Cultivating Capital Project Leaders

cultivating capital project leaders

What educators, mentors and industry leaders can do to create a more predictable future for capital projects


How does your organizations show that it is interested in cultivating capital project leaders? In most cases, young people who want to devote their careers to capital construction projects that reshape skylines quickly discover that the path to capital project leadership is largely uncharted.

The vast majority of business schools do not teach capital project management, viewing it perhaps as the work of engineering schools or the industry itself. While most computer engineers graduate college with a comprehensive understanding of the Agile project management system, civil or mechanical engineers receive little in the way of training in stage gate systems, integrated project delivery or Advanced Work Packaging. Some leading companies develop in-house capital project management training, career tracks and succession plans, but these are certainly the exception rather than the rule.

Capital project management training has fallen through the cracks. The path to leadership remains woefully unclear, and that should worry us all. For if we’re not entirely clear on what it takes to become a capable capital project manager, is it really any wonder that most major capital projects are unpredictable, late and over budget?


If we’re not clear on what it takes to become a capable capital project manager, is it really any wonder that most major capital projects are unpredictable, late and over budget?


What it takes to start cultivating capital project leaders

First off, when we talk about cultivating capital project leaders, we’re not just talking about capital project managers. We’re also talking about engineering leads, project control leads, construction managers, coordination leads — all the people who are taking management and oversight job in capital projects.

With a clear idea of who we’re looking to train, we can move on to some key principles to consider in any new training program.


Cultivating capital project leaders requires contextualized learning.

The students in modern capital project management training programs must be studying while actively working in capital projects, having shown both an aptitude and willingness to pursue a leadership role.

Ideally, we want to identify early to mid-career professionals with between two and 10 years’ experience on the job — this ensures that they understand the industry well enough to make informed career choices, and that the skills they learn can be applied to case studies and to operating projects. It’s imperative to identify these young people early so they can be actively groomed to take leadership roles five, 10 and 15 years in the future.


Cultivating capital project leaders requires an unrelenting focus on principles.

It is not enough to introduce young leaders to the simple mechanics of contracts, workface planning and Advanced Work Packaging. It is essential that the next generation of capital project leaders become familiar with the overarching principles and practices of capital projects, including Predictability Thinking™, outcome-based thinking, and the principles that underpin Advanced Work Packaging, such as a commitment to construction-driven delivery.


Cultivating capital project leaders requires a commitment to mentorship.

The next generation of capital project leaders must learn from people, both inside and outside the classroom. This requires of course that we establish rigorous training programs in engineering or business schools — perhaps a graduate program — but also that we make an industry-wide commitment to mentoring young capital project leaders.

A good place to start would be to establish a professional association dedicated to identifying and gathering mentors, giving them the tools and skills they need to share what they know, and providing a standing resource for young leaders looking for on-the-ground guidance.


Cultivating capital project leaders requires trusting young leaders.

Ultimately, young leaders who embark on the path toward capital project leadership must take ownership of their own development. They must decide for themselves where their particular specialty will be, whether that is in the emerging fields of construction-driven planning and Predictability Thinking™ or more established areas like Advanced Work Packaging.

We must trust them and give them the freedom to chart their own course, because the world is changing quickly and young leaders can see farther into the future than those of us nearing the end of our careers. Our work is to give them the lay of the land, and to chart a course forward, together. Only in this way can we succeed in cultivating capital project leaders who are change agents and champions.


A final note

Having been an auditor on capital projects, a researcher, a construction manager, and now an entrepreneur, I can say with confidence that I found my own path by trial and error. I was very fortunate to be mentored by some of the best leaders in the industry, and I eventually found my way into a leadership role.

It is my sincere hope that capital project organizations respond to the call to chart a clear path to capital project leadership, both in the classroom, and outside of it. Concord® offers standard and custom training options for ambitious companies; if you’d like to learn more about how we can help you build your own organizational capacity, simply click here to contact us.


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