Fifth annual Leadership Summit inspires CSM students to become future student leaders

Originally begun as an ASCSM student-led project with faculty support five years ago, the Leadership Summit has benefited hundreds of students with the series of guest speakers, team building exercises and breakout sessions. According to CSM President Bill Scoggins, “Our campus has felt the positive impact of these student leaders through their involvement in clubs, activities, and academics”.

The day began with a few comments by Kelli Bell of the Student Activities office. “Companies who sponsor this conference are here for a specific reason…because they see great value in leadership education,” said Bell. After an introduction from student body president Matthew McNew, President Bill Scoggins gave a few opening words. A leader, he argued, must find the right pathway for the team. He also commented that there will always be followers, but people will only follow when given a compelling reason to do so. This connected back to the theme of this year’s summit, Think Different and Act Bold, which keynote speaker Dave Zanetell has exemplified throughout his career.

Zanetell graduated from CSM in the late eighties with a degree in Engineering and later obtained a degree in Engineering and Construction Management from the University of Colorado. Awarded the Colorado School of Mines Distinguished Alumni Medal, Zanetell has served as Director of Engineering for the Central Federal Lands Highway Division of the FHWA where he was the signatory engineer on over 250 engineering projects valued at one and a half billion dollars. Currently he is a Senior Vice President of Operations for Edward Kraemer & Sons, Inc., a national civil and highway contractor. One of his more distinguished projects was when he served as project manager for a multi-agency coalition responsible for the Hoover Dam Bypass. He used his experience on the project to exemplify the themes of the summit.

Zanetell argues that a good leader knows when to follow, when to ask for help and how to recognize and develop the potential of his or her team. Before taking on the project manager position, he sought out the advice of previous mentors. Although it is important to get input, Zanetell says “it’s also important to recognize nothing great started out with a great amount of support”. He was told taking the project on would be the equivalent of a career suicide but he took the job anyway, recognizing how important the project would be to all parties involved.

Zanetell’s first step was to form a team. He sought out people that were not only at the top of their technical fields but who could also work well within the team. “If they were only there for their own benefit, they didn’t make the cut,” he said. A great leader must recognize the way their team will interact and make sure the project is the top priority in his team. A great leader also acts as a coach rather than a technical expert. They must be able to coach their team, whose members in turn coach their teams and so on and so on. The key with this approach is to make sure the team is on the same page when it comes to communication and the decision making process.

After a team is formed, Zanetell argues the next important step is to transfer all relevant knowledge and develop a strategic plan of attack for the agreed upon milestones. This way every member of the team knows that their concerns will be addressed at the appropriate time. “The problem with some projects, without a well-developed plan or timeline is engineers come into a meeting wanting to discuss bridge materials when you don’t know the geography yet,” said Zanetell. By laying out the strategy ahead of time, the project can develop momentum. It is also imperative to get input from not only the team, but of everyone involved. The truth of the matter, Zanetell argues, is the project is run by political and financial support so getting the input from those parties allows them to feel ownership of the project and can help you later on when support is needed.

Zanetell also suggests a good leader will have their team determine a decision process before a decision needs to be made, when people are already emotionally invested in the project and less able to think rationally. By structuring the project team and decision making processes through a strategic plan, the project can gain momentum and efficiency of everyone involved increases.

When the project ran into a major setback, Zanetell said they were going to go down one of two routes. Either the project would lose momentum entirely or he could pull everyone together by constructing another plan. As a leader, he acted boldly by selecting the people who needed to stay and letting go those he did not need at the moment. While one team cleaned the mess and another investigated the cause of the incident, Zanetell led the team that would continue the work on the project because he recognized any delay would result in a huge loss of momentum and likely unrecoverable delays.

Zanetell said the most important strategy he implemented in terms of leading his team was making sure accountability was built into the job. Shortly after the incident that caused a major setback he saw his team becoming more and more run down, so he brought in everyone for a meeting and told them they would stand with him when the bridge was opened so the nation would know who was responsible for the bridge. By building accountability into the job, it gives the team a sense of purpose and keeps a sense of focus and urgency in everyone’s minds.

When asked for advice for summit attendees on becoming better leaders in industry, Zanetell stressed to not take the first job that is offered. He travelled around for two years after college doing odd jobs, even though he had lucrative job offers, until he found the offer with which he could start a career. By spending time outside of college on worthwhile social causes such as Bridges to Prosperity, Zanetell reasons “you become a way better job candidate because of varied life experiences.”

After the keynote address and lunch, summit attendees were split into groups for one of six breakout sessions. These sessions ranged from conflict management to discussion of personal branding and communicating with individuals across different cultures or beliefs.

Following a few closing remarks, participants were invited to network with corporate sponsor representatives and rehash some of the lessons learned throughout the day.

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