Habits of Effective Project Leaders

You’ve likely heard of Stephen R. Covey’s popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Today’s topic is the three most important habits of highly effective project leaders.

Schroeder identifies three habits that are critical to being successful as a construction superintendent: studying the drawings, being in your schedule, and, yes, talking to the project (more about this in a minute).

1. Studying the drawings.

First, as a superintendent, you have to study the drawings every day. Schroeder recommends doing so for a minimum of 30 minutes.

His point is this: “How many superintendents in construction read the drawings for 30 minutes every day? How many of them know the details? How many of them know how to flow through the project? How many of them are strategizing, like the military generals of old?”

Not very many, in his opinion, because so many people act more like brokers — pointing to what needs to be done. Successful superintendents will invest 30 minutes a day in being able to sequence the work with the trade partners so that there’s a flow.

2. Being in your schedule.

The second habit is to be in your schedule every day. And, as a superintendent, Schroeder points out, “If you don't know scheduling, may God have mercy on your soul, you are going to struggle and fret and stress.” He encourages project leaders to just dive in, even if the prospect is a scary one.

In his work with superintendent boot camps, he’s seen leaders who had no idea what they were doing when it came to scheduling. “Do not be intimidated. Go page by page and schedule your project.” Put in your sequence and the duration for each step, and collaborate with your trade partners. Whether it’s in a software program or Excel, or on your iPad or graph paper, start programming your mind to think that way.

“And so we need to see in our scheduling systems the visualization of time and space,” says Schroeder. “That way, we can plan. We can predict. We can remove roadblocks.” By being in your schedule every day, you can trigger the assigning of key tasks to the team so they can always be on schedule.

3. Talking to the project.

The third thing you need to do is to “go out and talk to your project,” in Schroeder’s words: “the building, the processing plant, the site development project, the utilities, the grading project, the mine….”

“They’ll talk to you,” says Schroeder. “That sounds kind of corny. I'm telling you, it will talk to you. You will go out there and you will feel, you will sense, you will think, you will see things that you need to see as a leader on your project. The building, the site, the site work, the pipe will talk to you. And you will never go have that conversation unless you do a reflection walk every day,”

Schroeder sees each of these three key habits as triggering systems: “If I'm in my drawings, and in the schedule, and doing a reflection walk, I will think of things to delegate. So for all of those systems, oh, I need to do this. That's an email. I'll send that text to that trade partner. All that goes on my to-do list. I write it down. I need to bring that up in that next meeting. I put it on the meeting agenda. In my schedule.”

The reflection walk gives you the space to identify questions you need to ask. Are your trade partners ready for the next step in the process? Do you have the pipe you need for that next 1,000 feet of run? By being out on the project site, you can ask yourself what happened today and what needs to happen tomorrow. Make notes. Take pictures with your phone. Really engage with the project site.

Studying the drawings, being in the schedule, and taking a reflection walk will keep your project in the flow, which is critical to the success of your business.


Schroeder would have every superintendent “get really good.” By which he means, getting good with your three-week look ahead schedules and with scheduling in general, He encourages project leaders to learn about tax planning and about scrum.

For Schroeder, if you’re not maintaining these three habits, “you're not a builder. You're not acting like a builder. Now, if you miss a day or two, that's fine. You're still a builder. But if you don't do it ever, you're not a builder. And I want you to be, because, if you're really a builder, you can build great things. You can build great people, and you can build yourself and have success and fulfillment.”

Join the thousands of Dirt pros who get our top workforce development tips.