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The personal touch

MANAGEMENT: Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award - Effective civil engineering managers need to be more than just good technical and commercial operators. Mouchel director David Binns explains why people skills count.

Delivery of a technical solution to a client used to be the main challenge faced by managers in civil engineering. Rigid and dogmatic processes, combined with a philosophical tradition of a definite 'right and wrong way', meant there was little scope for deviation.

But the dramatic, exciting and ongoing changes in our marketplace now demand a much greater flexibility in approach and an extended skills set to match. As in many companies, managers within Mouchel are learning to work in new ways as the delivery of infrastructure support services becomes increasingly diverse.

The result of this changing environment is that the management of relationships, be it one on one, within or across teams or in a supply chain, has risen in importance. In fact it is quite often as crucial to performance and productivity on an engineering project as the team's technical excellence.

The rise of partnering, for instance, has placed a greater emphasis on the skills needed to work effectively with people.

Integrated and co-located project teams such as those operating within the defence and pharmaceutical sectors, require managers to be selected as much for their ability to motivate, network and influence as their engineering expertise.

And perhaps perversely, the proliferation of 'virtual' teams on civil engineering projects - made possible by advances in communications technology - has heightened rather than diminished the need for effective personal communication. Both managers and team members working remotely may need to have established a higher degree of trust and understanding than normal if the project and client service is not to suffer.

But no matter which sector they work in, civil engineers with a thorough grasp of the needs and skills of all those around them are at a huge advantage as infrastructure management evolves.

Project management skills learnt in more traditional engineering are being honed and adjusted to suit the needs, for example, of local authority externalisations. Delivering year on year customer service improvements against key performance indicators is only possible if the manager understands as much about culture as commerce.

With over 50% of companies reporting that they regularly use psychometric testing as part of their recruitment process, it seems that most of us agree that getting the right person is as important as having the right knowledge.

Civil engineering managers need to have technical skills and they need to be commercially aware. But if they really want to meet and exceed modern client expectations, personal management skills are an equally vital part of the necessary skills package.

David Binns is Mouchel's director for industrial and defence major projects.

Path to success

This year's award will adopt a slightly different format from the past to encourage the busiest and best civil engineering managers to enter.

The judging process is as follows:

1.Candidates put forward a brief explanation and citation about why they are the 2001 ICE Civil Engineering Manager of the Year. Closing date for entries is 30 June.

2. Judges shortlist the best dozen candidates by the end of July. These will then be asked to prepare a more detailed citation about their methods, achievements and projects.

3. Finalists announced in mid October in advance of the Awards final on 21 November.

4. The final will see the best candidates present to and be questioned by the judging panel. The winner will be announced on the day.

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