On-Site Magazine

DNA of a construction leader


Skills Development

So, you want to be the leader of a multi-national construction firm one day, huh? Well, you better make sure you’ve got a strong balance of technical experience, business leadership and people skills to start with.

Construction recruiting firm, Hays Canada, has compiled a report on the DNA of a VP of Construction. Surveying more than 100 construction leaders in Canada, including VPs or above, the respondents were questioned about their education, background, qualifications, international experience, responsibilities, challenges and personal aspirations.

What Hays discovered in its research, is that Canadian construction leaders share several commonalities in what has led them to the top of their industry. The typical career path of a construction VP has three distinct stages and begins with roughly five years in an entry level/field work position. In these early years, they tended to work in a broad range of roles over multiple sectors. According to the findings, more than 80 per cent of survey respondents have experience working in multiple functional areas. This diversity of experience helps later on in their careers when they are expected to manage cross-functional teams.

In the following three to 10 years (stage 2), they held positions focused on people and project management. It is during this time that they really developed their business leadership skills. “In your role as a VP you are counted on to make things better for the business and team, and to do this you have to realize that fundamentals outlast technology,” says Tim Smith, executive VP, EllisDon. “Having strong project management skills will help you adopt new technologies while getting the most out of your team throughout your career.”


The third stage of a construction VP’s career path (typically eight to 15+ years) finds them in a senior management or executive role. During this phase of their careers, the focus is now on high-performance teams. Great leaders have learned by this point, they don’t know everything, and therefore surrounding themselves with great people is necessary for the success of the entire team. “It’s important to understand the difference between management and leadership,” says Martin Ferron, president and CEO of North American Construction Group. “Management is moving resources around, versus leadership, which is getting people to follow you on a common mission.”

All construction executives needed certain technical skills, professional accomplishments and networking abilities to get where they are today, but not surprisingly it is some of the softer skills that allowed them to standout amongst their peers. Communications skills, personality and passion are still paramount.

Ron Fettback, VP of operations at Western Pacific Enterprises, has this advice to offer the next generation of construction leaders: “Work hard. Prove that you will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Be innovative, honest and follow through on promises so people know they can depend on you.”


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