Web-Exclusive: In Responsible Charge

October 1, 2007
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The author exercises safety when setting up an instrument near a two-lane road.


In my quest for licensure as a professional land surveyor, I have reached the status of a land surveyor in-training, or LSIT. This position is already providing me with new challenges, and I am learning how to combine my experience as a crew/party chief with my new office supervising responsibilities. In this article, I will present my viewpoint as an intern who is seeking to find a middle ground between what I am used to doing (running a crew out in the field) and what I must handle in my new position (directly supervising a number of crews in liaison with other managers). I have quickly learned that it is one thing to have a strong opinion, but it is another to put that opinion across in a manner that will appeal to the majority. So, in this intern’s quest for licensure, I must learn the act of walking that fine line.

In his new role, the author hopes to implement new safety precautions, such as flotation devices and rapid rescue contingency, to protect his crewmembers when completing hydrographic surveys.

Seeking Advancement

First, I’ll review one of the major requirements for licensure. To become a licensed surveyor, an applicant needs to provide (among other things) evidence of being “in responsible charge” of several projects with varying degrees of complexity. This can be achieved in many ways, one of which is assigning a supervising licensed professional to oversee all of the intern’s works and technical decisions. For the purpose of this article, I will define “being in responsible charge” as having the quasi-final decision, and having authority on technical matters relating to projects. I say “quasi” because the licensed professional or manager can overrule the intern’s decision, no matter how sound he may think his judgment is.

However, being “in responsible charge” when you are not really in charge is among the challenges that come with attaining a new and higher position. This is generally the case when a new supervisory position is assigned to an intern in recognition of an achievement. For example, I was promoted after passing stage one of a two–part professional examination. Sometimes the joy of the new promotion and all its trappings is so overwhelming that nothing else matters; at other times, I have found that the joy can be doused by the realities and challenges of being in a supervisory office role.

Satisfying the Ranks

As a new LSIT, assuming this additional responsibility required some balancing. On one hand, I have grappled with not hurting my former colleagues out in the field. On the other hand, I have to work according to the standard operating procedures and the professional preferences of my new direct supervisor, the registered professional land surveyor. And I have come to realize that I have many other managers, depending on the organizational structure of the surveying firm and the type of clientele. Each manager has a different set of guidelines on how things should be done. Satisfying the demands of all of these levels of management and production lines can be challenging. I will discuss these challenges by describing scenarios below where these issues come into play.

Implementing Safety Precautions

For starters, there is always the challenge of implementing safety precautions. Safety is a significant factor in every project. It becomes an even bigger issue when exposure to certain environments and situations lend itself to accident. This includes instances such as setting up an instrument in the middle of a two-lane road with steep embankments, performing a survey in the Airside Operations Area (AOA) of an airport, conducting a hydrographic survey in an unfriendly river current with meandering banks, or trying to determine the sag on a crane track over a wharf loading dock. These cases all require good management and the use of proper safety precautions.

For good reason, safety officers prefer accident-free projects. This normally translates to completing the project on time and avoiding costly litigation and delays. Most safety officers take their jobs seriously and are aware of the implications of not doing so. Sometimes, a client’s safety officers take things to a whole new level, such as requiring a hydrographic survey crew to wear hard hats, safety goggles, safety vests and steel-toe boots.

I can understand the importance of this protective gear with a crew that is surveying the sag on a crane track over a wharf. However, I don’t think it is necessary for the hydrographic survey crew to wear the steel toe boots and hardhat. If anything, the emphasis in this case should be on floatation devices and the rapid rescue contingency for all water-related survey operations. But I have yet to figure out how to convince my chain of managers that these additional precautions are necessary for crew safety in this scenario.

In time, perhaps I will learn to be more persuasive in putting my case across. In the meantime, I will continue to argue for proper and applicable safety procedures to protect my crews in every situation they encounter.

Setting Temporary Bench Marks

Another issue deals with setting Temporary Bench Marks (TBMs). Throughout my experiences, I’ve had difficulty establishing credible TBMs on subdivisions. This is partly due to the changing nature of a particular site when the field crew is sent out to survey for final plat. It is not uncommon to use inverts of storm pipes to meet our TBM requirements for the final plat checklist. However, sometimes when I check the same TBM after construction, I find discrepancies, the magnitude of which is dependent upon the depth of the manhole (all other things being equal). At other times, the invert is silted up. There is also the possibility that the governing municipality may bolt the manhole shut due to safety concerns. After discovering these findings, I have suggested to management that the crew be sent out further down the construction schedule when there is less likelihood of changes due to construction activities. That way, TBMs can be established above ground on a more stable structure such as a fire hydrant or the rim of a manhole. Yet for some reason, it still seems to make more sense to some managers to start the process early. My eventual goal is to convince my successors that doing this sometimes compromises the accuracy of the operation.

Learning about Profitable Practices

In my new position, I have also started to learn more about job cost and profit. One project that opened my eyes to these issues required me to tie surveys of 50-by-75-foot lots to a monument located 500 feet from the site using traditional ground survey-which is quite a distance for that size of property. As if that was not enough, I discovered that after everything is added up-the entire 1000-foot walk, the courthouse research, the visit to the tax commissioner’s office, the field crew hours and the CADD work-the whole project will not yield more than a few hundred dollars. For our future growth and operation as a company, I believe the office management should take steps to prevent this situation from happening. In this case, any or all of the following steps would benefit our firm: (1) relaxing the monument-tying rule, (2) asking clients for more than they are currently paying and (3) having relevant authorities densify their Secondary and Tertiary Controls. My hope is that, as I work on my presentation skills and become more trusted in the office, I will successfully propose these ideas to my managers and see growth in our firm.



The Road Toward Licensure

These concerns are becoming more apparent to me as I slowly make my way toward licensure. As an LSIT, I may be overstepping my bounds. Perhaps I am encroaching into the property of the decision-making body that will determine my fate when the time comes. At any rate, I believe the lessons I am learning and the challenges I am discovering are strengthening me for the future tests of licensure down the road. Although I may not resolve many of these issues that I have brought up by the time I am ready to apply for my PLS, I will at the least be aware of them and will have considered their impact. I hope to learn as much as I can in my quest so that I can be prepared for the challenges I will face when I am in responsible charge without an experienced overseer checking my work. Hopefully I will eventually prove to the licensing board that I am ready to serve the public as a responsible land surveyor.

It isn’t easy being the boss. It’s even more difficult when an LSIT is suddenly placed in charge of his old crew. Learning to lead friends is difficult, and sometimes making decisions and commands in this situation is a true challenge. What I have found is that it’s best to make responsible decisions that will protect my crews, benefit the future growth of the firm as well as serve the general public.

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