Women in Construction Week Panel: Leadership and Education

To commemorate Women in Construction week from March 4-10, Swinerton is proud to highlight the talented women at Swinerton who lead the way in the construction industry. As part of Women in Construction week's mission to emphasize the growing role of women in the industry, we're highlighting the thoughts from female leaders at Swinerton on the construction industry and much more.

In your opinion, what is effective leadership in the modern age?

Carrie Schaeffer, Division Manager, Aviation: Leading by example is good but not enough. Effective leadership involves motivating others to innovate and achieve beyond their expectations and yours.

Jenn Lauritzen, Project Executive, Healthcare: This is a complex question, but I will summarize with a few key points that I believe make an effective leader;

  1. The ability to articulate the company's vision, to embrace the values of that vision, and nurture an environment where everyone can reach the organizations goals and their own personal needs.

  2. Connecting with your team to understand their strengths and ensure they are in position to best capitalize on those strengths, while also providing them opportunities to grow and develop to advance in their careers.

  3. Leading by example; demonstrate the work ethic and morals you expect your team to uphold, be honest and do the right thing.

Lauren Nunnally, Director, Craft Services: There are certain key elements of effective leadership that I feel have always been necessary and will continue to be, no matter what the environmental context. These elements include humility, passion, objectivity, seeing others’ perspectives, building strong relationships with all types of people, and always stepping up to meet challenges no matter where the formal responsibility lies. But, in the modern age with the rapid pace of change we are faced with, there are a few elements of effective leadership that are particularly important in my opinion. An effective leader in the modern age must be: 

  1. A CHANGE AGENT. They must be able to establish a vision, create a strategy to achieve that vision, motivate and inspire others towards that vision, and put the right resources in place to successfully execute that vision.

  2. OPEN-MINDED and WILLING TO EVOLVE. They cannot get attached to their own authorship or to the status quo. They must have a sense of urgency about this evolution and be willing to make the tough calls that change requires without the need for 100% consensus or even 50% consensus sometimes.

  3. CALM IN THE FACE OF CHAOS. They must be able to remain calm in the face of rapid change and/or high-stress situations. They need to be able to put their teams and companies at ease, giving those that depend on them and look to them for leadership the confidence that everything will work out successfully even if they themselves are unsure.

  4. SOLUTIONS-ORIENTED. Rarely is something truly impossible. An effective leader is able to get to the facts of an issue, clearly identify the challenges and obstacles, identify potential solutions, balance risk versus reward appropriately, and find creative solutions to the problems or situations they are faced with.

  5. FOCUSED ON PEOPLE. With the shortage of good talent, particularly in high-level leadership roles, an effective leader today must value and pay attention to company culture, employee experience, and succession planning. They must put resources and structures in place to focus on developing talent and building effective teams. And in order to do this all successfully for all employees, I believe an effective leader today must have empathy.

Lia Tatevosian: Operations Manager, Orange County & Los Angeles: Effective leadership today requires grit and tenacity as well as the ability to adapt to all of your employees’ characters/personalities. Because of the emergence of diversity in the workplace, equal opportunity as well as the general characteristics of today’s millennials, effective leaders must be the ones adapting to needs in lieu of the “my way or the highway” mentality of 20-30 years ago.

Lisa Larance, Senior Estimator, Denver: Effective leadership is so critical in the ‘modern’ age, and it boils down to a philosophy that’s been around for centuries: connect with your people. We all know how connect through technology which has greatly affected our day to day interactions. Leaders are able to connect with many different types of people, whether by generation, position, or industry. The real challenge for leaders is making time to get to know each person with whom you work. Leaders are created through their connections with others.


How has the pursuit of higher education furthered your success? 

Carrie Schaeffer: Building construction is an intersection of technical and business challenges that can be very rewarding to solve. I was an enthusiastic student, strong in math and visualization, with good communication skills. But as a young woman, complex construction was not presented to me as a career option. I discovered it only after arriving at college and I thrived in the Building Science curriculum. 

Jenn Lauritzen: Higher education was a requirement to get into my chosen career path, it gave me the opportunity to get my foot in the door. In addition to the technical skills I learned in college, the group projects and student team competitions helped me learn how to collaborate and effectively communicate with my team.

Lauren Nunnally: With the vast range of “higher education” programs available, I will answer this specific to my pursuit of an MBA recognizing there are many other programs one could pursue in higher education and benefit from. My MBA has furthered my success in three key ways: 1) Insight, 2) Frameworks, and 3) Network. My MBA program gave me insight into fields outside of my direct construction operations experience when I entered the program (for example, Marketing, Finance, Risk Management, Organizational Design, etc.). It opened my eyes to the details and strategies of so many other functions that are critical to successfully running large organizations. My MBA program also left me with some great frameworks for problem solving and strategic planning. And lastly, but most importantly, it left me with a great network of individuals spanning all industries and functions to bounce ideas off of, learn from, and see what their companies are doing to meet certain challenges or deal with specific issues.

Lia Tatevosian: Higher education for me, provided me with the mechanics I needed to succeed in the workplace and not necessarily the knowledge. What I mean is that college taught me how to work hard, compete, be tenacious, be one of 300 people in a class and still stand out, etc…build my character. What it didn’t teach me is how to build a building. That I learned on the job. 

Lisa Larance: Higher education furthered my success from a learning standpoint, certainly. More importantly, it exposed me to people from different industries and challenged me to understand multiple perspectives with which to approach problem solving. I was fascinated about their careers and work ideologies, which confirmed for me that we’re all trying to accomplish the same things – be good leaders, develop talent, work efficiently, and positively affect the bottom line.