Infrastructure projects require leadership skills

Leadership skills and credibility impact on infrastructure projects, health, and safety. Projects such as Eskom require a high level of leadership skills.

These are among the findings of a study to determine the impact and risks of leadership skills and credibility, on infrastructure renewal programmes in construction, by Prof John Smallwood and Mabila Mathebula, in a research paper for the 2016 International Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa.

Safety and security implications of leadership skills

After World War II, General George C Marshall said: “We are now concerned with the peace of the entire world… peace can only be maintained by the strong”. Strength includes a nation’s infrastructure, the foundation of civil survival and growth.

According to Ronis (1998), infrastructural strength includes;
[] strong societal moral codes
[] rule of law
[] stable government and political institutions.

Leaders who lack credibility, weaken their country’s infrastructure. When people perceive their leaders to be less credible, they may take the law into their own hands, or take their anger out on state property, as in South Africa during service delivery protests.

Lack of leadership skills and credibility poses a serious societal risk. Corruption in the procurement process does not go unseen, and people feel short-changed by their leaders.

What do leaders do?

Opinions of role-players in state projects were collected through a mailed questionnaire in the built environment in South Africa. The questions probed qualities of leadership credibility, such as:
[] honestly
[] forward-looking
[] inspiring
[] competence
[] stewardship
[] vision
[] trust
[] respect
[] affinity
[] integrity
[] conviction
[] character
[] care
[] courage
[] composure
[] transparency.

The study graphically showed that people expected their leaders to exude ethical behaviour even under countervailing pressures.

Respondents noted that they abhorred visionless, corruptible and dishonest leadership practices, and called for ethical and visionary leadership.

The research also revealed the need for competent (technically and strategically) leaders. Credibility for these qualities are earned, and not conferred by titles.

A partial silo collapse at Majuba power station is among the signs of ageing and over-extended infrastructure. A saga of industrial action and insubordination on the Medupe power station construction project is among the symptoms of lack of leadership and management skills. Deficient or misdirected vision and leadership, sabotage,s health, safety, environment and quality management efforts.
A partial silo collapse at Majuba power station is among the signs of ageing and over-extended infrastructure.
A saga of industrial action and insubordination on the Medupe power station construction project is among the symptoms of lack of leadership and management skills.
Deficient or misdirected vision and leadership, sabotage,s health, safety, environment and quality management efforts.

Africa is falling behind on leadership skills

Leadership credibility has been in existence since the creation of the human race. The salvation of Africa lies in visionary leadership to enable infrastructure programmes.

If a construction organisation wished to improve performance, and on analysis it appears that there is a lack of honesty, forward-looking, inspiration and competence, leadership credibility could become a limiting factor.

In the Infrastructure Development Act of South Africa (2014), infrastructure means installations, structures, facilities, systems, services, or processes, which include airports, educational institutions, electricity generation and distribution, health care, settlements, mines, oil or gas pipelines, refineries, ports, harbours, agriculture, roads, transport, railways, sewage works, waste disposal works, and water works.

Ronis (1998) argues that the element that is rarely included when it comes to infrastructure, is knowledgeable leadership.

Construction corruption bleeds the state

Given the pervasive nature of corruption in the construction industry globally (Transparency International, 2011), it would also be important to include leadership credibility as one of the infrastructural elements.

Leadership credibility is a perception, and difficult to measure. Credibility should be determined by the stakeholders.

National infrastructure is intrinsically linked to national security, and a lack of leadership credibility could adversely impact on the roll out of these projects.

Infrastructure ensures health and safety

South Africa’s vision is to become a developmental state or an entrepreneurial state. This kind of state requires social cohesion, and technical competence.

In 2011, the National Planning Commission Diagnostic Report described a gap in the country’s infrastructure development: “Successful countries generally invest at high rates, and are continually modernising public infrastructure… But South Africa has effectively missed a generation of infrastructure modernisation…”

President Jacob Zuma had announced infrastructure plans in 2012, now coordinated by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordination Commission (PICC).

Lessons from the defence upgrade history

Lord Butler, a long time British Cabinet Secretary, argued during an address to the Royal College of Defence Studies in 2011, that every Department should have a historical adviser (Stakie, 2013).

There are many lessons to be learnt from history, however, there are not always good students.

The goals of the former ‘Decade of Development’ were never fully achieved, due to the lack of leadership in management of economies.

Kimenyi (2007) argues that the Millennium Development Goals were also not fully achieved, due to weak governments.

He pointed out that corruption tends to divert public resources to individuals, instead of improving service delivery.

There are no mathematical formulas that can guarantee success as a leader (Neuschel, 1998). Kotter (1998) singles out credibility as a big challenge in leadership efforts. Many things contribute to credibility:

[] track record of the person delivering the message;
[] content of the message;
[] reputation for integrity and trustworthiness;
[] consistency between words and deeds.

Smith and Kelly (1997) argue that leadership is based on six dimensions; conviction, character, care, courage, composure, and competence.

For character, Kouzes and Posner (2012) lists the elements of credo, competence and confidence. In this context character means showing integrity, honesty, respect and trust consistently (Smith, 2007).

It was Ciat (1998) wrote: “Unless one can establish credibility with employees, the rest of the discussion is meaningless.”

Maxwell (1988) cited by Mathebula (1999) states that people become leaders because of:
[] Character – who they are;
[] Relationships – who they know;
[] Knowledge – what they know;
[] Intuition – what they feel;
[] Experience – where they have been;
[] Past success – what they have done, and
[] Ability – what they can do.

More often than not, managers misinterpret competency as the ability to do the job of each person they supervise. Competency refers to the manager`s ability to manage as a capable and effective leader.

Infrastructure development is a social process requiring more than the provision of money from major financial institutions.

Construction people’s views on leadership skills

Respondents were also given an opportunity to air their comments on leadership credibility and the role out of infrastructure programmes. Here are some responses:

  • ”Promoting previously disadvantaged groups lead to contracts being awarded to companies who lack the competencies to complete the work, which is then contracted back to the established companies. This may not be corruption; it however leaves a sense of corruption and definitely adds to the costs of construction.”
  • ”The problem in SA with regards to development projects is not affected as much by leadership qualities than by constricting and vague nature of local, provincial and national laws. Leadership is irrelevant if the legislation does not support or adds huge amounts of time and costs to a project. The way in which the legislation is worded is so vague that it sometimes forces corruption to take place. There is no clear road map for development of any king in SA which is a major factor that allows corruption to creep in.”
  • ”Leaders as much as they are credible, lack the tools to help them to achieve their vision. South Africa depends largely on the imported skills and technology.”

Findings and opinions on leadership skills

Some respondents felt very strongly about the prevalence of corruption in construction and the importance visionary leadership to stamp out corruption.

Some respondents felt that leaders lacked the necessary competencies relative to infrastructure programmes.

Some respondents felt that leaders relative to infrastructure programmes lacked leadership qualities.

The new competencies that are urgently required in construction are Intelligent Quotient (IQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and Spiritual Intelligence (SQ). According to Zohar and Marshall (2000), the following are the indications of a highly developed SQ:

[] Capacity to be flexible (actively and spontaneously adaptive)
[] high degree of self-awareness
[] inspired by vision and values
[] reluctance to cause unnecessary harm
[] tendency to see holistic connections
[] tendency to seek root cause answers
[] opposing convention, being ’field-independent’.

Recommendations to government and business

Africa needs a new type of a leader, who abhors greed and detests dishonesty; whose honesty is his greatness; who is inspired by vision and values.

Leaders have to embrace new competencies to cope with their challenging environment; ways to engage and inspire people, to evolve teams and partnerships, and to acquire and use knowledge that would shape their environment.

More knowledge is undoubtedly required, but its acquisition must go hand in hand with the exploration of new concepts and points of view (Smuts, 1927).

  • This post is an extract from a full and reference paper, titled ‘The impact of leadership credibility on infrastructure programmes in construction’ presented to the International Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa in 2016.
  • Prof John Smallwood is head of the Built Environment programme, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth.
  • Mabila Mathebula is a PhD student at NMMU.

SOME ONLINE REFERENCES Online Business Dictionary. URL. Hppt:// 12 May 2016.

Kouzes, J.M. & Postner, B. 2012. The key to being a credible company. URL. http://www.leading Accessed: 13 January 2016.

Leaders at all levels. 2010. “20 Ways to Build Your Credibility Bank Account. URL: account. Accessed: 25 May 2016.

Lee, T.J. 2012. “The Three Essential Components of Any Leader’s Credibility. URL. May 2016.

Neuschel, R.P. 1998. The Servant Leader. Visions Sports Management Group, INC. Michigan.

Oxford Dictionaries. The World’s Most Trusted Dictionaries. URL. Accessed: 12 December 2015.

Pagano & Walker. 2008. TRANSPARANCY: The Clear Path to Leadership Credibility. The Linkage Leader. URL: Barbara_Pagano_TRANSPARENCY_Is the Clear Path_ to_Leadership_Credibility_ 0105.pdf. Accessed: 20 February 2016.

Smith, A.2007. The Taboos of Leadership: The 10 Secrets No One Will Tell You About Leaders and What They Really Think. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco. URL: Accessed: 12 May 2016.

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Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula (BA North West University, BA Hon UNISA, MBA Milpark Business School, Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Project Management at Cranefield College), is currently engaged in a PhD study in construction health and safety management.