Robert Owusu’s thoughts…Keys to effective supervision and monitoring of government projects


 For the success of any project, you need to make sure that there is a supervisory and monitoring system in place. This is important because, achieving business goals is made much easier when supervisors are skilled at creating a motivating work environment while driving high performances. In the construction industry, the aim of project control is to:

  • Ensure that specified standards are maintained.
  • Ensure that works are completed on time and schedule.
  • Ensure that operators put honesty in their work.
  • Determine whether the contractor meets the requirements for performing construction activities, regulated by law.
  • Inform the appropriate authority with all the disadvantages or irregularities perceived during construction work and measure to be taken.
  • Compile a final report on the construction activities.

It is a complex task which involves constantly measuring progress, evaluating plans and taking corrective actions when required. A successful project means that the project has accomplished its technical performance, maintained its schedules and remained within budgetary costs. However, most (if not all), construction projects experience time delays and cost overruns during their implementation phase.

People have been expressing much concerns that some projects in communities were considerably delayed or shoddily delivered to the detriment of the people as a result of poor supervision. Ministries are accused of conniving with contractors to defraud the nation by allowing full payment for such contracts without their being completed. When projects are properly supervised, little mistakes that could develop into bumps and vacuum in the construction, are averted at the point they are noticed. However, when you leave the construction, be it housing, roads, bridges or what have you unsupervised, you are sure to get poor job.

Supervisors are responsible for not only meeting corporate goals, but also bridging the gap between upper management and front-line employees. Supervisors that take this task seriously are the ones that have a dramatic and positive effect on the overall business as well as their employee’s performance and behaviour.  As these things are affected, so is the productivity of employees and the company. Therefore, there is the need to take a critical look at this role to ensure that well-trained supervisors who are prepared to provide the necessary and appropriate guidance, structure and encouragement to workers are in charge of government projects. Poor supervision of projects has an enormous impact and cost for the employee, as well as the economy. There is a certain saying; “That which hasn’t been inspected, hasn’t been completed” (Janse Ben 2019).


Supervision is all about immediate guiding, directing and controlling efforts of employees or subordinates and other resources to accomplish stated work outputs. It involves closely observing the subordinates at work and ensuring that they work according to policies and plans of the organization (Source: Oxford dictionary). In other words, supervision is a continuous process in which motivation, performance, rewards and leadership all play a role with the sole aim of stimulating professional growth of employees, to safeguarding good quality and increasing control.

Monitoring on the other hand, is the regular observation and recording of activities taking place in a project or programme. It is a process of routinely gathering information on all aspects of the project (Source: Collins dictionary). In other words, monitoring provides information that will be useful in: –

  • Analysing the situation in the community and its project.
  • Determining whether the inputs in the project are well utilized.
  • Identifying problems facing the community or project and finding solutions.
  • Ensuring all activities are carried out properly by the right people and in time.
  • Using lessons from one project experience on to another and
  • Determining whether the way the project was planned is the most appropriate way of solving the problem at hand.


Supervisors are the employer’s representatives and the main vehicles of communication on a construction project. Their responsibilities include: –

  • Ensuring workers work in compliance with required protective devices, measures and procedures.
  • Advising workers of any potential or actual health or safety danger known by the supervisor.
  • Providing workers, when required, with written instructions on any measures and procedures to be taken for the workers’ protection.
  • Supervising the work on the project at all times, either personally or by having an assistant who is a competent person to do so when the supervisor is unavailable.
  • Inspecting or having supervisor’s assistant inspect, at least once a week, all machinery and equipment, including fire extinguishing equipment, magazines (storage for flammables and explosives), electrical installations, communication systems, sanitation and medical facilities, building and other structures, temporary supports and means of access and egress at the project to ensure workers are not endangered.
  • Ensure clarity of project objectives and unity among workers to prevent conflicts and misunderstandings between workers and management (ie. conflict resolution).
  • Ensure that the performance that is expected is sufficient to achieve the objectives of the project.
  • Ensure that project is completed within scheduled period and approved budget by motivating and training workers to enhance efficiency and productivity.
  • Stimulating, improving and developing worker’s knowledge, skills and the right attitudes taking individuals strength and weaknesses into consideration.


It is difficult to quantify the precise cost of supervisory deficiencies, but even a small deficiency could result in a loss of billion cedis. It naturally follows, then, that poor supervision in a workplace is among the primary obstacles to achieving potential successes by an organization. After all, employees, no matter their task, must have the proper instructions and training to ensure that they are doing their jobs correctly and with minimal risk of error or injury.

The key factors that account for poor supervision and monitoring include: –


Incompetent supervisors not only make their jobs difficult, but it makes the jobs of those they supervise or manage more difficult. An incompetent supervisor can be described as one who is functionally inadequate or having an insufficient amount of knowledge, skills and judgement to undertake the motivating, directing and handling of his or her team (Source: Chartered Management Institute –CMI).

In some instances, such supervisors are actually very good employees who excelled with their technical skills and subsequently earned promotion to a management position, but simply have not mastered the competent leadership, interpersonal and communication skills needed to guide team safely through projects and meet targets. More than just supervising workers, effective management requires supervisors to take responsibility for ensuring that an individual succeeds and that the team achieves expected results.

An unwillingness to take strong actions is a common feature among incompetent supervisors. While productive supervisors are decisive, incompetent supervisors shy away from taking a lead as they are often afraid to make mistakes. This inaction habitually leads to a number of undesirable outcomes in the workplace, including uproar from confused team members, and missing out on valuable and profitable opportunities for the business.


Supervisors are unable to effectively and efficiently perform their functions because of poor site coordination. Internal and external interactions among project participants are crucial factors in site supervision. Internal interaction deals with the interaction among the project participants who are not present on the construction site. To accomplish substantial productivity through effective supervision, every member of a crew requires adequate space to perform tasks without being affected with/by the other crew members. When more labourers are allotted to perform particular tasks in a fixed amount of space, it is probable that interference and lack of cooperation may occur, thus decreasing productivity.


Given the expense and disruption caused to an on-going project and the damage to relationships between participants in a project, conflicts are not beneficial to a project. As a result, the conditions of contract incorporated in construction contracts to harmonize and bring sanctity to contractual relationships is not understood and some parties, surprisingly, are not familiar with it. Some of these conflicts are prior unresolved conflicts and communication barriers.


Weather conditions are significant factors to consider for completion of any project which also affect supervision. Winter weather, such as winds and rains, reduce productivity, particularly for external works such as concrete casting, external painting or tiling. Adverse weather sometimes stops the work totally.


Since construction projects involve complex operations which cannot be accurately determined in advance, variation orders are inevitable on projects. Unexpected change which occurs throughout the life cycle of the project, hinders the success of the project to a significant degree and also affect supervision.


Site layout can be defined as site space allocation for material storage, working areas, units for accommodation, plant positions, general circulation areas, access and egress for deliveries and emergency services. The building site has to be carefully controlled so that the operatives of construction have the right machinery in the most advantageous position. Therefore, if all the above-mentioned factors are not in place, supervision and efficiency will likely not be effective.

In addition to the above-stated factors, the other factors that account for poor supervision of projects include: –

  • Deterioration of working conditions.
  • Commitment of all project participants.
  • Availability of trained resources.
  • Indecisiveness of project participants.
  • Negative attitude of project participants.
  • Improper tendering process.
  • Hostile socio economic environment.
  • Communication breakdown.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Lack of logistics
  • Supervision overload.
  • Disrespect towards workers.



Supervision is an extremely vital part of a workplace that intends to maximize its success potential. The activities, tasks and various works in every project phase are only achievable by adhering to the project specification and by extension adequate supervision.

Hence poor supervision and monitoring of projects can lead to the following: –


 Defects in construction of buildings, bridges, roads and other forms of projects which not only contributes to the final cost of the structure but also to the cost of maintenance, which can be substantial. Defective construction may lead to the complete failure of a structure. In addition, poor supervision is believed to be one of the major causes of rework and structural cracks etc. Consequently, quality of supervision has a major influence on the overall performance and efficiency of projects.


Poor supervision opens door for unethical behaviour within the work environment. With poor supervision, workers commonly feel that their works are not valued by the organization and loyalty is difficult to form. Without loyalty, workers are more likely to deviate from acceptable business practices. Such activities can include theft, low productivity, using equipment without authorization and falsifying documents among other things.


Goal development is important in supervision because effective goal-setting activities in employee supervision are directly associated with higher employee satisfaction and performance. Having clearly defined target, motivate employees to work towards their expected achievements. Providing regular supervision for workers increases their productivity and overall performance. Regular supervision and supervision sessions act as continuous monitoring mechanism and also allow workers to express concerns and ask questions.


Poor supervision and monitoring is a contributing factor to less well-known accidents, including many of those occurring on project sites. As a result of poor supervision, there is not enough responsibility for taking action for the prevention of problems, mistakes, accidents and injuries. Accidents due to violation of safety precautions, bad fittings, fixtures, mechanical and electrical services may be attributed to poor supervision and monitoring.


Shoddy work is a certified paid for built infrastructure, which fails or deteriorates before its design life span elapses or fails to be used by the intended beneficiaries. Though the infrastructure was designed to serve for say, five years. However, the infrastructure deteriorates within a year or two. This may be due to below required standard design, use of sub-standard materials and poor supervision as contributing factors.




Project cost overrun refers to a situation where the costs being incurred are in excess of the amounts that have been budgeted for. Poor supervision can cause project delays and reworks which in the long run is likely to throw the budget overboard. For not being able to complete the project within scheduled period, means there will be extension of time that will generate additional cost due to additional labour hours and possibly, additional materials.

It is also necessary to know that, in addition to poor supervision, other factors that can cause project cost overrun include: –

  • Political influence or interference.
  • Inflation of project cost.
  • Serious project design errors.
  • Administration errors.
  • Inaccurate project estimates.


Supervision of construction sites is an important role some government authorities have been taken with levity. The laxity and the lackadaisical attitude with which some government officials take issues relating to construction, have caused avoidable misfortunes both in human and material costs. However, because the authorities don’t see it as anything worth reviewing, it has kept reoccurring. Supervision is paramount to every one especially those who would not like to take a process twice. Many gullible government officials often compromise development codes and standards. The kind of supervision being noticed these days is not enough and that could be the resultant effect of incessant building collapse being noticed here and there and around the country.

Field supervision is the owner’s and designer’s last line of defence. While many contractors have qualified personnel who are conscientious enough to pick up design errors, most contractors view such personnel as an unnecessary burden on the project overhead. Thus, while a competent field supervision is critically important, it seems to be very low on most people’s order of priorities. Lip service is often given to the provision of supervision on sites. However, to be effective, supervision must be methodically and critically considered.


A workplace with good supervision, gets more work done without stress or negativity. To generate an atmosphere of goodwill, enthusiasm and fun, supervision need to build and maintain relationships and a work culture based on best supervision practices.




The characteristics of excellent supervision necessary for creating a productive and positive work environment include: –


Competency and ability of supervisor affects supervision in all aspects of a project. To be an effective supervisor, one has to understand the organization’s culture as well as its climate. The organization culture can be defined as the underlying shared core values, norms, beliefs and assumptions held by its members about the organization.

The culture influences the adopted policies which represent the operating and performance standards for the organization. The supervisor must have good mental acuity, analytical and strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, understanding interpersonal dynamics, business and technical acumen, self-improvement by being inquisitive and thirsty for knowledge, a strong sense of “self” by being confident and decisive, being proactive by taking initiative, influence others, ability to build strong and enduring relationships and by being empathic and supportive to others.


Supervision is not an armchair occupation, nor does “getting involved” mean running your section “by decree” from a closed office. It means getting out and understanding the day-to-day operation first hand. It also means knowing your people as individuals and being known to them. Real involvement on the part of the supervisor reaps two advantages. First, it will provide you- with knowledge about your section that is unobtainable any other way. Secondly, frequent interaction with your people promotes what managerial experts call a “therapeutic climate”- the supervisor demonstrates concern for the workers’ daily performance, rather than taking it for granted. Visible and personal involvement by the supervisor builds morale and a sense of cohesion within the entire section. This forms a substantial base for a productive supervisor-subordinate relationship.


Effective communication probably won’t occur unless you as supervisor, take active steps to open channels between yourself and your subordinates. To be effective, communication should travel in both directions-from the bottom up, as well as from the top down. Most importantly, you must create situations in which frank communication is possible and likely to occur.

Here are some effective practices: –

  • Schedule meetings for the entire center. The frequency may vary, depending on the type of organization, and they don’t need to follow a regular schedule. Whatever the case, these meetings should be inclusive.
  • Invite suggestions and use them whenever possible.
  • Be available for discussions and have an open door policy.

Open communication within an organization tends to bind the group more closely into a cohesive unit. Instead of working in isolation, people feel they are part of a group with common goals. Some situations, of course, may demand that you act decisively, without prior consultation. You should ensure that your people understand the decision-making process, rather than perceiving it as something in explicably imposed from above. Share your view from the top – it’s one of your primary responsibilities as a supervisor.


A major part of your job as a supervisor will be to evaluate the people in your section. Since all evaluations must be based on some standard of judgement, the supervisor should communicate job performance standards to the workers at the outset. Ensure that the standards you set are clear, comprehensive and firmly adhered to.


Training is said to be a systematic procedure of altering the behaviour of employees in a direction that will achieve organization goals. Training is related to one’s job skills and abilities. In-service training, conferences and workshops which are significant for improving knowledge of supervisors, must be carried out in a way that will equip them with current tools of supervision. It is essential that supervisors understand how to identify skill and tool deficiencies to keep personal skill level at par with the ever-changing world of job requirements.


Logistics are the engine on which supervision thrives. Availability of logistics and materials for work are critical in the sense that, it creates confidence in supervisors and employees. Lack of logistics can greatly hinder the work of supervisors or slowdown progress of work, as motivation is likely to dwindle. Supervision can effectively be carried out when logistics are provided to support it.


Good works should be recognized. This implies that the acknowledgement of any good work done must be immediate and made public to others which will then serve as incentive to others. Incentive of merit, recommendation for promotion, etc. improve performances.


When mistakes happen a good supervisor tries and understands the reasons behind the mishap. He or she criticizes or assesses the employee in proportion to the mistake and it is always better not to scream or scold in front of the others. Give constructive feedback; show them the right way to do things.


No single approach to management works in every situation. Rather, a good supervisor chooses tactics based on situation. For example, as a deadline nears, you might adopt a hard-line approach to ensure the work gets done. However, your employees can’t operate at full-speed perpetually, so adopt a more relaxed approach during downtime between projects. This gives employees time to recover their strength.


If you can’t place yourself in your employee’s shoes, you can’t lead them effectively. For example, a parent might not be able to work overtime, or an employee going through a hard time, might need temporary special considerations. Be accommodating as possible in the face of genuine need and your employees will be loyal in return.

The supervisor must have the ability to grasp problems quickly, to think of several things at the same time and assess the whole situation quickly. In the busy modern world of business, this quality is necessary for success.


A good supervisor excels in delegating tasks to those employees best-equipped to handle them. Proper delegation streamlines a project, ensuring efficiency and maximizing profitability. Poor delegation on the other hand, compromises a project. For example, if you delegate a vital task to an inexperienced employee, the whole project can slow down. Worse, you might have to backtrack to fix errors, an inefficient use of time and resources.


It is the function of the supervisor to create proper working condition to the subordinates. The environment should be made free of tension and emotional stress. Favourable working condition inspires subordinates to perform job more effectively and also helps maintain better supervision.


Human beings, unlike machines, are inherently dynamic. They work best in situations where they can develop themselves, rather than simply repeat a static routine. Allowing for and promoting worker development is a key to effective human relations. Be sensitive to individual differences in your people. Tailor their duties and their training to match their respective capacities. People doing outstanding work or who demonstrate superior capacity, should be challenged with tasks that are more responsible. As a supervisor, you will be responsible for providing a graduated challenge to the people in your section, as well as keeping track of their long-term training and development.

To do this requires great sensitivity and flexibility on the part of the supervisor. Rigid formalism and mindless adherence to work routines are the great barriers to a dynamic work environment, while the results may be adequate, such practices will result in stagnation and discontent.


For effective supervision, human relation skills of the supervisor plays a very important role. A successful supervisor always adopts employee-oriented approach. He treats subordinates as a friend rather than a boss. He focuses on the problems of the employees and take appropriate steps to solve them. This helps to encourage subordinates and lead to better productivity.


Feedback is communication between supervisor and subordinate intended either to correct substandard performance or reinforce superior performance. Besides establishing standards, providing people with feedback on their work is an essential step in evaluating your personnel. To be effective, your feedback must be timely and specific. If you observe deficiencies in a worker’s performance, you should give the person opportunity to correct these deficiencies. Don’t deliver a general condemnation and leave the worker wondering exactly what went wrong. The supervisor should offer feedback as corrective criticism.


Being effective supervisor will demand a great deal of time and attention. Supervision is a continual process rather than periodic task; you are never “done” supervising. Administrative duties will also make their demands on your time. Whereas these duties may seem more concrete and pressing, it’s unlikely that they are any more important than your supervising task.

It should be noted that,” one of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency” (Arnold Glasow). Hence to supervise your subordinates properly, you must take the time to involve yourself and find out how the work is going, rather than waiting for problems to come to you. The time you spent on human maintenance is time well spent.



ROBERT OWUSU is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (Ghana). A seasoned banker with wide experience in Retail Banking, Internal Auditing, Project Management, Electronic Banking with high specialty in Internet Banking. He is also a Consultant and a Supervisor of Chartered Institute of Bankers (Ghana) examination.


E-mail addresskwa [email protected]; Tel. 0240 821597 & 0546 907904

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