Welcome to episode 25 Construction Nation! This is Sue Dyer, your host of Construction Dream Team; where I interview industry leaders and experts, so you can learn about the people side of construction and build your construction dream team based on OPE, Oher people’s experiences. And you can accelerate your success by learning from others who have already been there and done that.
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Episode 25: 3 Invaluable Lessons from Jeffrey Sims
- One way you’re guaranteed to fail as a leader is if you have a lot of blind spots.
- A leader has to know how to leverage people’s strengths and align them to the tasks that have to be done.
- The most important part of a project is to create an environment of safety culture.
This week, host Sue Dyer speaks with Jeffrey Sims about the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Project Leadership Institute.
About Guest Jeffrey Simms (1:33)
Jeff is the Project Director at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Jeff heads up a program for the Department of Energy and has partnered with your host Sue Dyer.
Jeff’s Journey to Becoming the Project Director at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (2:38)
- Jeff grew up the son of a contractor and got a bachelor’s degree in structural engineering
- Jeff spent his early career working for engineering firms designing buildings and bridges
- After spending some time at a few national laboratories in the Midwest he transitioned to SLAC National Laboratory in Menlo Park, CA.
About SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (5:40)
- SLAC is funded by the Department of Energy
- There are about 1,500 people focused on various research disciplines
- SLAC is adjacent to the Stanford campus and uses a linear accelerator that focuses on certain missions
How Jeff Has Helped Spread the Idea of Collaboration Through the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories (8:00)
- Jeff is working to create an environment that’s more attractive to contractors
- Owners need to put the contractor at their same level and integrate them with the team
- A healthy partnering environment is key
- Bringing the stakeholders into the process is important
- You have to create a strong relationship between the leadership of the owners and the leadership of a construction company
- The larger a project gets, the complexity isn’t only in the tech, it’s in the people
Jeff’s Journey with the Project Leadership Institute (13:47)
- The vision of the institute is a year-long development program with week-long events that have learnings from Stanford and experienced leaders from the Department of Energy
- A group of 25 people is accepted for the year-long program, which is a mix of graduate-level training and experiential training
- The institute wants to create a culture of project leadership across the complex that understands how to manage large, complex projects
- The Project Leadership Institute is trying to raise the bar for project leadership culture across the bar for the Department of Energy and it is about creating a network that people can leverage going forward
What Jeff has Learned from Running the Project Leadership Institute (18:10)
While easily defined by the Project Management Institute, in complex projects the people component makes it a Sociological experiment that is occasionally interrupted by technical progress. One way you’re guaranteed to fail as a leader is if you have a lot of blind spots. Developing trust in our team and facilitating the development of trust helps you develop communication in a way that gets rid of blind spots.
Why Emotional Intelligence is Important (20:15)
- You need to understand how to have crucial conversations, balancing empathy and accountability
- We listen as leaders and understand challenges, but you can’t let up on requirements or accountability to delivery
- When we know our strengths and weaknesses, we can allow others to help us
How Jeff is Applying PLI Knowledge to the $1 Billion X-Ray Accelerator Project (22:35)
A leader has to know how to leverage people’s strengths and align them to the tasks that have to be done. You have to understand how to adapt when people’s skillsets change over the years. It’s difficult to stay focused when you don’t know your individual triggers.
What PLI’s Graduates Have Learned and How They Apply It (25:00)
- Preparing to lead daily projects – negotiations, etc.
- Becoming a highly effective leader – emotional intelligence, and self-awareness
- Positioning your project for success – risk and safety
- Delivering high-risk complex projects – making quality decisions
- The Graduation – crisis communications/management
Jeff’s Greatest Strength as a Leader (27:40)
Jeff is a fan of the Strengths Finder 2.0 tool – his strengths are focus, strategy, and being analytical. Jeff is constantly thinking about analyzing data to improve things on projects.
A Big Challenge Jeff Has Faced in His Career (29:14)
Jeff has experienced a lot of scope, cost, or schedule challenges, but the biggest challenges have been about safety. He talks about a time when a safety precaution was being breached and how he lost his temper when the situation wasn’t taken seriously.
The Best Advice Jeff Has Ever Gotten (35:21)
On a team, everybody gets the ball regardless of whether you like everyone on the team or not. You have to stay focused on being successful and minimizing emotions.
Resources for Listeners
- Recommended Book: Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (affiliate link), by Annie Duke
- Try out the Gallup Strength Finder
- Learn more about Jeff’s current project
Contact Jeff on LinkedIn
Reach Jeff at https://pli-slac.stanford.edu
Jeff’s Parting Advice (42:00)
Try to understand someone else’s perspective. Listening rather than speaking should be your focus – this is a skill you should actively try to develop.
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