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Career progression in construction often means being promoted into ever-more-senior roles, but with little in the way of leadership training.

Mark Brown of Mackenzie Construction wearing a hi-vis vest with the other workers in hi-vis vests in the background

Mark Brown’s career followed precisely this path, having joined Mackenzie Construction as a contracts engineer in 2005. However, a recent promotion made him realise that he needed to develop his skills – to do the best by his team and his employer.

From engineer to leader

Mark’s earlier promotions felt like evolution rather than revolution – the transition from one role to the next was relatively seamless. But the move to his role of contracts manager was more of a leap. Mark explains, “The previous manager had retired, so there was little in the way of discussion or handover. I was pretty much left to my own devices.”

Mark’s background meant he was able to carry out the technical aspects of his new role, but his lack of leadership experience resulted in him holding on to work which should really be completed by his team. “The problem was that I wasn’t trusting people to get the work done, so I tended to take on too much myself. I needed to learn how to invest in them and delegate,” he said.

Communicating and working together

It quickly became clear to Mark that the Scottish Enterprise Emerging Leaders programme was going to be quite different from anything he’d experienced before. He says, “The programme really has given me so much, including a whole new set of tools I can take to work and use every day. I now have a completely different outlook on my leadership role – it’s helped me to bring strategy and development to the table in ways that I didn’t think I could.”

Mark now spends more time training and coaching his team – and a lot less time trying to do the work himself. His team now has clear and achievable targets that aren’t just measured in time and cost, but also against quality and safety. Although he’s responsible for more than 30 people, he now finds more time to spend with each of them, which has improved communication and engagement.

Leading to win more work

Mackenzie Construction has already seen a measurable boost in the quality of the team’s output. Right now they’re carrying out a programme of service reservoir repairs for Scottish Water. “Quality and safety are the two key components of this project”, says Mark. “Our people need to be safe on site and there can’t be any contamination of the water supply — that would be unthinkable for our client and our reputation. Focusing on quality keeps the standards high and reduces the amount of re-work.”

That’s not to say there will never be any issues on site — on complex civil engineering projects there are lot of small things that can go wrong. But Mark’s open book approach with his team is reflected in their own dealings with clients. Mark concludes, “These days, when there’s an issue, we tell our customer right away. We let them know what’s happened and why, and how we’re going to fix it. It’s helped us to build a whole new level of trust with our clients.”

The result? Mackenzie Construction has secured a further six years of work from Scottish Water, and the company is now looking at ways to innovate even further, including new materials and smarter processes.

All this from a belief that the traditional ‘promote into leadership’ approach just wasn’t fit for the complexities of construction projects in the 21st century.

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