International Feature: Martina Hess, CES Zambia

Martina Hess

Team Leader and Director CES Zambia

CES Consulting Engineers

The Project Defender - Construction Supervision Consultants

Construction Supervision Consultants are often seen as the “project defender” complete with grumpy inspectors holding onto the original design and specification. Well, to a certain extend this perception is understandable. However, I learnt very early in my life from my late father – a lawyer through and through – that any kind of business and contract must be fair.

We are all doing our jobs not only to entertain us, to stimulate us, to contribute to society, but also to put bread on the table. So, the majority of construction businesses are not charities…

I am a (female) Engineer and have been working for 25 years in the construction sector for a German privately owned Consultancy Company – known as “Mittelstand”. OftenI am the team leader for both the design phase and the construction phase, always for multilateral bank-financed infrastructure projects anywhere in the world. I have lived and worked on 4 different continents in more than 13 countries. In some countries I have worked for only a short period and in others 4, 5 and even 7 years.

It’s not fun when you find out during construction that something in your team’s design doesn’t work or could be done smarter. It’s not always the designer’s “fault”: new buildings or infrastructure might have popped up. And if not, what the heck? Why not do it smarter? Step back, think, think again, discuss with the team and find the best technical and economic solution. Then sit down with the Contractor and Employer and discuss the matter. Alright, it means more work for you but the end product should be better. And isn’t this what we as Engineers are aiming for?

And yes, the Contractor needs to be paid fairly for the works carried out.  But here comes the challenge: what is fair? The Contractor almost always wants to get as much additional money as possible for changed or new works; and the Employer wants to keep the agreed contract amount and doesn’t want to add a single penny. In the worst circumstances, the Employer will try to get “his” money back from the Supervision Consultant. And if the adjustment of the works will save money? Well, guess what the Employer wants?

Whatever is being done – with or without adjustments, changes, variations of works – the key is that payments must be fair. My advice is to establish a good professional relationship with both the Contractor and Employer, and keep up the communication. But keep in mind, both need different “treatment”. The Employer needs quite often not only administrative help but also management help. So it is good to be well acquainted with the planned works, the financial agreement, the technical requirements, the local conditions and applicable regulations, the conditions of contract and any other slightly relevant topics. The Contractor on the other hand quite often needs technical advice, guidance on what to include in and how to prepare the required submissions, templates for recording completed works and an open ear. And sometimes, you need to hold one or both of them by the hand.

And what about the consultant’s team itself, such as Resident Engineer, Inspectors and other experts? Well, they need from me an open ear, open technical discussions, templates to facilitate their daily recoding of work, and appreciation.

In short if you are ever considering becoming an international construction Consultant’s team leader, then you should be flexible, capable of multitasking, and often multilingual, socially adaptable (you must be able to shovel frogs in a wheelbarrow), adaptable to different cultures and dialects, familiar with the Engineering part, good in administration and “paperwork”, able to write and format reports, a good Manager, familiar with financial matters and conversant with Excel, familiar with contractual issues, and you must definitely be fair and reasonable. Oh yeah, and if you have skills of a handyman, marriage guidance counsellor and entertainer, that is an added bonus!

… a perfect job for women, or?

These are the views of the author and not of Barton Legal, and should is not to be treated as advice or guidance