How to Rebuild Your Company's Finance Skills
Practical leadership strategies for the emerging construction financial manager

In today's world, the emerging construction financial manager (ECFM) faces many challenges. Consider for a moment his/her unique position in the number of different functional groups or teams that he/she interacts with on a daily basis.

Internally, he/she may go from working with his/her immediate accounting team to dealing with the company's ownership or executive management team. In the same day, he/she may also have to work with project management, estimating, field management, human resources and so forth.

The ECFM must be aware of the needs and motivators of all of these different functional teams. In order to meet these challenges, the ECFM must not only have the ability to motivate his/her team, but also must be able to gain buy-in with trust and accountability, communicate effectively and manage staffing dynamics. The following are three areas in which an ECFM can sharpen his/her skills to meet the above challenges.

  1. Trust and credibility as a leader—Understand leadership challenges unique to the ECFM
  2. Empowering and coaching the team—Move beyond being a technical expert and into being a trusted advisor
  3. Leadership challenges—Know how to apply different leadership tactics to different functional groups and individual personalities

Trust & Credibility as a Leader

To sharpen his/her developing trust and accountability, ECFMs can look to author Stephen Covey, who points out the five waves of trust as the following:

  • Self-trust
  • Relationship trust
  • Organizational trust
  • Market trust
  • Societal trust

Recognizing the importance in how you see, speak and behave will go a long way toward how others view you. By constantly analyzing your actions and being willing to adjust your paradigms of how you view and process situations will impact employees' outcomes in a positive way. Taking notice of how you speak can create a shift in how others see and behave, too.

Often, ECFMs are perceived as the keepers of history, as the reports they provide will be based on the past. Today's ECFM is not satisfied with this role. He/she is becoming much more proactive in his/her execution by becoming an integral part of the monthly project meeting. Depending on the size of the company and the level of detail at the monthly meeting, the ECFM are interacting with superintendents and project managers beyond just emails in the days prior to the monthly review meeting. Instead, this generation of leaders keeps an ear to the ground and is eager to provide assistance to the field team by suggesting solutions in some of these areas well before the monthly meeting:

  • Job budget
  • Problem jobs
  • Current operational priorities
  • Salary and hourly wage problems
  • Appropriate cost information and monitor costs
  • Areas where accounting can help improve financial performance
  • Visiting the jobsite for experience and observation

Empowering & Coaching the Team

When the ECFM begins to think of himself/herself as a trusted advisor, he/she can begin to act as ground control for all the financial pieces of various projects that need to come together. It is the strategic thought process and responsibility of the ECFM to not just report the job cost numbers and financial figures, but to also assist in the overall financial management of projects with the operation team.

This is achieved by inspiring a shared vision with those in his/her department by helping them understand the "why" behind the "what" of each project or assignment. Given the ECFM's unique position within the hierarchy of the company, many approach the position with a demeanor of leading from the side versus leading from the top with direct authority. He/she strives to build alliances with groups both in and out of the company, where he/she has no direct authority by being active in the project(s), providing reliable data and working with project managers to help them successfully manage financially.

Leadership Challenges

When you strive to empower and coach your team, there will inevitably be organizational, delegation and conflict-resolution challenges. Savvy ECFMs foster engagement and understanding from operations about the accounting functions, purpose and vision to gain trust and understanding with the following questions:

  • What do others need?
  • What does the company need?
  • Are others going to use this?
  • What does the senior CFM and internal financial team need?
  • What can I as an ECFM do to better understand the technical side of the projects?

One helpful process is for the EFCM to develop a list of the various functional teams he/she interacts with on a regular basis. These could include owners, stockholders, senior management members, banks, bonding companies, government agencies, the estimating/operations team and the internal financial team.

Once this listing is developed, a needs, motivators and red flags chart can be created. For example, the bank and bonding company have the needs of the company meeting its covenants, while their motivators are financial stability, profitable accounts, additional business and leads to other accounts. Their red flags might include hearing bad words on the street regarding your company, not meeting covenants, unreliable financial information poor forecasting and under billings.

There are many issues that challenge today's EFCM. However, with the proper strategies explained above, your company's ECFM can face any issue in a way that can strengthen both their own management skills and the overall team. By learning to sharpen their many abilities and improve their management techniques, ECFMs can further the entire company in all relevant areas, both internally and externally.

Learn more

The Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) Annual Conference & Exhibition will be held in San Antonio, Texas, June 25-29. Register at to make a difference in your company's bottom line. For more information, follow CFMA on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with #CFMACONF16.