Becoming a More Impactful Construction Supervisor

Paul Shaw's work at ExxonMobil has him overseeing a team spread across 200 square miles of desert. He enrolled in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program to understand how to become a better leader.

As a construction supervisor in New Mexico for ExxonMobil, Paul Shaw's top priority is keeping his team motivated to work safely and efficiently. Shaw (EMDC '22) constantly makes sure the oil and gas production projects he works on are executed safely, without harm to people or the environment. He also is responsible for setting the overall direction of projects and ensuring his team meets its schedule and budget targets.

In Shaw’s three years with ExxonMobil, he's had the opportunity to lead projects in the U.S. and Central Africa. Those experiences, as well as prior roles in the construction industry, contributed to how he manages teams. However, he knew there was more to learn to become an effective and impactful leader. To achieve his goal, he turned to Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program.

“My aim was to continue my education in a way that would help me grow from a project leader to an organizational leader,” Shaw said. “Northwestern’s EMDC program proved to be exactly what I was looking for. In addition to course content covering architecture, engineering, and construction business leadership, the program provides live, synchronous classes with sharp, motivated students and instructors who are true industry leaders.” 

The team Shaw leads is spread out over more than 200 square miles of desert just west of the Texas border, and Shaw is responsible for multiple projects across that area. With a geographically diverse group, Shaw finds himself spending considerable time thinking about team culture. People do their best work when they are valued and respected and when they are contributing meaningfully to an important goal; so for Shaw, developing the right culture is key. To do this, he visits job sites daily and works to build strong relationships with his contractors and colleagues. 

“Culture produces behaviors, and behaviors determine safety, schedule and cost performance,” Shaw said. “The most effective way I have found to bring about cultural change is to lead from the front.”

That approach has been especially valuable in the turbulent oil and gas industry, where market volatility and other outside circumstances can greatly impact a team's morale and work conditions. “We have found that a people-first approach is the best tool available to achieve project results through the good times and the bad,” Shaw said.

Shaw is half way through EMDC and already has seen the value in the program. Courses on organizational leadership demonstrated different tactics and styles he could use while managing his own team. In addition, he has received important insights into the perspectives and motivations of service providers, which has helped him better align with many of the contractors he collaborates with in his current role.

“I've been struck by the interdependence between leadership and strategy in achieving business objectives,” Shaw said. “It takes both the right strategy and the right leadership to succeed. To borrow a saying from one of my favorite professors in the program, 'strategy without leadership results in plans that sit on the shelf collecting dust, while leadership without strategy inevitably results in great leaders and organizations racing down a path to failure.'”

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