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Spread your wings

Learning how to work smarter not harder is the aim of a new type of course offered to contractors.

Gather together a group of long-serving contractors and then ask each one to define the kind of person he or she is, their leadership style and whether they are active listeners. You might think you would get a less than enthusiastic response. This is not an industry known for its softer side.

But a new course aimed at senior people in small to medium-sized firms is doing just that, and with positive results. Run by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and the National Construction College, with funding from Construction Skills’ M&SDP fund, “Managing the Future” brings together groups of 12 people, drawn from different regions for four days spread over a six month period, with the aim of developing their leadership skills.

More than 150 senior managers will attend the course this year, each aiming to improve efficiency and thus generate more revenue.

CECA facilitates the course in order to address the skills shortage at a senior level. With many courses for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) focusing on health and safety or technical training, this is a vital way of tackling a particular industry skills deficit: learning how to be a better leader. Originally developed by Optima and Nuttall, the course began in January and will run several times each year. Places have sold fast and funding for next year has been agreed.

Joe Johnson, director of training at CECA, says it is unique: “It’s a first for CECA. It’s a strategic view for the industry and for civil engineering firms in particular. It’s phenomenal to see participants fly. They can afford to be out of the business for four days and within two or three weeks they are making changes for the better,” he says.

Many of the delegates have never done this type of training. Russell Fitzjohn, general manager of Leicester-based contractor Danaher and Walsh says it was invaluable. “I’ve been in the business 30-odd years now. If you get to this sort of level you don’t do much training, but you should. There’s nothing new about management, it’s about how you put it into practise,” he says.

Johnson believes that one reason the course has proved such a success for CECA and for the industry is that while larger firms may have internal training, often smaller firms do not have the time or resources to think about management courses.

Course tutor David Harrison says that in order to improve business efficiency, you have to think about yourself and how you lead people. “A lot of construction people tend to be very construction orientated and they give very little thought to themselves, they do their job instinctively,” he says.

He advises taking time write down what you think about yourself and how you come across. But it is not always easy to be honest. One delegate said: “I have started thinking about myself more. When you see the piece of paper in front of you, you have to think about yourself and put down an answer. Are you doing the right thing for you?” he says.

Rok Group area leader for Ayr Derek Ferguson, who did the course this spring, says that you have to stop being so involved with what you are doing. “We as managers or leaders are often overloaded with information. But communication comes across strongly. Shut the laptop down and go out and talk to people,” he says.

He adds that taking the time to do the course is well worth it. “You might think it will take time out of your day, but it’s fantastic,” he says.

Once you have thought about yourself, consider the teams you put together. Getting the mix of people is vital. Fitzjohn says: “The golden nugget is to get your teams right. You can have good strategy and marketing but if you haven’t got the right mix of people then you’re on to a loser.”

Harrison is full of helpful advice including something he calls “Eat the frog,” a strategy taken from the writer Mark Twain. He says: “If you eat a frog for breakfast it’s probably the worst thing you’ll eat all day, and it will taste bitter. But then the rest of the day will seem sweet. You will then know you’ve overcome the worst thing you’ve got to do. It works, has helped people reorganise things and it really improves productivity.”

Johnson says that ultimately the course helps companies gain a competitive edge. “They are finding more things that are making them much more efficient and affecting the bottom line. They learn so much more that enables them to ramp up their business – it’s about working smarter, not harder.”


Managing the Future is available to CECA members for £250, a subsidised rate through Construction Skills, which includes follow-up mentoring. There are plans to roll it out to the rest of the industry this year.

David Harrison, the course tutor, had a 30-year career at a large M&E contractor and now runs a management consultancy.
The course is made up of four one-day sessions about six weeks apart and is held all over the country. There is a good mix of practical exercises and tutoring and the following areas are covered:

Leadership - how improving it can transform your business results:
 The seven principles of personal leadership
 Understanding your strengths and weaknesses
 Action plan to maximise your potential and results

How to build and retain a winning team:
 Six principles of leading teams to peak performance
 Selecting and developing a team of winners
 Planning for the future

How to maximise the performance of your people:
 Communicating for results
 Motivating and educating your people
 Becoming a great people manager

Unlock the potential for higher profit and better cash flow:
 Understanding customers
 Strategies to help you win new customers and orders
 Skills to help maximise profit end cash flow

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