It's not easy, but it's essential in order to keep moving forward.

This is definitely the most difficult position and responsibility in any construction trade. Most of you contractors who started your own business surely can remember the trials and tribulations of finding capable foremen, training them to represent you favorably with everyone involved on the jobsite, and making cost-effective and time-saving decisions.

As (or if) your company grew, you can also remember how difficult it was to find a capable employee to replace yourself and effectively supervise these jobsite foremen.

I'm naturally unaware of which route you chose, but let's look at the varying methods some contractors are using to boss their foremen:

  • On large projects where there is more than one working foreman, they appoint a general foreman to deal with the office, customer, inspectors and design team.

  • When the company is performing more than one trade on a jobsite, such as plumbing, HVAC, fire protection, etc., they will appoint one of these foremen as general foreman or jobsite superintendent.

  • Some companies will promote their most effective jobsite foreman to become a traveling superintendent who then supervises foremen at different locations.

  • Many companies utilize a project manager from their office management team to visit each jobsite and supervise their foremen.
All of these methods will work effectively if you choose the right person, negotiate a detailed scope of work and responsibilities, measure and monitor their performance, keep score, and reward accordingly.

Here again, this supervisor is totally responsible for everything your foremen do, good or bad. He or she is their boss and either makes something happen or allows something to happen. You easily can understand why you need that written chain of command to define this control and responsibility.

From my personal exposure with these second-level supervisors, very few are given a proper title that is worthy of the responsibility involved. I'm sure you have heard most of these: pusher, lead man, straw boss, top dog, general foreman, rover, superintendent, general superintendent, project manager and operations manager.

Titles are very important and impressive to your employees, their families, your clients and all the personnel involved with each project. Management 101 dictates: “Give every employee the most flattering title that would describe his or her job and responsibilities without it being silly or ridiculous.” A title does not cost money and it is a very valuable management tool!

You should give your onsite foremen's boss the title of project superintendent. Your traveling superintendent should be your vice president of construction. This would be quite effective and definitely not silly.

Developing A Scope Of Work

Your next move is to clearly define who answers to whom on your written and posted chain of command. This will show you who is actually your foremen's boss and who becomes liable for their performance. You can then negotiate a written “scope of work” or job description for that responsibility, as well as any other duties or responsibilities that supervisor fulfills.

Here are 12 basic items that your second-level supervisor should control:

    1. Safety: Meetings, MSDS, FA kit, call dig, railing, ladders.
    2. Quality.
    3. Value Engineering.
    4. Schedule: Ahead, behind, float, prepunch.
    5. Cooperation: Office, PM, owner, architect, engineer, GC, trades, inspections.
    6. Job Paper: Log, as-builts.
    7. Material: Leadtime, bins, carts, returns, system take-offs, budget over/under.
    8. Tools: Need, upkeep, gangboxes.
    9. Theft: Control.
    10. Manpower: Rules, pluses and minuses, productivity.
    11. Labor Budget: Over/under, extras added or subtracted.
    12. Document: Motivate, measure, discipline and keep score to provide documentation for wage reviews and promotions.
In addition to supervising one or more foremen, most of these second-level traveling supervisors are burdened with time-consuming office functions. You should do a detailed time study allowing a reasonable number of hours for each of their responsibilities to assure they have ample time to perform each task.

These supervisors naturally want to be measured, scored and rewarded accordingly, but they want it to be fair. The supervisor needs time to mentor and train each of their foremen along with conducting wage reviews. Many second-level supervisors also recruit, interview and hire their jobsite personnel. These are very critical and time-consuming responsibilities that must be considered and included in their scope of work and detailed time study. There should be someone available for them to delegate these time-consuming tasks.

You can see how important this second-level supervisor is for the success and profitability of your company. Having personally been in those shoes for more than 20 years has given me insight that no outsider could ever imagine:

  • ”The credit for everything that goes well on each jobsite belongs to that working foreman. The blame for everything that doesn't happen comes to me!”

  • There is not enough time in one week to properly manage all of those responsibilities and still have a personal life. Traveling from job to job (windshield time) uses up too much of each day. Thank heavens for today's cell phones that help maximize that travel time.

  • You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of your foremen. When they need you, you had better be there. You should see each site at least once each week and attend as many jobsite meetings as possible. Your foreman should always accompany you to these meetings to avoid making commitments that he or she cannot meet.

  • Make notes of all of your promises. Keep that “old school” method in mind where a man is only as good as his word. If you do not fulfill your promise, you lied.

  • During your short jobsite tour you will be discussing all of the negatives. Never leave the site without talking about your foreman's personal family, fun or endeavors.

  • Don't forget, a smile is contagious. So is frustration.

    Before you consider keeping score in '04 with your foreman's boss, you should review what actually happened with all of your foremen in '03. This is the individual who is in the only position to make that better - or worse! He or she needs your help, guidance and especially your attention. You can understand why keeping that score is not simple or easy. Neither is that position.

    If you need help finding a good vice president of construction or establishing effective scorekeeping guidelines, give me a call.