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Author: Patrick Mwangi

Site Management – The Tough Call

A construction site is a zone that builds or ruins you, depending on your level of composure. A lot of drama occurs there, starting with moody site meetings, site accidents, and general community interference. As the consultant is present at such tough moments, smart and counter-responsive measures have to be taken. You know your employer is watching keenly with your future referee. Dare to mess once, and your resume will be composed for quite some time.

So, how do you deal with it? You are in a contractor`s meeting, and the gentleman is fuming to the extent of withdrawing his gun and placing it on the table as part of his agenda to intimidate you. What do you do? You happen to supervise ongoing demolitions, and members of the neighbouring area unleash violence on you and your workforce. What will your response be? You happen to be paid a courtesy call by relevant authorities, and unfortunately, you lack all the documents. How will you handle the situation?

To simplify the context, I chose to only settle on two tactics. Firstly,where your directives are to bring out short-lived outcomes, immediately abandon the mission. The authorities, for instance, are on your site and found to be lacking adequate protective gear. What will be your response? If you go ahead and compromise the situation with bribes just to get rid of them for the day, remember that it will be the first of many because they have termed the act of visiting the site a business opportunity.


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Another scenario that several site managers miss out on is the issue of community mobilization. Some of you act as bullies, claiming you have come in the name of the government. This is common for demolitions and other civil engineering works. Remember,the community you are speaking to is actually the government. Furthermore,being the representative indicates that you are by yourself, and therefore, failing to connect properly with the residents will have serious consequences. The tactics used for mobilisation must remain useful for the rest of the project period. When you inspire intimidation at the inception and think you have won, wait until you begin the construction works and have the full force of animosity from the residents.

Secondly, stick to your lane as per your respective line of work. This makes it easier on whom to bear responsibilities with no altercation whatsoever. Assuming you are the architect on site and the labourers need some advice on the concrete mix, will you go ahead and offer your recommendation? If yes, as who? That is the work of the structural engineer! The Architects and Quantity Surveyors Act, Cap. 525, states clearly the extent of our powers. When you take on someone else`s role, you end up creating huge unnecessary conflicts and thereby affecting progress on the project.

In general practice, it is always best to attain composure in order to be resilient and tenacious in the face of pressure, oppositions, constraints, or adversities and to focus on the implementation of the project at all times. As the guy on site, you must have no room for emotional outbursts, regardless of the scenario.

As for the client, ensure you gauge the consultant from the onset. Someone who lacks composure and a sober mind is unfit to be an advisor. The clients and developers who have been in the game for some time know this and thus prefer older and more experienced consultants.

On-Site vs In-Office Experience – Word to the Interns

As you exit or take a break from your learning institutions and transit to the industry, you carry a lot of fantasies in your head about the good and comforting expectations that your tutors lied to you about. The construction industry in this country is not thoroughly regulated. Doctors have very good advocates that make their line of work look civilized and even indoors—what you call white collar. Your first test on the field is your capacity to bear what happens on the ground compared to what you have been writing in your books.

For the intern, who is either an Architect(Arch.), Quantity Surveyor(QS) or Structural Engineer(Eng.), the situation is not so tough as you will apply about 72% of your theory on site. The incoming project managers have a tough ride as you only apply 28%. As the engineer or Qs get on paper to do his calculations, you will sit on a corner and begin shaking your head in all directions, scanning for solutions on how to contain an emerging risk on site.


I recommend that you begin your journey as a site guy rather than an office guy. A lot of events happen on site that you will never get to experience while sitting in the office enjoying the free wi-fi and 10 a.m. tea. First, you will be able to expand your network through other professionals that you interact with through site meetings. Second, you will have high chances of landing a direct client, as they prefer to see the quality of your work rather than your academic portfolio. Third, you will be able to appreciate the role of builders, as you will feel a sense of pride as they transfer your work to the ground.

For architects, you will appreciate how the elements of design are practically implemented. For example, space, function, mood, and perception. For engineers, you will need to check how the design mix ratio is practically achieved as well as the reinforcement patterns in your drawings. For quantity surveyors, you will be able to do re-measurements for valuation purposes and breakdown your bill of quantities into a schedule of materials, which is the only document that suppliers understand.


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If you continue forcing your way to offices to only take care of paper work, then you are in the wrong industry. Leave that to accountants and politicians. From my experience, the office guy who rarely associates himself with the construction bit is the main cause of conflicts, starting from project inception to handover. He creates a moody environment between the consultant and the builder without appreciating the importance of “alternative measures” on site, especially where the situation is not so critical.

For example, if you, as the engineer, sit in the office designing and checking the suitability of your structural analysis just using software and fail to come on site, this is what happens; assuming you indicated bar x for a column and you are briefed that such a bar is currently out of stock in the market, what will you do? Because you want to be bossy with no tolerance to brainstorm with the site guy, you end up ordering for work to be halted until bar X is restored. The client will term you incompetent because you lack a versatile mind, thereby causing an unnecessary delay to the project. If you were the professional who was a site guy, you would let the builder continue with another bar, but in such a way that the purpose that was to be served by bar X is still maintained.


As I conclude, there is a common Chinese proverb that says, “What you hear, you forget; what you see, you remember; what you do, you understand.“ All are lessons right there. When you also go to the site, don`t just be there to whirl your eyes around. Take that dumpy level and proceed with setting out, obviously with some guidance. If you don`t understand, ask the builder, and you will be a complete construction prodigy.