The Next Great Extinction
Learn more about the construction industry’s vanishing employee roles

Whether it is the destruction of the bees, the ozone or the arctic shelf, people of the world are constantly being reminded that their time on the planet may be finite. Geologically speaking, a short time might be several thousand years, giving everyone just a little more time to soak up some sun. The construction industry may see its own series of extinctions much sooner, though.

Evolution is an essential step for the industry to cull the low performers and allow the brightest individuals to reinvent themselves. In an industry that grounds itself in lean optimization of the organizational hierarchy, employee positions that once stood as strongholds of operational superiority will require significant reengineering to provide continued relevance and value.

Vice Presidents

Often, the title of vice president is given with little regard to what the job actually entails. In many cases, the title is given to the most senior leaders within the firm and evokes an air of dignity based solely on tenure. The title is also given to those project managers that govern the largest projects within their firm. Should the title of vice president mean the ability to manage projects or the ability to manage people? Too often, the title carries no measured increase in responsibility. As a result, “vice president” can sometimes serve as a false 
career progression.

Best-in-class construction firms examine their company’s organizational charts to focus more on responsibilities, rather than empty titles. For instance, consider the title of business unit leader (BUL). A true BUL focuses on strategically growing the business through a specific niche or market. In some cases, this person has profit and loss responsibilities and spends the requisite amount of time needed to grow people, rather than building projects. This is not to say that firms will not need senior project managers. A BUL simply builds people that, in turn, build the business, while senior project managers build projects.

Project Managers

It is unlikely that a project manager will ever go completely extinct. However, the project managers of tomorrow will possess new skills that their ancestors simply did not have. The first of these skills is increased business acumen. Being a strong builder is no longer enough to survive. As the evolution continues, managers will resemble account managers, with project engineers supporting their day-to-day project endeavors in the field.

Account managers will be required to run multiple projects and serve as the customer liaison, requiring an increased emotional intelligence to compliment an already strong construction intelligence. Account managers will more closely resemble financial managers, rather than brick-and-mortar superintendents. Receivables, collections and margin gain and fade will no longer be terms relegated to only the best project managers. They will become mandatory territory for all office-based managers. Project managers might not go the way of the dinosaur, but they will certainly be expected to lose the vestigial tail and become much more multi-dimensional.


Much like their project manager peers, superintendents will take on a new, multi-faceted appearance. This extinction will not come about because of a lack of need, though. Rather, this extinction may come from the industry’s lack of propagation of this particular species. Tomorrow’s superintendents will evolve from today’s project engineers.

For example, progressive firms are now looking beyond the traditional source of field supervision (technicians and tradespeople) to a new crop of engineers and construction graduates entering the workforce. There is a new group of young talent that has no desire to be tied to the shackles of the office and prefers the independence of the field.

Best-in-class firms are pairing senior superintendents with this new brand of construction managers to teach them how to build. This may be the first of a group known as the “gray collar”—field leaders that will have a superb balance of educational prowess and building expertise. While there will always be exemplary tradespeople that move up the ranks, successful construction businesses are finding new and creative ways to attract top talent to a depleted and endangered population.

Who’s to say what will happen in the future? Regardless of the positions, firms must evolve their organizational structure. Careful examination should always be given to all of the roles within a firm. Wise construction leaders should continually revisit the positions within their firm and ask some of the following questions:

  • What value do they bring to the organization?
  • How does this help us grow the business?
  • How does this help us grow people within the organization?
  • Does this title command authority or just respect?
  • How does the customer or client view this position?
  • What are the tactical and strategic duties of the various positions and 
how do they interact with one another?

Titles are just words. Whether they are cast as a place of distinction within a firm or truly have muscle and meaning, firms would be best served in always questioning their purpose. Investigation into roles that exist and roles that are necessary, but currently absent, is required. A current position, slightly improved, can be a position that benefits both the company and the employees within it. Adaptable roles are the ones with staying power.