Leading multi-million dollar construction and infrastructure projects is a career ambition for many. But, as those in the role know, the learning doesn’t stop there.
Project leader Chris Davis joined Laing O’Rourke two years ago to help deliver the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade. Reflecting on over 20 years’ experience in the transport and infrastructure industry, he says: “A leader never stops learning or trying to improve. You’re constantly faced by new situations, schools of thought and people, which challenge the way you think.”
Chris is one of several in project leadership roles in Laing O’Rourke’s Australia Hub who recently embarked on a new development programme, Transforming Project Leaders (TPL). Module-based learning delivered both in the field and offsite in classrooms, it focuses on five core leadership capabilities: inspiring and coaching for success; planning with certainty; creating value; developing and delivering innovation; and collaboration.
The programme was designed by Laing O’Rourke’s industry-leading learning and development function and is delivered by both internal and external subject matter experts.
Tony Sawiris, head of learning and development in Australia, said the programme was specifically targeted at members of a project’s senior leadership team who have demonstrated the ability to positively influence on the broader project delivery team.
“We also invited our delivery partners to attend – ensuring everyone is aligned to the same performance outcomes and objectives,” Tony added.
“One of the key concepts is collective leadership and how this can be leveraged to deliver project certainty,” says project leader Greg Cook, also part of the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway leadership team. “This concept really resonated with our team and was a key element underpinning the robust conversations we had among ourselves as a leadership team.
“We were headed in the right direction, but also taking it a step further and propagating the concept through the entire delivery team. I came away with a better appreciation of how to best flex the team to improve delivery outcomes.”
For Chris, the programme provided practical take-home solutions to important project challenges around communication.
“Our current project is challenging with an evolving scope, so we need to be ready to adapt. We also face the additional challenge of a geographically dispersed team – we have people based along the entire stretch of the NSW east coast, and also interstate – it’s a huge task to lead in this way.
“This programme challenged me to look for new ways to communicate, to encourage our team to be part of the process. We now use a variety of mediums and have increased the level of information shared with different stakeholder groups. The programme has also helped me to consider how everyone absorbs information differently and tailor my style accordingly.”
Inspiration across the business
As well as focusing on specific project challenges, time away from the project to learn from other project leaders is central to TPL’s success.
“Connecting with other project leadership teams from Laing O’Rourke helped us to understand some of their challenges, how they went about solving them and how we could – allowing us to pre-empt situations we haven’t even come across yet,” says Greg, who has been with Laing O’Rourke for almost a decade.
“As a relatively new employee, it helped me better understand the business and its resources,” adds Chris. “Plus I’ve not only expanded my network, I’ve learned new ideas coming out of other regions and sectors of the business.”
Bringing the benefits back
The ultimate aim of the Transforming Project Leaders programme is to bring shared benefits back to both the the project delivery team and clients.
“The principles of transformational project leadership are brought to life in delivering exceptionally to the project vision and goals,” says Greg. “On a project like W2B, where our success is heavily underpinned by how we work collaboratively with our client, JV partner and contracting delivery partners, it’s imperative we use all available opportunities connect our stakeholders with this vision and use it as motivator for superior delivery outcomes.”
“As better leaders, we are better able to better able to understand our client and the challenges they face,” says Chris. “Improving our skills creates stronger, higher performing teams who feel better supported in their roles.
“It’s a real commitment and investment to developing our people. I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who gets the opportunity, embraces it – you’ll learn new things about yourself, your team and how to strive for better ways to deliver.”