Ways to Address the GC Superintendent to Earn Preferred-Contractor Status

Increasing jobsite workloads creates great opportunities for positive, proactive, and polished communication to distinguish your company

Crew Leaders

Increasingly, the manner in how a crew foreman interacts with a superintendent on a construction site has become a more important activity.  When a sub-trade specialist is under the leadership, and contracted to complete work for a general contractor, the smart foreman realizes that his relationship established with the project’s senior field leader is one that needs to be positive, proactive, and polished.

In this article I’d like to address how a crew foreman, representing a sub-trade specialist, can project a positive presence, be proactive in connecting with their project superintendent, and to bring more “spit polish” to their efforts.  In some cases, the foreman will need to engage and have good relationships with the superintendent and the project manager.  However, without having to record both roles throughout this article, I’ve chosen to single out the superintendent as a point of focus here. 

Positive in Presence

This is where first and lasting impressions are made.  The sub-contractor foreman can actually have less experience or knowledge, than the GC superintendent would want, but if the foreman’s attitude is upbeat, positive, and committed to the completion of their portion of the project, they will win many “indulgences” from the superintendent.  This same superintendent, who is often irritable and negative in their behavior, will often soften up for the foreman who presents a positive and upbeat manner at the site.

Consider a few positive actions to win over the superintendent:

  • Introducing yourself to the superintendent upon first arrival.  Don’t wait for them to come find you. They hate tracking down field leaders.
  • When you meet the superintendent, shake their hand and look at them confidently.  No handshake or the lack of eye contact signals weaknesses, being unprepared, and “I really don’t want to be here.”
  • Make it a habit to always start your arrival each day with a, “How’s it going?” with the superintendent, followed up by a, “Anything new developed?” 
  • Monday arrival should include the “look ahead” for that week of work.  Most sub-trades are afraid to share their plan, and for those who do provide a schedule, it will make the superintendent’s day.
  • When the superintendent, or others, bring a negative situation to you throughout the week, adapt more of an attitude that includes, “OK, that doesn’t sound great but let’s give our best shot here and see what we can come up with to solve the issue.”  superintendents love the foreman who sees problems as opportunities to correct.
  • Let the superintendent be the first to know when there’s good news to share.
  • When you are about to wrap up an important portion of the work, invite the superintendent to perform the last task.  Trust me, superintendents will love putting in the last nail or screw, stripping the last form, installing the final finish of trim, etc.
  • Once in a while, bring donuts to a meeting.
  • If your team is celebrating with a lunch, invite the superintendent to participate.
  • Be sure to introduce the superintendent to your workers when the opportunities arise.
  • Always drop by the superintendent’s office on the way out every day.  If he or she is there, make some small talk for a few minutes.  Include sharing what you got completed and where you would like to start the next morning.

Never turn away from making a good impression on your superintendent, without becoming a stage actor.  There will be enough opportunities for such good image making, just be patient.

Proactive in Connecting

Being positive is important but actually engaging the superintendent requires an intentional effort.  One that impresses the superintendent that you have a focus, a plan, and want a relationship based on transparency and trust.  Your proactive efforts to connect with the superintendent will return huge favors and a reputation as their “preferred contractor.”

Consider a few proactive actions when connecting with the superintendent:

  • When giving the superintendent your week’s schedule (aka, the look-ahead), be sure to point out what actions would assist you meeting the schedule that the superintendent can assist you with.  This builds a little commitment from the superintendent to you.
  • Keep your superintendent updated; such proactivity will make the superintendent an early fan of yours.  Most foremen tend to avoid their job-site superintendent and that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
  • Be consistent on making your crew’s work area the cleanest on the site.  It’s still very common that a contractor will leave their area filled with paper, material wrap, excess material strewn throughout their work area, etc. 
  • Part of updating, be sure to provide a mid-day update about 11 am to 11:30 am.  Most superintendents want to get an idea of where the productivity will be by 4 pm.  Make an extra effort to give them your best estimate of where your crew will finish up the day.
  • During weekly meetings with the superintendent, and other trade foremen, be a good listener, take notes, and engage the discussion periodically.  Offer to assist another contractor.  Such an effort sends signals that you are a team player.
  • Ask the superintendent to come by and inspect some of the early efforts of your workers.  Better to get the superintendent’s thoughts on “good/not good” early.  This effort also sends a signal to the superintendent that you are not timid of having their presence and honest assessment.
  • Work to develop a daily “hi-lo” update for the superintendent and deliver it verbally near the end of the day.  Share two or three “high-lights” of the day and two or three “low-lights” that need to be addressed. 
  • When a challenging issue arises, especially one that the superintendent knows about, take the lead on trying to resolve the issue.  Take up the challenge to the superintendent, letting them know that you are “on it.”
  • Place some simple “signage” of your work area that better communicates where tools and materials are to be kept, organized, etc.  This is really a big deal for many superintendents as they like to see organization from their contractors.

There are a host of other proactive efforts that you can take as a field leader when reporting to a project superintendent, but the primary focus should be that if you are proactive about getting in, performing and promoting a quality and safe work site, and over-communicating your progress. If done, you will find even the most negative superintendent cutting some slack for you and your crew.

Polished Engagement

The word polished, as used here, is intended to represent a more professional image to the superintendents you will work with during your career. Quite honestly, many general contractor superintendents have a very low impression of many sub-trade foremen, so it’s critical that we make a “polished” impression. Successfully accomplish this, and the entire project becomes a more pleasant experience.

Consider a few efforts to polish your reputation with a superintendent:

  • Be the first to introduce yourself and to shake the superintendent’s hand…but demonstrate the same respect for the superintendent each day.  If the superintendent is comfortable with calling him by his first name, use it.  However, if you don’t know, address the superintendent as “Mr. Jones” until he instructs otherwise.  If the superintendent is female, “Ms. Jones” should be used also until she says otherwise.
  • If the superintendent brings some bad news or challenges to you, accept the input and thank them for their quick and honest information.
  • When you run into a challenge, first think through two or three options of solutions and then take the problem to the superintendent.  There is more respect given to you if you will always think about potential solutions to challenges your crew is facing.
  • Never be slow about giving the superintendent one of your company’s hats or T-shirts. 
  • Upon presenting the superintendent with your schedule for the week, allow them to assess it quickly to see if it’s doable in their eyes.  If not, quickly inquire as to what you can do to adjust the schedule if needed.
  • If the superintendent brings a request for something on your company’s part, that you know will not be received well, redirect the superintendent with, “Well, Ken I know I will need to discuss that with my ‘boss.’  I’ll let them know that we want to do it but give me some time to contact a leader and see about the possibility as we’ve discussed, or a better option if needed.”
  • If the superintendent puts you on the spot for an answer…NOW…divert.  Never take their applied pressure to say something you may later regret.  This is a little dicey to address, but you do not want to be “used” by the superintendent against your own company.  And believe me, some superintendents are great at getting a “Yes” from the foreman that conflicts with the “No” that they will receive from the foreman’s boss.  Don’t commit to a pressured request when you know that your leader will disagree.  Simply hold your ground and inform the superintendent that you will bring the need to your leader ASAP…if not sooner!
  • Never be afraid to have your workers pick up a little trash from other contractors.  While you don’t want to purposely bring attention to the superintendent that you are doing this, it is noticed by the superintendent more than you think.
  • No matter the superintendent’s “temperature,” remain calm and cool headed.  Even if he, or she, is shooting you with every creative and dirty phrase known to man, stay poised.  Responding back in the same manner will never allow you to win points with the superintendent.  Even the meanest superintendent will circle back around and apologize to that foreman who “took it” and didn’t respond in kind.

Putting the “polish” on your efforts can certainly make you the “preferred foreman” in the eyes of the GC superintendent.  And in this way, your polishing efforts may make your company the preferred contractor, often leading to winning more work.

Today’s superintendent often carries more issues and challenges than in past years.  Between receiving project drawings that are seldom accurate or available at the start of the project, to increased visits by OSHA, and greater scrutiny by city, county, and state inspectors, their tension level is at an all-time high.  Plus, their dealing with sub-contractors who are themselves struggling with some of the same organizations PLUS trying to find skilled workers, any construction site can become a toxic melting pot just waiting to release its workplace poisons.

If you are a Foreman, trying to find more ideas on how to get along with the superintendent on your project, then your review of the positive, proactive, and polished efforts described here may assist you.  Even if you are a foreman leading a self-performing crew for a project where your company is the general contractor, the actions presented above are still effective!

Determine today to make a more intentional effort to be positive, proactive, and polished.  The successful execution of the three will win you more fans, more work, and a reputation that will pay handsomely!

Here’s to giving those superintendents your best shot!


Brad Humphrey

The Contractor’s Best Friend