Leadership Vs. Management in Civil Engineering

Introduction When we think of Leaders in the construction industry, we think of past engineers such as Brunel and Telford. Yet ask someone if they could name a current leader in the construction industry and they would most likely draw a blank. It is more common these days to come across construction mangers rather than construction leaders. Why is this? In the past, the roles of leaders and managers were more clear-cut. However, nowadays companies are struggling to keep up with a changing and dynamic business environment, with sophisticated technology and a flatter organizational structure.

This means that the roles of managers and leaders must be adapted. In this essay I am going to look at the differences between managers and leaders, the roles of construction managers and construction leaders in the past and present, the reason why there are fewer leaders in the construction industry these days, and whether we actually need them. Discussion Manager or Leader? “The main difference between managers and leaders is that some managers cannot sleep because they have not met their objectives, while some leaders cannot sleep because their various objectives appear to be in conflict and they cannot reconcile them.

” (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 2002) Conventionally, managers are told what to do, while leaders decide what to do. Goldhaber, Chandra, and Manuel (1997) state that Leaders are the ones that drive new initiatives, inspire and motivate people, and have a vision of the future, while managers create plans and budgets, design the organizational structure, and create order. Burton and Michael (1992) state that leaders have followers, managers have sub-ordinates. These comparisons are applicable to all types of organizations, including the construction industry.

It is clear from these comparisons that traditionally, leaders are the brains of the organization who create the plans, while managers are the ones responsible for putting the plans into action. Management and leadership in the past It is only recently that the role of “the manager “ has emerged. In the past, it was engineering leaders who oversaw and managed construction projects. Iconic engineering leaders such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Thomas Telford had to communicate with clients, supervise their workforces, and create plans and budgets… all duties that a modern day manager is expected to undertake.

However, they weren’t called leaders for nothing. These engineers were visionaries of their times. Brunel is recognized as one of the most famous railway engineers of all time. He had many achievements that included designing the Thames Tunnel along with his father, building the Clifton Suspension Bridge (the longest spanning suspension bridge in the world at that time), and constructing numerous other tunnels, bridges and viaducts for the Great Western Railway (Jones, 2010).

While Telford who was known for his innovative cast-iron bridge designs, became the first president of the Institution for Civil Engineers, and used his influence to secure its first charter in 1828, which gave the institution recognition as a professional learned society (Powell, 2011). Perhaps one of the reasons why these engineers of the past were leaders rather than managers is that rarely were managerial roles actually appointed. Often it was engineers of charisma and character that emerged as leaders of a project instead. Also, the workforce was small compared to the huge companies that we have today.

This would have made communication easier, and would enable the engineer in charge of a project to motivate and inspire their workers, which is precisely what a leader does. Management and Leadership in the 21st Century Nowadays, the role of the leader seems to be diminishing. The focus now seems to be on promoting management rather than leadership. (Cooper, 2005) believes that the “emphasis has shifted from “power” to “control” and that we are seeing the rise of “the manager” and recognition of the manager’s role as a control mechanism”. Indeed, even the Institution of Civil Engineers seems to be encouraging management not leadership.

Recently, it has set up a “Civil Engineering Manager of the Year” award to celebrate civil engineers that have performed outstandingly in civil engineering management. At any rate, the differences between managers and leaders are no longer so clear-cut. Briner, Geddes and Hastings (1990) believe that leadership is one aspect of a multifaceted management role. And Pande (2007) agrees with this: “Strictly speaking its not leadership versus management. The two are not separate or bipolar. They overlap. You can think of them as on a continuum with many steps between the extremes. ” Where have all the leaders gone?

There seems to be a distinct lack of leaders in our modern-day organizations, including engineering and construction companies. What are the reasons for this? Many believe that a changing business environment is the culprit. Organizations now exist in a more turbulent environment in which the economy, politics, and technology is constantly changing. Many organizations have also grown to become international, with offices across different countries and continents, which means that organizational structures are becoming flatter and that traditional face-to-face communication is difficult and impractical.

Buchanan and Huczynski (2010) explain that “the organizational hierarchy and formal authority that underpins leadership positions are being challenged. Leaders typically have job titles and working conditions which symbolize their status. But flat structures, team-based working, and virtual and networked organizational forms, all weaken traditional leadership”. (Grint, 2001) also follows this line of argument, reasoning that since organizations are less hierarchical, with advanced technologies that will make virtual organizations feasible, traditional modes of leadership will be out-dated.

Perhaps another reason why there are fewer leaders, specifically in civil engineering and construction, is the move away from the industry’s military past. As Oliver (2000) puts it, “Task-focused leadership with a command and control structure dominating, is fine in times of emergency, but when it comes to getting the job done efficiently and to time and budget, the Army would not be your first choice civil engineering firm. For construction to succeed, the industry must ditch the macho, seat-of-the-pants, we-can-get-away-with-it leadership attitudes”.

Additionally, engineers are not as involved with their projects as they used to be. Engineers of the past who worked directly alongside their men, “got their hands dirty” and believed in “never-asking-your-men-to-do-comething-you-wouldn’t-do-yourself”. These engineers were leaders that were admired and trusted by their workers. Modern engineers do not have the chance to work so closely with their workforce so perhaps this is another reason for our lack of leaders in the profession.

Some also hold the view that engineers are not given enough support and guidance when promoted to positions of responsibility. (Oliver, 2000) believes that when engineers are promoted to management they struggle to let go of the technical side of the job that they are used to, and must be given help in developing their leadership skills. Who needs leaders anyway? There are currently many different opinions on weather we should focus more on leadership or on management.

Rost (1991) thinks that down with management and up with leadership is a bad idea, arguing that we our forgetting the value of order, predictability and consistency in today’s turbulent organizational environment. Walker (2007) believes that leadership is not always important, and that some leaders’ actions may even be irrelevant. He states that this is typical in the engineering and construction industry, where those who are being “led” are often experienced professionals who may even be slightly elevated over the project leader in terms of technical knowledge and legitimate authority.

On the other hand, it is Holbeche’s (2008) opinion that “leadership is crucial if organizations are going to survive the downturn and even thrive. Maintaining investment in developing leaders of the future will produce significant pay-back and enable you to gain competitive advantage through turbulent times. ” Rush (2006) also agrees that the most common problem in organizations is lack of leadership, and that a leader is needed to provide a vision for the company and to motivate and inspire his or her team to achieve that vision.

What does the future hold? In an constantly changing business environment, what will happen to the conventional roles of managers and leaders? Most are of the opinion that the two will no longer be separate and that leadership will become one of the several elements of management. Good leadership must accompany new management so that managers do more than just simply make sure that the work gets done (Bass and Avolio, 1994). Western (2008) is of the view that a “quieter” style of leadership is necessary.

He believes that managers still need to “lead” teams if projects are to delivered successfully, but that this need not be charismatic, in-your-face leadership – “As for the best leaders, no one notices their existence” and “when the best leader’s work is done, the people say “we did it ourselves”. ” Lewis, Goodman and Fandt (1995) think that with the increasing sophistication of information technology, the roles of leaders and managers will not be as vital. Workers throughout the organization will have access to the information needed to do their jobs effectively.

This will lead companies to replace their managers with self-managed teams that can work under their own supervision. Burton and Michael (1992) agree with this, predicting that in 20 years time, large organizations will have fewer than half the levels of management than those of today, and that because of their flatter structure and the increased use of information technology, the knowledge will exist mainly at the bottom of the organization, with specialists who “do their own work and direct themselves”.

Moreover, Cooper (2005) believes that leaders will no longer need followers but people who can think for themselves and question organizational activities, and that leadership will be a “collective as opposed to individual” activity. Conclusion Management and Leadership have come a long way since the days of iconic engineering leaders such as Brunel. Its seems that the line between leadership and management is becoming increasingly blurred, with a common consensus that leadership is essentially a component of management.

With regards to the future, the changing and dynamic environment means that the roles of managers and leaders will have to be adapted to suit a flatter organizational structure and more sophisticated information technology. Leaders may have to adopt a more subtle leadership style and self-managed teams may take the place of traditional managers. References Trompenaars, F. , Hampden-Turner, C. , 2002, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, McGraw Hill, USA Goldhaber, S. , Chandra, K. , J. , Manuel, C. , M., 1997, Construction Management – Principles and Practices, Wiley-Interscience.

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