Updated: Mar 17
By Tom Cowan, Director of Operations with Nexus 5 Group
I have said it many times, the superintendent role is one of the hardest in the construction industry. With all due respect to the Project Manager, the superintendent must possess unique skillsets that are in a league of their own. And much like project managers, the superintendent roles vary from company to company and industry. So, it is a tough gig for sure, but it can also be very rewarding if you fit the bill.
There are several different descriptions for a superintendent in the construction industry.
A site superintendent is one who typically resides at a certain project or two and directs the daily operations on site. This involves directing all the scopes happening for a project.
A general superintendent is one who oversees the field operations for the company including manpower placement, recruiting and safety. The general superintendent is the glue between field and office.
And then there is a specialty subcontractor superintendent that oversees both roles but with a finer focus on the one or two specific scopes.
I have experience in all three. So, I think I have a dog in the fight. I cannot say which I like best since they all have their rewards and challenges, but what I can say is that it's a role like no other and that's what makes it great.
The superintendent is the central hub of all things for a project; good or bad.
I do believe the project manager is ultimately responsible, in most cases, for the project as whole, however the superintendent has the most exposure to influence good and bad results. When good things happen, the superintendent gets credit, and when bad things happen, the superintendent gets credit.
So what makes the superintendent role unique? Well, for one the superintendent needs to be able to be the leader of many different scopes and/or subcontractors. There are so many variables, moods and opinions on the project and a good superintendent can coach these in their own unique ways. All fingers point to the central source. Yes, the supers! So, you better be ready to speak on a wide range of questions and techniques.
How resourceful can you be? How should you handle difficult subcontractors or techs? What about a client that shows up on the project? Are you ready to adjust your focus to the sensitivity level a client needs right after dealing with a delivery truck that ran into the light pole at the entrance?
Nexus 5 Group Superintendents
At the Nexus 5 Group, we have a couple general superintendents, many site superintendents and a couple assistant superintendents (also known as Supers in training). Any of these folks could jump into the other's role and be affective. However, I would have my doubts that they would excel unless they had the time to grow into the role and feel the same rewarding feeling.
Brett Bush is one of our general superintendents. When asked what gets him out of bed in the morning, he said, “I like the challenges that comes with being the general super. A lot of what I do is dealing with emergency situations that popup daily and it is satisfying to successfully complete those tasks. I react well to spontaneous things although I would prefer everything scheduled and in order. I also enjoy working with and mentoring our techs (Skilled labor). My job allows me to see most of our projects and techs on a weekly basis and contribute to each.”
Josh Green is our general site superintendent. When asked about his role and how the superintendent role has evolved in the industry over the years, he said, “Today’s superintendent lives in a world much different than 20 years ago. Technology has played a pivotal role in the demands for on-site supervision in the construction world. A digital world has brought us real-time updating, on demand information, and instant communication through various resources.
Video chat such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime have created the ability to instantly discuss issues and find solutions. Text messaging, Microsoft Teams Chat and other messaging apps, create a virtual office to communicate and problem solve. These technologies have created an environment for better and faster communication. We've streamlined the job process. And we've enabled the on-site supervisor to bring the customer a product of the highest quality, on time, and on budget.”
A new breed of superintendent.
The screaming superintendents of yesterday are becoming extinct. Instead, a new wave of resourceful and motivational leaders have arrived. Being prepared, being helpful and showing good leadership are the priorities. If you show value to your subs and techs, they will respect you and follow your lead with passion.
At the end of the day, superintendents like to build things. Superintendents like to see and feel progress. Watching a building being erected, a technician learning new skills, and experiencing appreciation from a client satisfies those needs. It's less often you see these folks coming from a college background than it is for them to come up through the field or out of a vocational technical school. The field comradery is a bond that's comfortable and inviting. They like to get their hands dirty and love the pressure of being the leader. They care about the crews and subs. They care about the client. And they usually put these people before themselves.
Hats off to the Supers! You have my respect for sure.