The Business of Surveying, Part 2

August 1, 2005
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Have you ever met someone who has "it"? You know this person can solve problems and you know you can trust him to represent your company by making sure client needs and the firm's needs are met. Clients report their confidence in this special person and request his assistance in the future. This person can be labeled "gifted," "savvy," "tactful" and a number of equal titles. This person has "it"-and "it" consists of many traits.

What qualities do these people possess that make them stand out from the rest of us? Defining these traits helps in the study of professionalism. Is it their character? Charisma? How often has a person's energy and spunk gotten you excited to act when you normally wouldn't have? Is it talent? Could it be their foresight? How important is it that a surveyor be able to project the impact of decisions regarding a project? How about communication skills? The ability to understand others and convey vision and instruction concisely is extremely important, of course. How about the ability to lead? Perhaps their ability to envision the company's success and to delegate tasks to others insures their firm's success as well as their own. Could these traits separate a typical land surveyor from a surveying professional? And how do these traits apply directly to surveying?

Let's consider for a moment the trait of character. How important is it to do the right thing in our work of surveying? There are clearly drawn lines in surveying as to what is right and wrong, aren't there? Maybe not. Consider this example: Your company has taken on a construction project for a lump sum bid. You've worked on this specific type of project before and know all of the pitfalls that come along with it. You've included all of the tasks required and been selected for the work. Ninety percent through the project the contractor calls and asks if you included what they believe is an extraordinary item (e.g., paving grades for an airport) in your bid. You did, indeed, include the item in your bid. But now you are realizing that you were overly optimistic of how much time it would take to survey the project. You are going to run out of money before finishing the project. And your client, not even six months prior, charged your company for a utility that was constructed in the wrong place even though, after some research, your company determined the utility was staked correctly but the contractor misinterpreted the stakes. All things considered, what do you tell the contractor? An individual with character places honesty above profit margins, which develops integrity with clientele and staff, thus strengthening the company. In the long run, clients will be more willing to extend a budget if they trust their consultant.

Is charisma an important trait for a surveyor to have? How important is it for a surveyor to motivate others? Let's consider a three-person survey crew that arrives at the end of a forest road on a rainy morning. The crew leader knows a nasty section breakdown lies ahead. The survey manager mentioned two things earlier about the site: brush like razor-tine wire and mountains steeper than the back of God's head. He looks around the field truck and finds an LSIT with an ABET-accredited degree who believes the company has the budget to spend three weeks chewing on tree bark to find bearing trees, and the boss's son, who is looking forward to nothing more than getting through the day to someday have a piece of the company. With charisma, this crew leader can motivate these survey technicians to perform. With charisma, this crew leader can tactfully educate the LSIT as to what is feasible and what is not with the company's budget while still doing the job right. With charisma, a crew leader can determine and work on the undeveloped skills of the boss's son without attacking his lack of knowledge. A crew leader, whether a PLS or not, can make or break a surveying company-period.

How does talent play in the scheme of professionalism? Talent makes many of us wonder sometimes. An example: A survey manager has taken on a construction project in open terrain with the hopes of utilizing newly acquired GPS equipment to complete the work. The manager sends a crew out each day hoping they will come home with record results, setting hundreds of points with the equipment he convinced the owner was needed. The survey manager's wishes are granted: the crew comes in under budget. Soon after the manager notices a buzz around the office-someone has done something extraordinary. The crew leader has mounted the GPS antenna on the top of a direct-reading elevation rod, which allows a laser level and sensor to be used to determine elevations in real-time. This allows accurate stakeout of horizontal and vertical measurements at the same time. Redundant stakeout with a level has been eliminated. This crew leader's ability to determine a better way to take measurements has separated him from the crowd.

Being able to project the impact of decisions through the project is a skill we all yearn for.

What about foresight-yet another skill that sets those with "it" apart? Being able to project the impact of decisions through the project is a skill we all yearn for. John Maxwell, one of today's leading experts on leadership, says, "Foresight is insight based on hindsight." Basically, it's the ability to learn quickly from our mistakes. For example, once we see the impact of staking an approximate boundary simply because the client was a nice older fellow who didn't appear to have the money to have an accurate boundary survey performed, we should have the foresight to see that this act was not so noble. We should know that a retaining wall may be built or timber may be cut along our approximate line. However, many surveyors make the same mistakes again and again. Foresight requires vision. With foresight, a surveyor can project each and every decision into the future to see what its ultimate impact will be for the company, the client and the public.

The ability to communicate well is one of, if not the, most important trait of a successful professional. Communication skills between a survey manager and project surveyor are absolutely crucial to the success of a group. But the use of concise language is only a small part of being a good communicator. What many people don't realize is that one of the most important communication skills to learn is listening. The old saying "God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason" is profound. A good communicator listens much of the time and watches those speaking intently. A good communicator will not only pick up on what is said, but will also read body language and help the speaker stay on track if he or she wanders. On the speaking end, simplicity is the key to good communication. Many new managers try to communicate every last detail so that the listener knows not only the message, but also the entire train of thought that led up to it. This takes time and may take away from the message itself. Imagine and mimic how important it was to communicate clearly with the written word a few hundred years ago when written messages were the only way to communicate over a long distance. It is recorded that one of Napoleon Bonaparte's constant directions to his secretaries was "Be clear, be clear, be clear."

The ability to lead requires utilizing all of the above traits on a continual basis. This skill is not to be confused with that of being a good manager. Managers implement company policies and make sure their procedures and deliverable guidelines are followed. Many companies have good managers. Leaders, on the other hand, are a rare breed. They have the ability to set goals and keep both employees and the overall firm on track to meet those goals. In reality, successful professionals must possess all of the above traits and manage them well throughout the course of their careers. After all, who is a professional who cannot continuously display character to set a good example for staff, or generate charisma to motivate the team? Or utilize talent to solve difficult problems? Or use foresight to avoid future obstacles? Or command the communication skills to convey vision? I'll let you figure out the answer.

This is the second part in a six-part series to be published in future issues. Click HERE to read Part 1.

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