Talk Isn’t Cheap: Flatiron’s Female Engineers on Effective Communication
Flatiron is proud to mark the National Association of Women in Construction’s Women in Construction Week, honoring the essential contributions our female workforce makes each day. I had the opportunity to talk to some of our female engineers to ask them how they achieve success in the field. A common theme was “communications”—not only to deliver guidance but to build key relationships as well.
Delivering a great project safely and on budget requires a variety of skills. However, when you talk to some of the talented women steering Flatiron projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, they will let you in on a not-so-little secret: you must be an effective communicator.
Field Engineer Jacie Mitchell knows that well. Where did she learn to be a great communicator? It wasn’t necessarily in the middle of Flatiron’s Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport Taxiway Foxtrot Project, or even in the classrooms of her alma mater Texas Tech.
To understand Jacie’s journey, you have to go to the tiny Texas Panhandle town of Nocona, population 3,000. “I think the biggest thing I learned was communication,” Mitchell says. “Everyone knows everyone in my small town so learning how to approach people and talk to people in a small town is a lot different than in a city.”
She says her secret is as follows: “The way that I communicate is just by stating the facts. This is your job, this is what we need to get done today and these are our overall goals.” She also says though that she makes sure to treat others in the field like human beings, realizing everyone has a job to do together. And on this particular day when there are 22 different trucks (sometimes there can be as many as five subcontractors at the site) coming to the project, it’s a big job indeed.
“This is the ultimate team sport”
Senior Project Manager Melanie Landers can give you all the sports metaphors you need to drive home the importance of being a strong communicator.
Landers, a veteran of managing projects at some of America’s biggest airports, says fast, clear communication to staff definitely also has its place. But she also believes in another branch of communication, building relationships with your people. “I think it’s imperative that when you do have a team,” Landers explains. “They could all be all-stars but they’re not necessarily going to win the big game if they’ve never played with each other before.”
She says one finds a variety of personalities and experience levels on a project. The idea is to make sure you make the effort to get to know them.
Sometimes, fortunately, that process will involve food. She remembers early in her career one superintendent at another contractor (who she says resembled Hulk Hogan) who was particularly abrasive. She did what she had to do, and pulled him aside for polite straight talk: “I sat him down and said ’I don’t want your job, I just want you to teach me everything. From then on we had lunch every single day for one year and two months together.’”
Landers says her co-workers, aware of this superintendent’s reputation for unfriendliness, were shocked that a friendship had blossomed. They demanded to know her secrets!
“From my, perspective, whether it be the project management world or just from the construction world in general,” Landers explains. “No matter if you are a project manager, or if you are a foreman, or if you are a laborer, to me this is the ultimate team sport.”
Landers finishes things by making sure there’s no doubt where she stands.
“At the end of the day to me communication is probably the number one success factor out here or the number one failure out here.”
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