Leadership and Management in Design and Construction Industry

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Good leadership is a very important aspect of the growth and efficiency of an organisation, it helps to identify goals and ensure that they are achieved. Some theorists argue that we do not need leaders, instead they advise that managers who are not in formal leadership roles can influence individuals in a discreet manner (Huczynsky & Buchanan 2007). This is the case in a few organisations, but it is usually not employed. This essay aims to analyse the different roles of a Leader in an organisation and how the leader's behaviour towards such roles affected by the different tasks encountered. It will go further as to investigate the current trends in the Construction Industry in relation to the theories evolved and discuss the way these theories influence or affect the staff of the organisation in question.

Leadership in the Design & Construction Industry

In Nigeria, every University graduate is required by law to enrol and attend a yearlong service program. During my service year, I was employed by a Design & Construction firm as a Junior Architect. The firm was actually part of a Consortium consisting of other smaller firms. This ensured that professionals such as Surveyors, Engineers, Charted Accountants, Project Managers and Architects as well as several Contractors and Sub-Contractors were all in the same facility and all answer to the same managerial body. This was highly advantageous for the company as project designs could be made and forwarded to the Contractors to begin construction while further, more detailed plans, were being developed thus saving time and resources.

Given the kind of service required by the Design and Construction industry in developing countries especially one as politically unstable as Nigeria, most Design & Construction firms are structured to easily adapt to the ever-changing socio-economic situation. In this Company, a balance has been struck between all parties concerned. The consortium as a whole has the skill and workforce to tender for any kind of job (size and complexity) and on the other side the sub-companies are given the freedom to pursue their smaller individual projects (when larger projects are scarce) as long as it does not defer or affect the Consortium's goals. But how is this balance kept, how is it monitored? The answers to these questions are the same, 'Good leadership and Proper Management'.

Several theorists have several theories concerning Leadership and Management, most of which are seen from the view of the Leader. Recent trends have seen theories emphasise from developing 'leaders' to developing 'leaderful' organisations with a collective responsibility for leadership (Bolden et al, 2003). The statement by Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus (1985, p.21) that "managers do things right while leaders do the right thing" was somewhat confusing, they went on further to state that Leadership is one dimension of a multi-faceted management role and also the effective manager requires at least some leadership qualities. However, it was Henry Mintzberg's (1975) statement that "the roles overlap and had a blurred distinction" which painted a better picture (Huczynsky & Buchanan 2007). In most Organisations, these roles are played by the same individual but this was not the case in the Consortium that I worked for.

fig. 1: Management hierarchy in the Consortium

The Company was co-founded by the Chairman (Architect) & the Managing Director (Business Administrator) as seen in fig. 1 above. Within the organisation, the Chairman is the 'Leader' while the Managing Director plays the 'Manager' role as shown in the figure above. Here the work is shared by two individuals, in a manner that corresponds to John P. Kotter's views on the difference between a leader and a manager. In his book titled John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do (1999), he stated that

"Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action…Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment."

During the execution stage a Leader motivates and inspires his followers while a Manager does the controlling and problem solving tasks in the organisation (Kotter, 1990). This highlights an instance during my employment at the Consortium, we were commissioned to propose a design for the Main Campus of a Private University. The Chairman who debriefed the clients on their expectations advised us (the design team) to employ a 'Stanford theme' for the University design project. This, I feel, gave the whole design them a clear goal and motivated us to research on the topic and see how best we can apply the principles to our proposal. The Managing Director had the task of monitoring and responding to problems that arising from the inputs from different professionals working on the project. He also kept an eye on the finances and budgeting during the construction phase and showed his authority (backing from the organisation) by replacing some of the staff assigned to the project due to their inefficiency. This is a demonstration of the balance that has been achieved within the Firm.

Furthermore, the nature of work in a design studio differs from one project to another. For example, the design of a 200-bed hospital cannot be approached the same way as the design of a multi-cultural park in the heart of the capital as functionality and creativity respectively are the main objectives. As the Firm tackles these different tasks, a trend develops which helps improve the understanding each process and how easily to switch from one process to another. To further analyse these different tasks we consider the work of Fred Fielder, the Contingency Theory. Fiedler took a contingency approach to leadership, rejecting that no one style fits all situations appropriately (Pugh & Hickson, 2000) and that a leader must diagnose the situation then choose what approach will be appropriate. He went on further to analyse leadership roles on three factors namely the Leader-follower relationship, the task Structure and Leaders position power (Huczynsky & Buchanan 2007). Thus, a given situation might call for a Leader with a different style or a manager who could take on a different style for a different situation (Bolden et al, 2003).

Apart from their roles, the behaviour of the leader is also affected by the different nature of the task (or project). Some require more flexibility or have vague and debatable goals while others tend to be more rigid with defined goals and requirements. These points led Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt (1958) to the Continuum of Leadership behaviour. They suggested that the leadership behaviour varies along a continuum and that as one moves away from the autocratic extreme the amount of subordinate participation and involvement in decision taking increases. The four main styles derived from this theory along the continuum are:

Autocratic (Telling style)

Persuasive (Selling style)

Consultative (Consulting Style)

Democratic (Joining style)

An attempt to relate the Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum (Huczynsky & Buchanan 2007) to the leadership behaviour experience in the Firm based on different projects is shown in fig. 2 below

fig. 2: tannenbaum-schmidt continuum adapted for consortium

Leader's Authority

Follower's participation


Leaders make a decision which is final and is announced to followers

Practical Example: Hospital or Laboratory Design projects


Leaders make a decision that is debatable by the followers

Practical Example: Project on Government Staff Housing Estate


Followers given more freedom by leader but within defined limits e.g. funding & time

Practical Example: Developing Concepts for the Unity Park & Gardens


Leaders make a decision and seek support followers

Practical Example: Proposal for University that adopted 'Stanford theme'

As seen above, there are different structures a task may take and so the leader may employ any of the four main styles towards his subordinates.


This essay does not suggest that every firm should have separate Leaders and Managers but attempts to show how a division of labour in a company that deals with different types and forms of tasks can help achieve the strategic goals set by the management. Furthermore, this division may not be at the upper management level rather on sub-levels depending on the complexity of the organisation and also the possibility of an upper level manager to spend so much time with his subordinates. A further understanding and clearer insight into the theories of Leadership within an organisation will certainly lead to positive results as other theories have been developed that deal with other aspects of Leadership, some of which do not apply to the current topic.


An organisation that has a large group of people working together to achieve a particular set of goals is usually sub-divided into smaller groups or teams, depending on the size of the organisation and the complexity or variety of the tasks to be performed. The division of labour will definitely need some form of monitoring and supervision. This resulted in the evolution of the leader and the manager roles.

Because of these different roles and change of behaviour of the leader in the practical example above, the management team have been able to maximise productivity, efficiency and creativity of the staff, three factors which make any Design and Construction Firm stand out from its competitors. The entire staff on the other hand stays motivated because they are given the opportunity to demonstrate their talents and innovation in most tasks thereby increasing their chances of a promotion or simply recognition from their peers and superiors.