How to Deal with People

By now, it should be well established that creating a remarkable dirt world project means creating stability. A stable work site offers more opportunities for people to succeed and grow.

But for most superintendents, dealing with people is a problem. Which is a shame, because, if you can get your teams heading in the right direction, you can compete against and win in any industry anywhere in the world.

It’s important for superintendents not only to network together and share information, but also to know how to deal with people. To start, Schroeder suggests a couple books that can change your life.

Two books you’ll want to master.

Schroeder recommends two books for superintendents who want to up their people managing skills. The first is a classic in the literature: How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Don’t let the fact that it was written in 1936 stop you. It’s a book that’s become a classic because it speaks universal truths about getting along with people.

The book is easy to access: You may choose to read it yourself or you can enjoy having it read to you on audiobook. It wouldn’t still be as popular as it is today — some 86 years after it was written — if it didn’t hold a number of answers to the questions you may have about getting along with your work crew, your family, or your friends.

Once you have Carnegie’s book, the key to mastering the tools he offers is to practice, practice, practice. As Schroeder notes, “There's probably no position in the dirt world that has more stress than the superintendent. People won't know what stress is until they've been in that role. I mean, it is insane.” Carnegie provides the “tools you need to get un-triggered, to stop telling yourself stories, and to stay calm the next time you face a tough people situation.

The other book Schroeder recommends is Leadership and Self-Deception, by the Arbinger Institute, first published in 2000. This book is one that he wishes he could “put into the water system of everyone from coast to coast of the United States.” What the writers call self-deception prevents leaders from making optimal choices. It’s another handy tool for not getting triggered when your back’s against the wall.

Building on a strong foundation.

Superintendents have access to so much information, from Schroeder’s own book, Elevating Construction Superintendents, to boot camp training of every shape and size. As Schroeder notes, “We have so much content in this industry.”

He’s right that there’s a ton of content and information out there, but that content won't matter very much if you can't motivate people to head in the same direction and row together toward a common goal. Yes, it’s important to organize yourself, to organize your team, to organize that project. To create flow. You want to do all these things and to avoid potential pitfalls.

And the biggest pitfall you want to avoid is not leveraging the people on your project sites. If you can learn to deal with people in a positive and remarkable way, there’s no end to the success, promotions, and wins that will come your way.

Schroeder gets that the superintendent’s plate is already overloaded: “There's so much to it: There’s safety, there's quality, there's reporting, there's cost metrics, there's production, there’s surveying. All of these different things. It's so complex, but we're here for you.”

“You are the guardians in construction. You stand watch,” says Schroeder. “And when you don't stand watch, then people get hurt. When you don't stand watch, then people die. And when you don't stand watch, then trade partners don't succeed.”

And yet: “You can bless the lives of people and families just by how you run your project. When you stabilize, you create a happy and fulfilling environment for everyone on the project.”


Schroeder asks (and answers) a series of challenging questions: “Are we okay with how workers are treated? Absolutely not. Are we okay with how bathrooms are done in the industry? No…Are we okay with the divorces that happen? Are we okay with the 36-year-old superintendent getting a heart attack? Are we okay with the kids that never see their mothers and fathers? We're not okay with that.”

For Schroeder, “It all comes down to the stabilization and creation of flow. Because if we didn't have these problems with the project not being stable, we could optimize it. And we wouldn't have the crash landings, the extended end durations…the chaos and all of these things, which ultimately hurt people.”

“And you and I, we're in it for people.” Schroeder challenges all superintendents to work together with their teams and with leadership professionals who are ready to assist: “There's just so much there that you can learn and win with tomorrow.” And yet, even with all the studying, he would be quick to remind you: “Knowledge is not power. Action is power.”



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