If you find yourself complaining about field personnel not taking construction project quality seriously, then this article should help you find some solutions.
The first step is to look into the mirror and ask yourself if your leadership style might be the cause of the problem.
You can have a very good construction quality management plan, but if your field personnel don't follow your leadership, then they won't carry out your plan.
Signs that you have a leadership problem can range from field supervisors showing a lack of engagement (with passive compliance) to outright ignoring your quality management plan entirely.
Understanding the purpose of the quality manager
Quality managers should be asking, “Why would field personnel follow me?" This is the first step towards understanding your role and who you are really serving.
The simple answer is that field personnel will follow you if you help them have fewer problems and create a smoother construction process.
When you look for ways to make your field personnel's problems go away, then they will have no trouble dealing with the extra tasks that you might ask them to do.
To me, this makes perfect sense: frontline people don’t just see every problem first hand – they have to solve them too. If your quality program does not help them, then you as a quality manager aren't doing your job.
How to get field personnel to commit to your quality plan
Quality management leadership is not about domination. It's about gaining the voluntary cooperation of your field personnel.
The best way to gain this cooperation is by leading individual field personnel one by one and by building relationships of mutual trust.
Over the years, I've had the pleasure of working with some very effective quality managers. The most effective ones take the time to understand the problems their superintendents are having.
For example, one quality manager would review the comments and issues reported on every inspection form that came in from his superintendents. He would get on the phone with his superintendents to understand the issues better, and then, he would meet with the department head or subcontractor owner to find a solution.
After that, he would loop back to the superintendents to tell them what he had done and that he would be keeping track to make sure that things got better.
Once the superintendents trusted that the quality manager was on their side, they voluntarily committed to the quality management plan, became engaged in the process, and actively took improving quality seriously.
The quality manager gained more and more support from his field personnel as time went on. And eventually, the phone calls became unnecessary. As the superintendents got on board, the quality management plan began to work, and everyone could see the results of their hard work.
Get practical results and get support!
Your field personnel must think of your quality system as a tool that gets (them) results. So, make everything you ask of field superintendents worth their while.
For instance, if you ask them to report problems on an inspection checklist, you are then responsible for taking action to make those problems go away.
The same goes for every other aspect of your quality program, such as daily reports, quality scores and nonconformance reports. If your superintendents don't see any benefit to completing this paperwork, then these quality management tools will become ineffective at improving quality.
I like to think of this as a results-oriented strategy.
It is very important to work hard at the beginning of a project to quickly establish the benefits of your quality management plan. And, emphasize how you'll use your quality management plan to get results on everyone’s behalf.
Let them know what they should do so that you can help them. Once the project starts and your field personnel see that you are holding up your end of the agreement, you will have earned credibility, and in turn, you will have earned their cooperation.
In the end, the power of your quality management plan will gain momentum because it is getting results.
While leadership is not about domination, it's also not about rah-rah platitudes!
Leadership comes from the dedication to consistently supporting field personnel in systematic ways that get tangible results.
Remember, the best way to motivate construction departments is by leading individual field personnel one by one and by building relationships.
After all, the goal of a good quality management plan is to make quality problems go away. If your superintendents don't think that your plan will help them, then they won't stick with it long enough to see positive results. And, your project's quality will suffer.
Remember, quality managers are worth nothing without the VOLUNTARY commitment of their field personnel.
About the Author - Ed Caldeira is founder of First Time Quality, LLC, specializing in submittal-ready construction QA/QC plan templates and custom quality plans as well as construction quality inspection and punchlist software.