3 Invaluable Lessons from Tracy Thomas

  1. Hands-on training is how you get projects overseas to run smoothly.
  2. It’s important to discover and capitalize on shared values.
  3. As a leader, what you say in a meeting people will take action on, so curate what you say.

This week, host Sue Dyer speaks with Tracy Thomas about project management overseas and in challenging environments. Tracy talks about how her leadership style has changed and how she’s championing partnering in her overseas work.

About Guest Sean Tracy Thomas (1:35)

Tracy Thomas is the Director of Construction Operations for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO). Tracy is a career member of the Senior Foreign Services of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Building Operations where she currently directs the construction operations for all new U.S. Embassy and consulate projects worldwide. Tracy is also championing the OBO Partnering Program which is currently in the pilot process.

Tracy’s Journey to Becoming the Director of Construction Operations for the U.S State Department OBO (3:02)

  1. Tracy joined OBO as a foreign service construction engineer 16 years ago.
  2. She started on a project in West Africa as the Deputy Project Director under a very seasoned project director.
  3. It was a natural progression for her to lead projects worldwide.
  4. They have $20B dollars in projects all over the globe.

About the State Department’s OBO Office (4:12)

  1. OBO is the real property manager for all U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.
  2. They manage a portfolio of properties in nearly 300 locations valued at over $80B.
  3. Most projects are done by American contractors.
  4. They find American talent and then source local talent from other countries.

About the OBO Partnering Program (5:43)

  1. They’re getting started setting up a new partnering program which is growing fast. Partnering will help bridge the experience gap in the field offices.
  2. OBO has selected two projects to pilot, one in Uganda and one in Moscow, both are similar in size and scope ($100M – $200M and two to three years in duration).
  3. They hired a consultant to observe the steps they are taking to develop the Partnering program.
  4. They are also developing Best Practices to facilitate solutions to security challenges, logistics, commissioning, etc.

How OBO Selects a Contractor (10:56)

The pool comes from contractors who want to have a presence in worldwide construction and who share the mission to do diplomacy worldwide. The work is governed by federal contracting and comes from a different bureau than OBO. They plan their projects according to a list of priority missions overseas, funding, and real estate. The prequalification is the limiting factor. 

Some of the Key Challenges Faced Leading Projects Overseas (13:17)

  1. They build state of the art facilities to U.S. codes under rigorous security standards in remote locations or austere environments.
  2. They use local labor that may not be aware of U.S. codes or standards.
  3. They do the work within a diplomatic context and a difficult business climate.
  4. The U.S. contractors hire local labor and train them to do the work.

How Tracy Envisions the Partnering Program Helping Overall with the Mission (16:10)

It’s their opportunity to foster trust in a structured environment with inexperienced team members. When construction is booming in the U.S. there’s less skilled labor that wants to go overseas, so to have a structure of trust is one of the primary benefits of Partnering. The risk to the work is an order of magnitude higher for contractors. The cost of delay is too high, you need solutions right away.

What Else Has Been Built into the Partnering Program (19:50)

  1. Setting up communication protocols.
  2. Identifying key indicators and surveying on a monthly basis.
  3. It will be led by an IPI facilitator.

Tracy’s Greatest Strength as a Leader (20:25)

1.   Pulling the team together. It’s important to discover and capitalize on shared values. Tracy got her team together and asked them what their values were.

2.   A key to empowering teams is making sure everyone understands their authority and the basis of their authority.

The Biggest Challenge Tracy Has Ever Faced (24:20)

She was working in Yemen during the Arab Spring uprising. She didn’t feel like she had the full support of her team in Washington. She had missed some cultural cues and made some missteps. She had to do a reset on her leadership style and teamwork approach.

 Resources for Listeners

The Best Advice Tracy Has Ever Gotten (28:51)

Be careful what you highlight as a leader in meetings, you could wear people out with action. Measure what you say in a meeting because, as a leader, people will pay attention to what you say.

What is Tracy’s Favorite Piece of Tech (30:03)

Her cell phone and software programs that help with data mining to see where potential risks are located.

Contact Tracy

Email Tracy: thomastj2@state.gov

Visit the OBO website

Tracy’s Parting Advice (33:14)

If something isn’t working, it’s okay to make a change. Processes and standard practices are helpful, but if something isn’t working it’s important to recognize the gap and make an adjustment.

We are beta-testing our Project Scorecard between now and September 17th.  Any project team who wants to be a part of the beta-test the Scorecard contact Sue@ConstructionDreamTeam.com.

Remember…Construction Dream Team drops every Monday morning at 4 am PST. Please join us next week when Sue will interview another industry leader or expert so you can learn how to create your Construction Dream Team!

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