn’t access the property as expected.
It’s essential to set a chain-of-command within your company. Workers should bring concerns and issues to the manager on-site before pursuing a solution from anyone higher up. Your time is valuable, and it’d be wasteful to dedicate your time to solving petty worksite disputes or individually handle scheduling concerns.
If you haven’t heard from your on-site managers by day’s end, reach out to gauge the day’s progress. Find out about inventory needs, timeline progress, and budgetary concerns and address them as needed.
Weekly meetings with your crew and managers would be useful as well.
Keep a Close Eye on the Weather Radars
Nothing will set back a construction project quite like inclement weather. As much as you want to keep your jobs on schedule, poor weather can be a severe safety hazard and cost you money in unfulfilled labor fees as the crew sits around and waits off the storm. As a result, it’s crucial to monitor the weather well-in-advance and throughout the day.
A construction manager should always have his eye on the radar.
It’s important to understand that there are no set guidelines for weather cancellations in the construction world. For example, it would be messy and difficult to dig a trench outside in the pouring rain. Yet, pouring rain shouldn’t stop a small-scale construction crew from installing sheetrock inside a home with a roof overhead.Here are a few common weather concerns and how they put your crew at risk:
- Heavy Wind: Especially concerning for crane usage or building tall structures
- Snow & Rain: Makes worksites slippery and concrete pouring near-impossible
- Lightning: Risk of a lightning strike on metal structures and machinery
There’s nothing you can do about the weather, but you can do a few things to take your crew’s progress into your own hands. You can divert workforces to indoor or covered sites during inclement weather to keep them on the payroll and improve your sites. A weather alert system can also let you know about upcoming lousy weather to cancel or divert labor ahead of time.
Keep in mind that inclement weather can mean severe heat and cold as well.
Guarantee Shipments & Deliveries Ahead of Time
Getting the referral and gathering a construction crew to do the job was the simple part. Now, you have to worry about ensuring that the right equipment and materials arrive on-site in time to keep your crew productive. Without the right supplies in hand and ready to go, your team sits around on your dime without making any progress.
The best way to stay on track is by building relationships with reliable local vendors.
The first thing you want to do is reach out to your preferred vendors and inform them of your desired project timeline. Confirm with them that they can get all supplies and materials delivered to your job site before demolition day or day one of the build. Otherwise, be willing to delay your start date or get in contact with a different vendor.
If you notice that your deliveries are behind schedule, come up with another solution, like:
- Use the materials and tools that are on-site to begin specific tasks.
- Disperse your crew to other local sites for the time being.
- Order the materials needed for the beginning of the project first in the future.
- Don’t agree to a start date until you can guarantee shipments and deliveries.
- Cancel your first order and order from a different distributor (if the timeline is tight).
- Borrow materials or tools from your other sites until the new delivery arrives.
- Track your delivery statuses to keep up-to-date on your gear.
Though you understand that slow or delayed deliveries come with the territory, your clients may not be so forgiving. Some clients would rather see you get to work on day one doing minor tasks than not showing up until days later. Let your clients know ahead of time that you have held-up shipments and figure out how they’d like you to proceed.
Take Inventory of Tools & Equipment Daily
Tools like hammers, drills, and saws are instrumental in getting any construction job done as intended. The problem is that tools and construction sites don’t mesh well together — they always seem to go missing or return damaged. The best way to cut costs on buying new gadgets every few weeks is by tracking your equipment and taking inventory.You can do that by investing in a tool inventory system like ToolHound or ShareMyToolbox.
These apps are beneficial because they can be used on-site by the members of your crew. All workers can determine what tools are available at the job site. They can then scan the barcode or QR code with their smartphone on the instrument they need to sign it out. This tech-savvy solution is much more reliable than written sign-out sheets that workers can manipulate.
The benefits of tracking your tool inventory can provide the following benefits:
- Keep track of which workers use tools and when (track individual productivity)
- Limit hogging of tools (signing out several unrelated tools at once, slowing others down)
- Find out if workers are stealing tools (causes $400 million in losses each year)
- Figure out which tools are damaged and by who (to replace it as soon as possible)
The data you record can also help you become a better manager and work more closely with your crew members. For example, a worker who is signing out a ladder when pouring foundation may not understand the inner-workings of the task they’re assigned. On the other hand, a worker always returning broken tools may need to be taught proper use protocol.
The more you tolerate broken tools and theft, the more likely it’ll occur in the future.
In the video below, you’ll find out what apps like ShareMyToolbox can offer to a construction company like yours to keep productivity high:
Only Accept Jobs Your Crew Can Truly Handle
As a construction manager, nothing will boost your ego and reputation more than accepting a multi-million dollar project that’ll finally put your company on the map. Unfortunately, there will be limitations regarding what your crew can handle relating to skills and timelines. Nothing will ruin your reputation quite like a sloppy, incomplete, or delayed job.
It’s important to know what your crew is truly capable of handling. To figure that out, ask yourself the following questions before agreeing to a project:
- Does my crew have the skills needed to complete the job correctly?
- Are the right tools available to make the project come to life?
- Is this a reasonable timeline for my crew to complete the job?
- Would attempting this project put my crew in the path of danger?
- Is this realistic?
The risk of handing a project to an unprepared crew can wreak havoc on your company.
You may end up with disgruntled employees forced to work a 40+ week on a tough job to meet an unrealistic deadline. Workers may end up cutting corners or skipping steps due to a lack of equipment or appropriate time to do things properly. Worst of all, putting crews of dozens in highly stressful situations will undoubtedly lead to conflict, walk-outs, and disdain for you.
Remember that your construction company doesn’t exist without your workers, and you want to do what you can to keep them satisfied at all costs. If you plan to accept more complicated jobs in the future, begin preparing your crew to handle those jobs through training well-in-advance.
Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits, worker injury, and disappointed clients.
Remain Upbeat & Positive On-Site
It’s safe to say that, as a manager, you set the tone for the atmosphere on your job site. Walking onto the site with a hostile attitude puts a damper on the mood of the entire crew. The last thing you want is workers using heavy machinery while angry, stressed, anxious, or frustrated. Not only is this dangerous, but angry workers don’t make productive workers.So your interactions with crew members should always be positive, no matter what.
When your crew sees your truck pull into the worksite, they shouldn’t tense up or avoid crossing paths with you. You should always greet them individually (by name, if possible) with a warm smile and a handshake. It’s also good to take an interest in the task they’re doing and ask them how things have been going so far. They shouldn’t be afraid to tell you bad news.
There’s also no such thing as “too much praise” on a construction site. Recognize your workers for the good things they’ve done while working, such as preventing a worksite injury, mentoring a new worker, or finishing a job on time. Also, provide your workers with the praise and motivation they need to build morale during a long or strenuous job. Every little bit counts.
Most importantly, lead by example, and your enthusiasm will rub off on your crews in due time.
Give Your Crew Much-Needed Time Off the Job
Every construction manager wants their projects to go off without a hitch, finish on time, and come in under budget. But, meeting all of these goals tends to come with one downside: Overworked and fatigued employees. The best thing you can do about safety and worker satisfaction is to give all crew members much-needed time off the job.
Think about how tough the manual labor of construction can be on the body and mind.
Workers are on their feet for sometimes more than ten hours a day, hauling heavy loads and using every ounce of energy they have left. They get home in time for dinner, go right to bed, and start all over again in the morning. To make matters worse, they’re away from their families for most of the week (or weeks at a time for individual projects)
A tired and overwhelmed worker is an incredible liability for your company, as well. Safety protocols often go by the wayside as workers drag themselves through the day. Most importantly, you don’t want your crew members to be one of the 1,000+ construction deaths that occur each year from preventable things like falls or electrocutions.
How you give days off will depend on how you run your company.
You could give your workers set days off during the week, occasionally opt for half-days, and provide your workers with paid time off. Always listen to your employees when they say they’re hurting, injured, over-tired, and stressed — giving time off doesn’t make you a pushover.
There’s one crucial thing to remember when you’re a construction manager: You set the tone for your company and your worksites. Micromanaging, an aggressive leadership style and unrealistic expectations will harm the productivity and strain relationships you have with your crew.
Remember that your crew is responsible for turning blueprints into finished projects that clients adore. Your job is to do the behind the scenes work (budgeting, scheduling, deliveries), so take a step back and only intervene when supervision or guidance is necessary.
Making one or two changes to your sites can positively influence your worksite’s atmosphere and how your workers view you.
- Leadership IQ: Autocratic Leadership: New Data Reveals Who Likes It
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Access to end-of-year and holiday bonuses for private industry workers in 2019
- OSHA: Worker Safety Series Construction
- National Equipment Register: 2016 Equipment Theft Report
- OSHA: Commonly Used Statistics