Shaping the Future of Leadership in the AEC Industry

shaping future leadership aec industry
Jennifer Knox, PE, MBA, Emily Lawrence
October 26, 2023

Recently, we hosted an episode of Stambaugh Ness’s AEC Groundbreaking Growth podcast, where we discussed a question that many firms are asking themselves: “What happens when nobody wants to be the leader?” We’ve received intriguing feedback on this issue, particularly regarding the next generation of leaders in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry. Here are some highlights from the podcast discussion.

Leadership Culture in the AEC Industry

The reluctance to step into leadership roles is a new trend across our industry. In many AEC organizations, leadership has traditionally been top-down and command-and-control, a style we’ve probably all experienced at some point in our careers. While this style may have its place, it often does not resonate with many emerging leaders from the Millennial and GenZ generations. They seek a more collaborative approach, where leadership is empowered from within, and input from team members is valued, acted upon, and contributes to a dynamic, evolving process.

The Upward Climb of Young Leaders

Many emerging professionals come into the industry with fresh ideas and the desire to make an impact. Yet, they often face an uphill battle. Convincing existing leaders to buy into these ideas can be challenging, particularly in departments like marketing and finance, where initiatives may not directly relate to pursuits or have a longer-term horizon. As existing leaders, we need to leverage these new perspectives, and not snuff out the passion younger generations are bringing to our firms.

Three Key Drivers: Work-Life Balance, Voice, and Recognition

We’ve identified three core drivers behind this leadership dilemma: work-life balance, having a voice, and recognition. Young professionals are looking up to their managers and seeing the current demands of leadership roles. They often see leaders overworked and underappreciated. They wonder, “What will it be like to step into that role? What does it offer beyond more money?” Creating inspiring solutions to these questions is a task the industry as a whole must address.

Changing the Leadership Paradigm

To address this issue, we need to shift the leadership paradigm to create more balance and empower the next generation. The ideas of young leaders should be heard and they should be given the authority to execute their ideas. This approach fosters leadership development and strengthens the team’s capabilities, increasing retention and recruitment attractiveness.

Changing leadership dynamics can ensure a smoother transition and succession planning, ultimately preventing talent shortages that can arise when no one wants to assume leadership roles.

Creating a Culture of Collaboration and Work-Life Balance

To drive this change, leadership should promote a culture that values collaboration and work-life balance. It should also encourage emerging leaders to develop the type of leadership they want to be part of, emphasizing open dialogue and support.

A Path Forward: Building a Leadership Future

The future of leadership will vary among individuals and generations. Young professionals want to be part of the process, not just followers of top-down directives. This shift requires a space for open conversations about leadership style, authority, and work-life balance.

Coming Up Next

In our next episode, we will feature Emily Preston, President of Compass Infrastructure Group, a civil engineering firm specializing in structural and bridge work. Emily and her co-founder started their own firm during COVID. Emily has taken a unique path to leadership, making her an ideal guest for our podcast. Stay tuned to hear her inspiring story and how her leadership style has contributed to her organization’s success.

Join the Conversation

We’re excited to hear your feedback and suggestions for future topics. Connect with us on social media, and please continue to send us your thoughts on the issues you’d like us to explore in upcoming episodes.

Thank you for being part of our journey towards groundbreaking growth in the AEC industry. Subscribe now, and stay engaged with us as we uncover fresh perspectives on leadership, culture, and success.

Jennifer Knox

Emily Lawrence 2021 square