Talking Shop with Construction Contract Administrator Karel Brozik
Keeping all of the people, processes, and technology involved in a construction project running smoothly is no small feat. But, that’s precisely what Contract Administrators (CAs) bring to the table in countless construction environments worldwide, day in and day out.
In North America, construction is a massive industry, accounting for approximately
7%of the workforce in Canada and
5%(7.3 million jobs) in the US. Challenges in communication styles and processes, project forecasting and expectations, cash flow, risk management, and more all weigh heavily on the minds of CA professionals as they strive to bring order to the inherent chaos that is each multi-faceted construction project.
How can you grow in your CA career and develop the skills to better manage the myriad situations the construction industry will throw at you?
Jessica Luczycki, Construction Administrator and co-founder here at Part3, recently had a chance to sit down with Karel Brozik, a Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) with Diamond Schmitt Architects, who has overcome challenges in his career that may resonate with many of you.
In this piece, you’ll learn how Karel got into the field of contract administration and keeps things running smoothly, tips for managing construction projects and professionals, and more.
Let’s take a look at what inspired him to pursue Contract Administration as a career.
Why did you decide to get into Construction Contract Administration?
Karel: I graduated from George Brown College in Toronto as an architectural technologist in the 1990s. I've always enjoyed the technical aspect of construction and putting buildings together. I also really love architecture.
I was fortunate to land a job upon graduation, as there was still a mild recession happening at that time. I had sent my résumé out to about a hundred firms… there was no internet back then, and I remember sitting behind my computer typing up cover letters, buying stamps, and licking envelopes.
My first job was with a small architecture firm. Looking back now, it was the right fit for me at that time in my career. The employer was a sole proprietor who surrounded himself with a knowledgeable group of individuals. He had a specification writer who was also the Contract Administrator and a contract law specialist.
Being a new college grad, I was a sponge for knowledge and fortunate to be put into a position where I worked as his CA.
I remember being sent to the site to take photos, and he said, “Just don’t get beaten up by the site super.” It felt so overwhelming to have 20 trades buzzing around me. That was my first exposure to being onsite and it was the catalyst that sparked my interest in construction administration.
I didn’t want to be stuck behind the computer working on AutoCAD, so I started deviating towards contract administration, where I could work with architects and the trades directly onsite.
What are some of the challenges you face as a Construction Administrator?
One thing that might be surprising to those considering a career in contract administration is that the construction industry is relatively small. As a result, you’ll work alongside people you hope you’ll never cross paths with again — but I guarantee you will. At the same time, you will work with people you will stay in touch with throughout your career. People are the constant challenge on any project, and knowing how to manage and work alongside multiple personalities is the day-to-day challenge.
The entire team is as strong as the weakest link. The project is dependent on everyone's contributions equally. And if that does not occur, then the project will encounter some speed bumps along the way.
As a senior member of the team, it’s your job to provide mentorship and guidance. If someone doesn't have the necessary experience, I try to give as much support as possible.
Feeling like you can’t possibly keep up with the constant evolution of the construction industry and all the things one has to do on a daily basis is a continual challenge. It is especially challenging for individuals starting as a CA. It is an overwhelming feeling knowing that you are responsible for making decisions that impact people's actions on the construction site.
In fact, the ideal scenario is working with people who aren’t afraid to ask questions. "You're in the trenches with these people for a couple of years and may spend more time with them than your own family. No one person can possibly know it all — teamwork is essential."
Managing relationships is key to your success as a Contract Administrator.
I recall one challenging project I worked on at the University of Michigan. It was a deep retrofit restoration of an existing building that involved some interesting surgical design moves, like cutting out floors, creating two-story spaces, removing facades, and opening up the exterior envelope by adding curtain walls throughout.
The original Weiser Hall at the University of Michigan; photo by
One of the most exciting moves was on the 10th floor, where we removed the entire facade and stretched out the floor plate by three feet beyond the face of the building. We then installed a curtain wall that overlooked the whole campus. We knew the project would be challenging and that we would encounter plenty of unexpected existing conditions, especially since it was a retrofit.
I did a little bit of research on the existing building, and it was known as the outcast on the campus. It is also an Albert Kahn building from 1963, so very brutalist, a brick-and-mortar type building. But I really liked the proportions.
We encountered so many different situations. Working together with the contractor and the owner, we managed to work through them as a team by having the common goal of getting the project completed on time. The owner's representative played a big part in the success of the project. He wasn't risk paranoid; he just managed it well. He made the critical decisions at the right time, which allowed us to act on those decisions. His mandate was, "Here's the building on paper, and we will build it. If something comes up, we will fix it. As the Architect, you will find a solution. If my client changes the program, you will make those design revisions working with my client."
And that happened. We were redesigning the floors, changing the mechanical systems and electrical systems. There were some significant changes.
He and I had an excellent working relationship. I would simply ask him, "How much money do I have to work with?" And he showed me the number, so we always knew what we had to work with and our target. That was a brilliant decision on his part. Unconventional, to say the least, as I have worked on numerous projects where the owners did not like to share that kind of information.
As a team, we delivered, and it was fantastic. I remember standing in the lobby, and people who used to work in the older building were coming in saying, “Is this Weiser Hall?”
It’s a complete circle, and you have to build trust and nurture your working relationships to do it. To this day, I stay in contact with the owner’s representative.
How do you keep construction projects running smoothly?
Everyone involved must have a clear understanding of what their roles and responsibilities are. So having those difficult conversations with the contractor, the owner, and your team members early on is critical.
Win buy-in with frank conversations from the outset
It is a difficult conversation to have with the project architect about the fact that during construction it is no longer their building. It is the owner’s building. It is the owner who is responsible for making the important budget and schedule decisions during construction. And some of those decisions will have an impact on the design of the project, especially if there are project cost overruns as a result of changes. The designers have had a year or two to design the project and put the construction documents together. , And with that comes personal ownership that sometimes gets in the way of acting impartially. That is why projects often struggle — because designers tend to have too much personal ownership of the project during this phase.
How you manage people is critical. Everything comes down to personalities. And being able to manage people’s roles and expectations is what I’ve learned over the years to be critical to project success.
As a CA, you must make it clear that you have a job to do and, most of the time, that involves being a mediator between interested parties. One of the advantages of a Contract Administrator is that you can
see and anticipate issues in constructionmore quickly than somebody who's been involved in the design of the project for a long time.
I find it essential to make things clear with the construction team from the start. So I explain upfront, “We can either play in the sandbox nicely, where we all get along and build this castle together. Or, we can spend our time flinging sand into one another’s eyes. It's your choice right now from this meeting forward.”
I don't do this because I want to fight with people. I do it because I want to build buildings that I think are exceptional. I have found over the years that set the expectations early on during the construction phase opens the dialogue and gets those tough conversations out of the way. And that’s what contracts are all about. Expectations. And as a CA, it is your job to make sure each party under the contract acts on those expectations. And more often enough that includes the architect. We have a key role under the contract, and we also are expected by both parties to act on those impartially.
Set the project up for success with a commitment to organization.
If the project administration is disorganized, the project will suffer. Documentation during construction is key. It’s frustrating to figure out any historical data and documentation if the tracking process is not there. It becomes incredibly confusing and convoluted.
Monitor and track projects in an intuitive dashboard with proposed and tracked changes to reduce errors and frustration with Part3.
When you can’t track what’s going on and the site super is asking what’s happening here, then you’re just spinning your wheels.
RFI’s and changes are inevitable— they'll happen in any job and how they are managed and tracked will dictate how successful the project will be.
Going back to when I started at that small firm, a senior CA told me once: “Your job as a Contract Administrator is to keep us out of court.” Seriously, that was the advice that I got. Some people might think that's not the right mentality because your job is design, but ultimately our job is to keep the owner and consultant team out of court. Just keep the job out of court. That's been my mission every single day.
What do you enjoy most about being a Contract Administrator?
I enjoy problem-solving, and I like a particular project size where we get to work on everything.
When you’re working on bigger jobs, there are so many more people involved. For example, I worked on a hospital project and the general contractor came with his team, including a mechanical coordinator, an electrical coordinator, a site coordinator, an envelope coordinator, and an interior spatial coordinator. I was like, who am I actually talking to here?
As you grow in your career, you learn where you’d like to focus and which types of jobs you enjoy the most.
Mentoring and growing your team will pay dividends.
We all have a job to do and obviously, you must have the skills and talents to do it. What I try to do is figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. I learn from them, as well, and like to figure out how to help them get through the day-to-day stuff. You're feeding off of each other and that's how great teams work.
When I work with junior or intern architects who want to do the contract administration because they need the hours, I’m happy to step back and support and let them take the front line. I’m there to make sure the job stays on track.
What tips or advice can you share for Contract Administrators who are just beginning their careers?
I had a senior mentor tell me that contract administration is all about logic. I didn't know what he meant by that at the time.
But now I can see what he meant. He meant the answers are always there; you just have to find your way to the solution through the weeds. But it's always there in front of you on a construction site.
More recently, I’ve started to not just go by the design or the drawing. You have to be flexible. For instance, I was talking with a mechanical contractor who said, “Listen, I can't make this work. I can't go any higher — we can't drop ceilings, so that's not acceptable.”
I simply asked him, “How would you do it?”
He looked surprised and said, “Me? Okay, well… I would go into this room and come back. I'd travel over here and come back over.
So I asked, “Okay, do you think that's more labour for you?”
Yes, it was, he said. But also that he could make it work.
I was able to go to the site super and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do, and your trade can make it happen.”
Simply asking that question — How would you make it work? — took us back a step where instead of the dynamic being my telling him what we needed and leaving him to figure out how to make it work, he got to consider what was possible. He’s there every single day, so he already knows what’s in the ceiling. Sure, I’m looking at the interference drawings, but that's probably somewhere around 80% of what it’s actually like in the field.
Always try to approach people from that angle; from getting their buy-in from the start so you can work together. At the end of the day, the trades do take ownership of their work.
I've been on jobs where engineers and architects disrespected that, and then you end up with adversarial relationships and people who don’t care to do their jobs well.
How would you describe a typical day as a Contract Administrator?
Every day is different. Every day has new deadlines and challenges.
Right now, I have one job where the contractor is jumping out of the bushes every morning with something new. You’ll have projects like that. Learning how to roll with the punches and keep your eye on the prize is an important skill.
The only thing typical about my days is that each one starts off with a cup of coffee in the morning! After that, you just never know. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.