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The key to management

Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award

Do you have to be a good civil engineer to be a good civil engineering manager? No, says Keith Clarke, chief executive of Skanska Construction Group, but it is a great way to start.

When NCE asked me what qualities I thought made a good civil engineering manager, I hesitated. What could I, an architect by training, say to a young civil engineer? Do we even speak the same language?

Of course we do - many of my top managers are civil engineers.

But it is not the civil engineering degree - rather the almost indefinable extra quality - that got them into the top positions.

Being a civil engineer was just a starting point.

So how to explain that extra bit you need? It is a difficult task, particularly in our industry which has changed and matured in recent years. Some consider it unfashionable to be in construction - I argue that being in an industry which accepts it is inefficient offers enormous opportunities for those who recognise this and have the vision to change it.

A successful senior executive today must understand how to manage risk, how the supply chain works and how to use it to improve efficiency. They must also know how to motivate and lead and how to work with the client.

Civil engineering has undergone a fundamental change. It used to be about reacting to the client's needs as outlined in the project brief and making it happen whatever the obstacles.

Now it is about understanding what your client wants to achieve from the project and shaping the project to make it happen.

To be a top manager today you must understand risk. Civil engineers have to be able to plan, programme, manage logistics and eschew good working practice. The civil engineering manager must be able to do this within the framework of risk identification and assessment.

This includes the technical and physical risks as well as financial ones.

Another important aspect of improving our industry lies in supply chain management. We tend to concentrate on the supply chain below us but in reality we are all a link in the chain. The whole supply chain goes up and down.

Good managers recognise this: they get into their supply chain, understand it and use it to improve performance.

Sometimes if you stand back from the details the picture becomes clear and your action may be very different from someone concentrating on the technical issues. The key is to stay focused on the client's needs and to review progress against the end product - delivering a project to suit its requirement. Profit follows service and performance - not the other way around.

Finally, our industry is all about people. It is as much about the people who use what we build as about the people who build what we use.

Good managers, really good managers, have an empathy with people. They understand their client and remain focused on its needs; they are able to motivate and get the best from their staff. Recognising and developing people's ability is as important as is rewarding success. This way you will both retain and attract them.

There are many technically clever civil engineering managers. However, great managers are those who can lead and who recognise the bigger picture beyond the technical details.

They are the real achievers.

So being a good manager is not necessarily about being a good civil engineer but being a good civil engineer is definitely a step on the way.

The ICE Manager of the Year Award is sponsored by the Institution of Management, Laing Construction and NCE For your chance to win this prestigious award, along with the ICE medal and £1,000 cash prize, visit www. ice. org. uk or contact Pat Warren at the ICE on (020) 7665 2202. Closing date for entries is 30 June and

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