An interview with Dan Phillips, Senior Project Manager at Piritahi
If you have driven around Northcote on Auckland’s North Shore anytime lately you’ll have seen people and machines starting work again demolishing houses to create the space to build a mix of state, market and affordable homes for New Zealanders.
What does it take to get a construction site up and running under Level 3?
Dan Phillips, the Civil Engineer leading the Northcote site for Piritahi says the journey began 5 weeks earlier, just before lockdown started. “I had guys who were very worried for their jobs, their security and even their health,” he said.
People will approach the emergence from lockdown with mixed feelings. For some of us, being able to get out of home and go back to work may feel like a release; for others, home feels too comfortable to leave or maybe work too scary to return to.
“The first thing I did was start daily meetings where we could talk about anything – work, obviously, but the younger ones were especially anxious.” But Dan has a strong perspective on what it takes to lead at these times. “I grew up in construction when an apprenticeship was all about being able to take a flogging and move on,” he said. “Those days are long gone in this game though. I just listened to them – we talked about their personal situations, their lockdown issues, money – it was all on the table. Being a leader in these times you need to show compassion and be available.”
Over the course of the meetings Dan’s team began to move away from personal concerns and start planning how they could run the site under Level 3. “The closer we got to start-up then some anxiety surfaced. But we had faith in the plan we had created together and I told them to just take one step at a time – focus on the one thing you can do and get it done.”
When I spoke with him Dan was cooking steaks at a barbeque for all the site workers, and he explained the detailed planning that allows the site to operate with strict social distancing in place.
“Everyday people have to sign-in through a window and complete a contact tracing questionnaire. Then hand-washing. We have signs everywhere and a toolbox meeting to start and remind everyone of why we need to stay safe. Work teams wear different coloured wristbands and can’t mix – so if someone with a blue is talking to red team he’ll be sent home to think about it. Vulnerable workers wear different coloured Hi-Vis vests and hats, so we can take special care.”
Dan is not only a competent Civil Engineer, but he intuitively grasps the three key tasks of a leader – manage the mission, keep the team together and coordinated, and treat every team member as an individual. “I follow Wayne Bennett’s (legendary rugby league coach) philosophy: coach the man, not the game. People have different needs, so my door is always open, my phone is always on and anyone can talk to me at any time.”
If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing with the construction industry, get in touch...
You can also find a selection of Leadership Resources that the Winsborough team have put together to help you through the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond here