Steve Clark is the Project Director of the Warringah Freeway Upgrade, a road project in Sydney that will reduce congestion, simplify a complex road corridor and construct the Western Harbour Tunnel portal. CPB Contractors, in joint venture with Downer, is delivering this important project and Steve took some time out to talk about his career and what he looks for when building a high-achieving project team.
How did you commence your career in construction?
I grew up in Western Sydney and completed a civil engineering degree at the University of Western Sydney. I was interested in building large-scale infrastructure.
My first job for CPB was the Rouse Hill T-way in Sydney, then I moved to Queensland and did a variety of major projects there, especially in regional Queensland. I enjoyed the opportunity to live in and experience different places.
Then I came back to Sydney and worked on WestConnex and now I’m the Project Director of the Western Freeway Upgrade, one of the most complex mega projects currently being undertaken in Australia.
What has changed in the construction industry since you started as a young engineer?
The fundamental principles of engineering – plan, act, evaluate and measure – are unchanged, but the technology and processes surrounding them have been transformed.
Safety has changed as well. It was always a priority, but the principles and awareness around it have gone to another level. It takes time to ingrain a safety culture, but we are seeing the benefits of a commitment to safety that has been sustained by CPB over years and years. Safety should not a set of rules imposed from the outside. Now, it is the way we do what we do. It is the norm now.
What about cultural changes, like the growing role of women in construction?
There is a heightened awareness about the benefits of attracting more women to our industry. Diverse teams bring excellent results. We are making strides, but there is still room for improvement. We are seeing a very different normal to what I saw when I joined the industry, which is all for the better I think. On the Warringah Freeway Upgrade, we are actively recruiting a diverse team including women in non-traditional roles and people new to the construction industry.
Why do you like this work?
My motivation has changed over the years. At the beginning of my career, I liked the idea of building infrastructure and the scale of what our industry achieves impressed me. I liked driving past the infrastructure and thinking that I built that. Over time though, my passion has evolved and I now get enormous satisfaction from developing and managing teams that achieve great results.
What I do now, as the Project Director, is very different to what I did in the early stages of my career. It is less hands on with the construction and is concentrated more on developing people.
How do you build a team to deliver a major project?
You create the right environment where skilled people know that they can contribute and do what they are passionate about. I actively pursue the right mix of skills, at all levels of the team, to get the environment right. It can take some time to get it right, but once it is, then I know it will be a high-performing team.
What do you look for when you are recruiting someone to join a project like the Warringah Freeway Upgrade?
I always value someone who wants to improve society by building better infrastructure. I want to see enthusiasm and passion for construction. They need to be a team player, who enjoys interacting and coordinating activities with people in the field.
Working on the Warringah Freeway Upgrade means that a young engineer will get exposure to a variety of construction techniques, so I’m looking for people who will value the opportunity to gain a vast amount of experience in a short period of time.
It doesn’t just stop at engineers though, as our design team, environmental management team, community engagement team and our financial teams all have a vital role to play on this project and can really make their mark.