March 6, 2020

Day in the Life: Kathy Poole

By Merritt Davis

In this installment of our ‘Day in the Life’ segment we are highlighting Kathy Poole, a Construction Manager in Washington, DC. Kathy followed a non-standard path, beginning as an English Major before entering the Engineering industry.

As a Construction Manager, Kathy serves as an extension of the client, typically the owner of a project. She functions as their eyes and ears to ensure that the contractor is building the project in accordance with the contract. She makes sure that they are working within the appropriate schedule for the project and all within the approved budget.

The first thing Kathy does when she gets to the field office is meet with her inspectors for the project to go over what happened the previous day, what is planned for the day ahead, and to make sure the inspectors have everything they need and that all their questions have been answered. It’s usually the only time in the day when Kathy and the inspectors are all in the same place at the same time, so Kathy uses that opportunity to make sure everybody is familiar and comfortable with the job.

“The most exciting part of my job is problem-solving in the field.”

Every day, Kathy likes to spend some time in the field to stay up to date on the progress of the project. She spends the majority of her time coordinating with the contractor on problems or issues that may arise on site. The rest of the day, Kathy responds to emails and drafts correspondence to the contractor or the client.

“The most exciting part of my job is problem solving in the field. I think that I feel that way a little bit because I don’t get out into the field as much as I used to. And I really enjoy the work that we do hands-on with the contractor working on a team. You have a lot of the same goals, sometimes conflicting interests, but everybody wants to get the job done. So, I love the part of my job where I actually just get to go out, work with the crew and just solve problems and then go home at the end of the day with a feeling of accomplishment that we overcame some kind of challenge or a barrier,” Kathy said.

Kathy standing in the field wearing a hard hat

Kathy in the field.

When asked about the biggest challenges Kathy faces in her job, she remarked, “I’d say overall one of the biggest challenges that we have as CM is not necessarily what may come up on the job, but working with different personalities and trying to balance kind of the human aspect of it. We serve as the intermediary between the client and the contractor while recognizing that we actually are serving as an extension of the client. We have the client’s interests at heart, but also try to make sure that we have a good relationship with the contractor. Of everything that we do, balancing the human aspect is the hardest part.”

The most important educational requirements or certifications for a Construction Manager are a Bachelors in Engineering and your Professional Engineers license.

Kathy’s career followed a non-standard path. She started college as an English major, and halfway through, decided she wanted to do something different. Kathy instead earned an engineering degree from the University of Maryland and got a job with RK&K in a design office as a highway engineer designing roadway projects. At the time, she worked in the Norristown office in Pennsylvania. She worked there for four years while completing a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from Villanova. For personal reasons, Kathy then moved to Connecticut in 2009, at the height of the recession. “I sent letters and cold calls and walked into offices of 40 some different companies in Connecticut. I got three callbacks to four design jobs and one for a construction job and I decided to go with the construction job. So, I worked in construction in Connecticut for five years and then decided to move back to the DC area, which is kind of my home base, and decided to try and come back to RK&K, and I’ve been working for RK&K as a Construction Manager now for five years.”

The most important educational requirements or certifications for a Construction Manager are a Bachelors in Engineering and your Professional Engineers license. More and more clients are also looking for the Certified Construction Manager certification. It’s offered through the Construction Management Association of America and it’s a relatively newer certification. Kathy said, “My advice for anyone entering the industry would be to try to build your résumé in such a way that you are able to apply for both the PE license and the CCM, because depending on which clients you’re working for, they might require one or the other or both.”

“We need to kind of keep on the edge of what’s out there and what’s available.”

Kathy thinks the Construction industry is due for a big boom in new technological advancements. “There are a lot of technologies that are coming out that we don’t use on a regular basis, that we’re trying to influence our clients to start using. Whether that’s a web-based project management software or if it’s newer material. There certainly are a lot of options out there that we could be using. And I think we’re going to see more and more of those things being used on a regular basis on our projects as our contractors move toward technology to help them manage their work site, their traffic control, even things like just their daily quantity. We need to kind of keep on the edge of what’s out there and what’s available.”

In regard to using new technologies, there is a big difference in the construction groups from state agency to state agency with who is willing to use what technology. “I find that some of the younger or less experienced agencies are more willing to be open to new technology because the older, more established agencies already have their procedures and processes and trying to change some of the processes is definitely a barrier to using new technology. Sometimes, with the agencies that have less established processes, it’s easier to make those changes and to influence the decision.”

“Being able to be a part of that improvement is incredibly inspiring.”

Kathy is excited and optimistic about the future of the industry in Washington, DC. “Living in DC right now is such a great place for me to be because everywhere you look, things are being developed and reconstructed and made better. And to just be able to take a city that long ago was kind of neglected, infrastructure was deteriorating, and now we see that there are huge strides being made to improve the infrastructure. Being able to be a part of that improvement is incredibly inspiring.”

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