Superintendent – Is Becoming Your Company’s Safety Manager or Director a Smart Career Move?
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The push for safety awareness for the construction industry in the US is up. The 14,000 average deaths a year has not gone down in over a decade and it is not because people in the industry are not trying or don’t care about job site safety.

Just this month alone we have had at least a half dozen superintendents in Florida tell us a career goal of theirs was to get their OSHA 500 and offer to head safety within their small to mid-size general contracting firms. Their heart is longing to do more when it comes to safety, but already they have a full plate of responsibility as a superintendent on their projects.

My advice to them may shock you because although they start out with the right intent, I have seen too many lose their jobs by shifting the balance from overall field supervision to adding or becoming safety police for their employers.

If you have a desire to help your company do more than they already do for safety, start with appropriately communicating your desired plan to the owner or executive within your company that would help you get there. Without the owner or executive team buy-in, and a plan in place on how to achieve the goal, you will fail to meet expectations and it could even cost you your job. Why?

Why it is important to plan ahead.

Implementing and overseeing safety other than for your own jobsite requires time away from your other responsibilities as a superintendent. You may think you can do both. We could share with you story after story of other supers who thought the same thing and time proved different.

A superintendent’s job is a full time job that does have busier times than others during the duration of a project, but the word “site” often placed before superintendent in a construction title has a purpose. A superintendent is responsible for managing the activities and people that work on the jobsite they are assigned to. It is difficult to do that when you are now responsible for safety at all jobsites.

If the owner and executive team within your organization have budgeted and made a decision to have a dedicated safety director in house and you are the selected candidate for the job, then it’s a different story. Although, be aware this is a choice of yours for a career change within our industry that brings pros and cons to your own career.

  • Making the change from a superintendent to safety manager or safety director puts your relationship with your co-workers and subordinates in a different light.
  • Other superintendents may wish they were selected for the job and may give you push back when making suggestions or implementing new policies.
  • In addition, your job now becomes overhead distributed among many projects, which isn’t a big deal when times are good, but when times are lean, outsourcing safety and charging the site superintendents to continue to run the program you implemented for the company may win out over you keeping your job.

This article is geared towards the 93% of small to mid-size construction firms within the US. It is a different story with the larger companies, particularly those doing public work, due to many of their contracts requirements spell out safety requirements. In addition, due to the sheer volume of work they perform and the sophistication of their operations they can easily calculate the savings, despite the cost of a properly run safety and risk management department.

The top employers of any size company look at where someone’s heart and loyalty lie when they are interviewing for a job. Thus explaining why a candidate who was a superintendent in their early career during better economic times and made the change to safety manager or director often will not be selected over another equally qualified superintendent.   The employer will recognize a superintendent that practices safe jobsite safety protocols but keeps the passion and value in line equally with all other responsibilities of a superintendent’s job is better balanced for overall success of a project. Lead Superintendent Job Description

How we can help

If you have career decisions you want to talk through we are here to help. Keep that passion for safety and take time to read the employer prospective article “Who in my Company should handle Safety and Risk Management”.(insert link) and share with your owners. You can also take the Safety  and Superintendent assessments to see how you rank among your peers. You can have a successful career in either role if you focus on learning your supervisor’s expectations of a dedicated safety role or a superintendent role and doing your part to meet those expectations by communicating effectively.