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Sep 02

The importance of clear senior management ownership and leadership by the client and contractor

Charles O'Neil

Panel Member

With all development and construction projects the prime objective of both the client and the contractor should be to complete the project with excellence in all the main components of delivery. These are essentially the same for both parties and include:

  • A facility that meets or exceeds all the functional and commercial feasibility requirements of the client;
  • An aesthetically attractive design that is environmentally compliant and ‘pleasing’;
  • Delivery on time, on budget and to the specified quality standards,
  • A satisfactory financial result for the contractor, design consultants, suppliers and subcontractors;
  • An unblemished safety record during construction and commissioning;
  • Effective risk management processes that provide early warning of potential issues, thus enabling timely action to be taken to forestall or mitigate these issues;
  • Managing and resolving conflicts in such a manner that these issues do not turn into formal disputes;
  • Excellent working relationships with the relevant authorities and the community;
  • Effective communication and relationship management protocols that contribute significantly to the delivery of the above objectives.

If the above objectives are all achieved then the end result will be the delivery of a first class project, but this can only be achieved if there is clear project ownership and leadership evident from both the client and the contractor during all stages of the project. If their performance is first class in these areas then this should flow through to the approval authorities, the design team and all the suppliers, subcontractors and stakeholders.

However, if there is a lack of ownership and leadership at senior level then the impact on the project can become quite detrimental to its future viability and operations; stakeholder relationships will be damaged; disputes will occur; and there will possibly be serious financial implications for some or all of the parties to the project.

What then are the key human factors that are required at senior management level of both the client and the contractor in order to ensure that the above deliverables are achieved?

  • ‘Project ownership’ – this is the passion to deliver a project that all can be proud of; to accept full responsibility for decisions and actions taken and to ‘make it happen’;
  • Mutual trust and respect at senior level of the other stakeholders and their objectives;
  • Sound decision-making, taking into account the needs of the project and of the other stakeholders;
  • Must be a strong advocate of a collaborative approach;
  • Lead from the front with best practice project management, risk management and digital platforms, such as BIM;
  • The ability to communicate clearly and unambiguously, including spending personal time with team members and the other stakeholders;
  • Natural leadership and people skills that motivate and create team spirit, loyalty and a strong desire amongst the team to achieve the project objectives;
  • Being able to select the right team, having trust in them and delegating responsibility;
  • Thorough planning and efficient implementation are essential components of success and likewise experience, anticipation and the ability to see the bigger picture are essential requirements of a good leader;
  • Effective leaders are good delegators and keep some time up their sleeve for strategic thinking, planning and public relations;
  • Sledge-hammer managers, yellers-and-screamers and bullies might meet the programme and get the job built, but they will never engender team spirit and loyalty or gain the respect of team members or the other stakeholders;
  • Successful leaders invariably couple their experience with astute anticipation and effective risk management and then make full use of good communications and relationship management to resolve issues and keep the project on track. The Resolex Radar ‘early warning’ process fits in perfectly with these other attributes.

Some people might say that it is too ambitious and not realistic to strive for and hope to achieve the excellence in delivery that I have described, however I can assure readers that it is entirely possible. I have been proud to participate in a number of projects that have met these goals, including the following quite diverse ones:

  • Kelowna and Vernon Hospitals, British Columbia, Canada
  • M80 Motorway, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Golden Ears Bridge, Vancouver, Canada
  • Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
  • Somerset Chancellor Court, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Moree 125,000 tonne Grain Storage, NSW, Australia

We all understand that it is rarely a perfect world when it comes to delivering infrastructure developments and construction projects and it is quite common to have hiccups with finances, procurement, authority approvals, subcontractors and the like.

However if a project is soundly based in terms of there being a ‘need’ for the facility and the commercial feasibility is viable then these hiccups should be viewed as issues to be resolved in a positive manner.

The difference lies in how you resolve them and this is where clear ownership and leadership on the part of the client and the contractor has great importance. If the senior management of these parties and other stakeholders in the project all have a common objective of delivering excellence then these issues can invariably be overcome and disputes avoided. Strong leadership will create a project spirit wherein nobody wants to ‘spoil the party’. A perfect project is when outsiders say “weren’t they lucky to have such a smooth run” – but it has nothing to do with luck!

Charles O’Neil DipArb FCIArb

Charles has 40 years’ experience in the design, construction and asset management of major projects, including shopping centres, multi-storey buildings and hotels, industrial projects and a wide range of PPP projects since 2001 including motorways and bridges, hospitals, schools, prisons and government buildings. Charles has worked in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Chile, UK, Europe, Canada, NZ and Australia, gaining a depth of understanding of cultural and business practices in these regions. He currently specialises in risk management consulting and dispute resolution as an arbitrator, DB member, expert witness and neutral negotiator and is a member of dispute and advisory panels in several countries, including the sub-committee advising the Beijing Arbitration Commission on the revision of its Dispute Board Rules. Charles undertakes university guest lecturing and has published several Papers on dispute resolution and risk management. He is the author of “Human Dynamics in Construction Risk Management – the key to success or failure” (2014).

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