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Leader to leader - Doug Van Meter

What does it take to be a great leader? Often words such as encouraging, inspiring and motivating come to mind. Here at GBA being a great leader means listening actively, encouraging others, offering advice, being humble and welcoming criticism to work towards a common goal strategically.

Leaders to Leader is a series designed to highlight those individuals in the A/E/C industry creating positive change around them - through effective communication, emotional intelligence, and the development of younger generations. In this first entry, Doug Van Meter, P.E., Senior Vice President of GBA and Josh Reeves, President of GBA Builders, explore what it means to be a great leader and how those interested can seize opportunities to grow.

What it means to be a leader in the A/E/C industry

In most industries, being a leader means focusing your attention on others rather than yourself. Investing in the success of your team and the work being produced. In the A/E/C industry great leaders are needed to ensure economies grow and community’s flourish. But can all employees become great leaders? Josh states, “I have a philosophy I’ve believed in for years. “Because someone is a great engineer, or a great superintendent, doesn’t always make them a leader.”

Being a great leader might look differently to different people. Some view leadership as a goal in their career – something to work towards each day. Doug offers, “A leader is someone working towards what could be and building a team to strive towards to future”. However, it’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Some great leaders might make average engineers/project managers.

Doug pointed out, “While some skills can be improved through training, coaching, and mentoring it can often come down to whether you have it – or you don’t. Recently, my leadership skills have improved through communicating with my peers, such as Josh.”

Communication is an essential component of the success of any individual, group, or company. Being able to express ideas and thoughts allows those to learn and understand one another. Doug says, “before speaking with someone I try to understand the other person first. Remembering and building off past conversations to ensure the communication is effective.”

As a leader, being able to actively listen to those around you and their current struggles allows you to be on the same page as your team members. This skill ensures any issues can be identified early and worked through before major concerns arise.

Leaders in Mission Critical

A “great” leader in the Mission Critical market at GBA revolves around the idea of asking “what is the client’s real need or risk?” Understanding the client’s true problems, priorities or risks first and “getting to the heart of the situation.” “Getting to the heart of the problem” is not just about the problem, it includes those underlying risks to keep a critical facility operational, client opinions or past experiences, future goals of the facility and the client’s pathways for procuring and implementing a project. From there staff can evaluate, assess, resolve, or recommend actions to work towards a goal or solution that best satisfies the client. Doug states, “the leaders in Mission Critical work to put the client first”, solving the client’s problem not the project problem. Making decisions quickly, navigating opinions, GBA Mission Critical Leaders are tasked with projects spanning nationwide for a variety of clients. Leaders are empowered and expected by clients, to come to the table with solutions and progress, no matter where or what the problem is.

When GBA Mission Critical leaders bring solutions that solve the client’s problems rather than project problems, clients are much more satisfied, projects tend to go smoother and the developed trust with problem-solving results in repeat work. Unlike other industries, micro-managing for leaders has no place in this segment. “Great” leaders are tasked with monitoring rather than managing teams and having that overall understanding of the client’s problem. This concept can be difficult for some, Doug points out, “It’s a shift from how the world operates. But in terms of staff retention and individual growth opportunities, it’s the way to move forward. Allow and recognize those who are good at problem-solving to create the next generation of experts and those who are good at an overall understanding, making decisions quickly and driving implementation to develop into leaders.”

How young engineers can rise and become a leader within GBA

It’s no secret the A/E/C industry is in need of talent. Every graduating class brings the opportunity to hire individuals that can one day grow into seasoned professionals.

Advice Doug offers the new grads?

  • Understand yourself, the good and the bad

  • Find a mentor that fits you

  • Learn from others around you

  • Be eager to do more

  • Learn how to speak the truth (But in a way people can digest it)

It can be hard to transition leadership skills from a university setting to a professional one. Josh and Doug recommend building credibility in your new environment, asking questions, and then applying the knowledge to your projects. Doug says, “As a new professional, you alone manage the trajectory of your career. By seeking out individuals to learn from and grow with – the leadership skills appear naturally (if that is what you desire).”

To build off Doug’s point, Josh offers, “it’s important to note – desire. Not everyone is and wants to become a leader – and that is ok. Some individuals are meant to be incredibly detail-oriented engineers, architects, and project managers. Those that look at each project in the smallest detail to ensure the client is absolutely satisfied.”

Those looking for a leadership role at their company should speak with a mentor or their supervisor. As stated, defining “leadership” is difficult and can mean different things to different people. By defining what exactly is desired and a plan of action a young professional can potentially earn a role with more responsibilities. Doug states, “it’s important to ask a lot of questions and get on the same page about what is wanted and what can be accomplished at that point in their career.”


At GBA and GBA Builders, being a great leader is incredibly important and individuals in those roles are actively working to improve themselves. These leaders are creating positive work environments allowing others to succeed in their roles and grow into the careers they desire. If your ultimate goal is to become a leader amongst your peers, remember to communicate effectively, prioritize others and keep educating yourself. Being “great” doesn’t happen overnight – hard work and the desire to improve the environment around you are necessary to succeed. Learn more about what it means to be a great leader by reaching out to Josh Reeves and Doug Van Meter, P.E..

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