Superintendents – An Introduction to the Most Important Person on the Project 

In the last few posts, I talked about getting the scope of work clear upfront to ensure all parties on a project know what to expect from each other.  Knowing what to expect builds trust among the project team.  With the scope of work clear and contracts signed, you're ready to go to work.  Who do you hand the ball to?  The Superintendent.

On the ground, there is no one more important person than the Superintendent in executing a successful project.  From pre-construction planning until the final inspection and turn-over, the Superintendent is the linchpin of the project.  They see, hear, and even feel all that occurs on the job site and use this knowledge to ensure the workers and nearby public stay safe, the job is built in accordance with the drawings and specs and is built either on or faster than scheduled.  All the while, the Superintendent is all too aware that the project is supposed to earn a profit for the company.   

The Superintendent must be visionary – to see what is shown on paper and figure out how to get it built in the face of dozens of forces working against them, such as: material delays, weather problems, labor shortages, contractual disputes, environmental procedures, and budgetary limitations.  

The role of the Superintendent is not an easy one and few truly understand what it entails. Even fewer want the job when they realize the heavy responsibility Superintendents carry. If you are an aspiring foreman or tradesperson thinking about career advancement, you've watched the Superintendent walk the project with a phone stuck to their ear most of the day. At first glance it seems like an easy gig, until you realize the person on the other end of that phone isn’t happy about something and expects the Superintendent to fix it - now – which only adds to a long list of others problems that day.  You'll quickly learn that everyone on the jobsite who has a problem looks to the superintendent for a decision.

Superintendents are charged with making decisions all day, some are seemingly routine like scheduling material deliveries or work crews for their various tasks.  Some decisions aren’t so routine and require both a calm demeanor, and an ability to problems solve quickly. Every day Superintendents face seemingly impossible situations such as:

  • The last concrete truck in a 50-yard slab pour is already on the road, but is stuck in traffic.  The forecast was for clouds, but the sun is out.  The crew is on overtime.  The specs don’t allow the truck to discharge after ninety minutes nor having any cold joints in the slab.

  • An unmarked but potentially live gas line is discovered at the same location as the tap for a new water service.  The gas company can’t get there for an hour, traffic is building and the permitted time for the street closure is almost up.

  • When setting a new electrical transformer, a critical path activity that just had to get done today, the foreman doesn’t show up for work.

Despite the burdens, I believe serving in the role of Superintendent is an absolute must for anyone looking to advance in the industry.  I am blessed to have served in this role on many projects and still fill-in for my clients when I see the need.  It is where I truly learned job site operations and where all my skills were tested to actually build something instead of just sending emails about what will get built.      

In the next few posts, I will explore this role further including guest contributions from top-notch Superintendents who are working out there today.  Upcoming topics will include:

  • What skills do Superintendents most need

  • What are Superintendents’ most common mistakes and how to avoid them

  • How best should we support our Superintendents to enable their success  

  • Where will we find and recruit our future Superintendents

Mission Critical Operations (MC Ops) is a construction management & advisory consultancy focused on improving quality, schedule and financial performance on high-profile and potentially contentious projects throughout the nation.