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  • Writer's pictureTristan Wilson

Getting out of the office to see the work

When I was promoted from field engineer to project manager/estimator for a road construction company, I felt overwhelmed. I was assigned my first job as PM and despite my prior years of training, insecurity and the pressure to deliver the job safely, correctly, on time, and at a profit was almost all I could think about. I worried if I had “what it takes”. My inbox was filled with requests from the Owner and my boss, and I had all these new tasks and responsibilities. Plus I had multiple jobs to bid on that required takeoffs, bid reviews, and proposals. Sure, I had worked under a talented manager for years leading up to this and our team on the project was top notch. But imposter syndrome was real. It felt like there were not enough hours in the day as we were working days and nights on the job. At the time, I thought the administrative tasks were key. And I failed to appreciate what priorities really mattered. I had built my priorities around “me” and not the team/company. I spent most of my time behind my computer in the office checking off to-do’s in my own silo. When I finally called a mentor for help, he asked me a simple question: How often are you visiting the job and talking to the crews and owner? I said not often at all because there is a sea of other things requiring my attention. And he told me plainly that if you are not getting your eyes on the work and staying connected with the people, you will lose. He suggested I set a routine where I visited the job at least 2 times a week for at least an hour. I was skeptical but gave it a shot. And it was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. Here’s what I learned about getting to the work face:

Drive throughs don’t count

  • Driving through the whole site each time is important, but a visit is not a real visit unless you exit your vehicle and talk to people.

  • Let folks know you’re coming ahead of time.

  • Leave your phone in your vehicle. The emails, texts, and calls can wait. Be where your feet are.

People are the engine of construction

  • Get to know your crew members, subcontractors, and owner representatives. They do the work and you aren’t going anywhere without them.

  • Shake every hand on the job when possible, know everyone’s name, and take a genuine interest in people (e.g. How are their children? How is their favorite sports team? How are things going in their lives? What don’t they like about what we’re up to?)

  • You earn respect by showing others consistency and that you care.

Communicate a message, have an agenda, and ask questions

  • Share information about the company and project initiatives, performance, financials, and be honest. People don’t just want to hear good news and they enjoy stories.

  • I have found that 99% of team members (from the craftsperson to the operator to the CEO) want to do a good job and know how their performance is being measured. Be generous with information.

“Eyes on work” illuminates things you had never imagined

  • Seeing the actual work being put in place piece by piece teaches us things we can never learn in an office. This is critical for estimators of all experience levels as it helps one become sharper on future bids. Plus, it’s fun to be outside around people!

  • I learned to never get upset about an item that was losing money until I actually went out into the field and observed the work being performed on that item. And the first thing to do when you sense trouble on an item is to get out there, observe the crew, and engage with the people to work towards solutions.

  • Ask questions and understand the why behind the way things are being done.

  • Challenge yourself not to get “lost in the landscape” of big shiny construction equipment and how great things look, even when they are going well. Cost, safety, people or quality trouble could be lurking around the corner. It’s best to have a beginner’s mindset and not take anything for granted.

Provide honest written feedback to your team

  • Starting with the positive, send an email or text to the supervisory team recapping your visit. There may be a form your company uses for these leadership visits. It may sound strange but I’ve found that people appreciate the candid feedback. This may include important action items and the not so positive, which is fine too.

  • Building muscle memory and referring back to past visit notes will improve your chances of ingraining this habit.

Thanks to the hard work of the team, we ended up doing well on that first job and I reprioritized my schedule to include regular site visits moving forward. Most importantly, my connections deepened with the team and the owner. I found that I actually got more done because I was less stressed out. Like any habit, it is hard to sustain. But this one is worth it every time for a construction management professional. Knowing what is actually happening on the job propels our estimating skills and ability to deal with the inevitable safety, cost, and quality issues of building work. In the end, people deliver construction projects and the work gets built out there, not the office.

At Edgevanta, our proprietary SaaS platform enables highway contractors to track and forecast critical market dynamics, helping them win more projects and increase profitability. Thanks for reading our post this week!


Tristan Wilson

Co-Founder and CEO

Edgevanta, LLC


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