Welcome Construction Nation! Sue Dyer, the host of Construction Dream Team, interviews industry leaders and experts so you can learn about the people side of construction and build your construction dream team based on OPE – Other People’s Experiences. The shortest way to success, is to learn from others who have been there and done that!
This week, host Sue Dyer speaks with Jim Linthicum from SANDAG about what successful mediation looks like and what it’s like to manage a multi-billion dollar project.
3 Invaluable Lessons from Jim Linthicum
- Make sure you understand the other guy’s side even if you don’t fully understand your own.
- Mediation skills are important for anyone who wants to create a culture that breeds success.
- Really listen to people, don’t think about what you are going to say next.
The following show notes are a transcription from the Construction Dream Team Podcast episode 24 audio interview between Sue and Jim. Please subscribe to Construction Dream Team for the latest episodes on our website, iTunes or Stitcher! We would LOVE a 5-star rating to help us show up in the search engines so more of Construction Nation can listen to industry leaders and experts on their computers, phones, or tablets!
About Guest Jim Linthicum (1:00)
Jim Linthicum is the Director of Mobility Management and Project Implementation for SANDAG. He is heading up a $9 billion dollar capital program with many different transportation programs in it and he has been 40 years in the industry this August. Jim worked for 23 years with Caltrans and has now been with SANDAG for 17 years.
Jim’s Journey to Becoming the Director of Mobility Management at SANDAG (1:50)
It’s been a quick 40 years for Jim. He started at Caltrans working in a construction management position to construction inspector, resident engineer, project manager, and head of construction and now Jim is the head of the capital program at SANDAG.
What Has Made Jim an Effective Leader (2:50)
- Construction management and resident engineer skills prepared him well to be a great leader (3:00)
- When decisions have to be made quickly and you have to work with people day after day, you learn to develop leadership skills (3:20)
- When he was young, Jim kept his eyes open and watched a lot of what was going on around him he developed skills that he kept with him his entire career (3:40)
How Community Mediation Has Helped Jim (4:30)
- Construction is fast-paced with thin profit margins, and that causes a lot of conflicts
- To be able to come in with a mediator background and skills helps make conversations easier
The Skills Jim Has Learned and How to Apply Them (5:44)
- The model of mediation that Jim uses preserves the relationship by making sure the conflict isn’t personalized by each of the parties
- In mediation, you learn the importance of fully vetting and understanding the other side’s position
- You do this by spending less time making your own case and more time understanding what the people you’re negotiating with want or need
- You have to agree on the problem before you can reach a solution
- What is the value of good will on a project? When you create good will you increase trust
Where and How Jim Implements His Skills Within His Own Program (14:15)
There are a few layers between Jim and a Resident Engineer, but he is a volunteer mediator on the side. Jim has a good relationship with those he works with and does mediate with them. When you work together, the job is more successful and it’s more fun.
Where Someone Might Go to Get Mediation Skills (16:40)
- Jim went to the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), they provide training nationally and internationally and you can find more information on their website NCRConline.com and CCDS Mediation Training
- Some states have community-based mediation training, as well as some universities
- Jim learned mediation in small claims court in San Diego, about 20 years ago
About SANDAG and Jim’s Construction Project (19:15)
The program is $9 billion and multi-year, both light rail and heavy rail. The project also includes bus rapid transit and freeway projects. About two years ago, SANDAG completed their first Design/Build projects and now SANDAG is doing its first CM/GC (or CM at Risk) job. The vast majority of projects are low bid, but the majority of dollars are alternative procurement.
About Jim’s $2.2 Billion Light Rail Project (21:58)
- The project is the biggest transportation project ever done in San Diego done and the first project SANDAG has done as CM/GC
- The job is going smoothly and it’s the highest performing team Jim’s ever been associated with
- The job is halfway done, on a typical day there are about 600 workers on that job (an 11-mile long project)
- They just celebrated and they just had a “topping out ceremony” with the last pre-cast girder (out of 144) that got set at 2:00 am
What’s Making Jim’s Light Rail Project So Successful (23:57)
They brought the contractor on board for preconstruction services about a year and a half ahead of time. They brought in experts and had joint training sessions with the contractor. They had day-long classes such as CM/GC 101 and CM/GC 202. They set a minimum profit margin at 5% and had regular sessions with the team executives to ensure their buy-in. They sent their staff to a few transit agencies that had done CM/GC successfully to talk to their counterparts to get best practices and make connections.
The Biggest Challenge Jim’s Faced in His Career (29:45)
The job was to retrofit a freeway-to-freeway interchange and viaduct for earthquakes. About halfway through the project having completed ~80,000 rebar welds which were all encased in concrete, and then they found out that their rebar welds were not sufficient. They had to start over; blast out all of the concrete, take off all of the rebar and re-weld them. The FBI, the state Department of Transportation, and the Federal Department of Transportation Inspector General all got involved. This ended in a multi-million-dollar dispute.
The Best Advice Jim Has Gotten (35:50)
Be as flexible as possible and as nimble with your resources and your processes as you can. Take advantage of the talent of the team (the resources) and set up processes that suit the project. If you have a good history with the contractors, engineers and/or project managers you can do things concurrently on a construction project and you will be nimbler. You will improve the project and your relationships.
How to Develop Your Leadership Style (38:30)
- Observe what leaders do and don’t do that you find particularly effective, take notes and see if it fits into your style – it’s important for something to fit within your personality and style
- Watch what people do that is not effective and figure out why
Resources for our Listeners (39:51)
- Read the Partner Your Project Book by Sue Dyer (affiliate link)
- Check Out Leadership is an Art by Max Depree (affiliate link)
- White Paper on Drones in Construction
Jim’s Favorite Piece of Tech (41:20)
The Headspace app for meditation and mindfulness. And drones – drones are the best thing to happen for a construction site ever, because you can see up and around jobs almost in real time.
Contact Jim on LinkedIn
Jim’s Parting Advice for Construction Nation (43:44)
Really listen to people. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. Practice active listening. Let people know that you understand what they’re saying.
Construction Nation, Dream Teams don’t just happen they are built one step at a time. Why not send out this episode to your team, so they can help you.
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