I’m not a superintendent on residential projects anymore. I’ve had time to reflect on how my projects might have been better if I had been better. Here are the five behaviors I came up with.
I was probably more trusting than I should have been. I assumed the due diligence of owners and architects was adequate for my purposes. Unfortunately, it turned out that was often not the case. I expected all specialty contractors to study the plans as much as I did and believed people on the job would have a full understanding of what they were building.
Those expectations didn’t come true 50% of the time. I assumed fabricators would factor in all the variables so their components would arrive on time. That didn’t happen in 20% of the cases.
I would have spent more time separating fact from hope.
So, in hindsight, I would have asked a lot more questions while surveying the contract documents. I would have spent more time separating fact from hope. My questioning would have yielded a list labeled “potential surprises.” I would have also reviewed the plans with the specialty contractor employees who would do the work. And, I would have used a system of reminders for fabricators and suppliers.
When a super gets the plans, the deal is usually done. It’s up to us to overcome all the limitations the deal contains. Otherwise, it’s just our headaches and our sleepless nights.
Stepping Back To See the Big Picture
Superintendents handle details minute by minute. One moment, you might help a supplier understand what you need to meet a project specification. The next moment, you might be pondering the budget to understand why you’re only 50% finished with an activity that’s 75% spent.
Focusing too closely day in and day out leads to tunnel vision. You miss the big picture. And, since a large part of your job is solving problems, it’s easy to slip into a negative mindset because the problems never stop.
I wish I would have taken more time each day to step back from the problems and rise above them. By viewing the site from fifty feet up, I would have been able to concentrate on the big picture. I would have seen the multitude of people, most doing their best, to create something new, or something fresh in the space we called the jobsite. I would also have taken more time to note all the things that were going right and celebrating those accomplishments with the crews more often.
Communicating to the Senses
Construction is a very visual and tactile profession. I wish I would have understood sooner just how much that extends to owners. When you show people something you communicate through the senses. That’s key for meeting owner expectations.
I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I had paid more attention to showing owners what they were getting.
I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I had paid more attention to showing owners what they were getting. Instead of naming and explaining items from the specifications, I wish I would have used more mockups or 3D digital images. I also wish that instead of turning an owner loose with simply a list of selections, I would have given them pictorial examples with estimated prices. That would have helped avoid the usual surprises when they picked something that was more expensive than what I quoted.
It’s only natural to have anxious days when you’re a super. After all, you’re depending on countless people to do their jobs right and finish on time. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you’ve been a super for just a day, you know that a lot can go wrong. Every new day on the job will challenge your ability to understand just how wrong things can go. All the surprises and mistakes have the bad tendency to pile up until you’re overwhelmed. That leads to anxiety and stress.
I wish I would have taken more short breaks throughout the day. Just spending a few minutes in the quiet, taking deep breaths would have been helpful. I also wish I’d known about the 3-3-3 rule and practiced it. And, for me, spending a little time each day meditating would have reduced my anxiety.
More Empathy Under Stress
On a cold winter morning, a truck bringing in a load of windows got stuck. About seven other things had already gone wrong. I was fuming as I walked across the site to deal with the latest mishap.
Come to find out the truck driver wasn’t a truck driver at all. He was the window company sales rep. He had rented a truck and driven it 400 miles to the jobsite to prevent us from being delayed.
In hindsight, I wish I could have summoned an extra measure of empathy.
But, I dissed all that with my attitude and stern words, concentrating on his mistake of not asking someone familiar with the site where to unload. In hindsight, I wish I could have summoned an extra measure of empathy. He didn’t do it on purpose—in fact, he was going above and beyond.
I don’t remember his name but if by chance he’s reading—I do apologize.
Maybe experience viewed through the rear-view mirror loses some of its context, but the lessons are often timeless. Don’t assume, take the high view, communicate well, take care of yourself and strive for harmony.
Duane Craig is a former superintendent on single and multifamily projects. Today he writes about construction, enjoys the outdoors and photography, and stays up to his neck in a stream of home improvement projects.