The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY – Future Leaders Look at the 2010s and Beyond

August 30, 2018

By: Eric Moore (ECC Future Leader Board Liaison) with contributions from Dave Senko and Steve Cabano (ECC Board Members)#FLASHBACKFRIDAY 2010s

The Future Leaders have covered significant ground in the Flashback Friday Blog Series, and we wrap up the effort this week with a bit of a “Look Forward” focus.  This year’s conference theme, The Next 50 Years: Capturing Transformational Possibilities, has provoked quite a bit of reminiscing of how much has changed over the past five decades. In the 1970s post, we saw the birth of safety culture, in the 1980s post and the 1990s post, we saw how technological advancements began to re-shape business communication, the design engineering process and more. Last week’s 2000’s post focused on a decade marked by disruptions, both positive and negative and how adaptivity is a required characteristic to navigate through a successful career.  As we wrap up this series, we close by moving into the current era, one where Big Data, mobile technology and advanced construction methodologies are at the tip of our fingertips. We could excitedly buzz about how flying cars, artificial intelligence and robotic welders with jet packs will change the world as we know it… but instead, we will focus on a common thread that’s survived throughout the decades – the people.  Project execution has and will always require people – and the people who will be Site Leaders, Project Managers and the Workforce of the future is a focus area that should be seen as a top priority.  

This week’s contributors are Dave Senko, Vice President of Construction at SNC Lavalin and Steve Cabano, President at Pathfinder, LLC.  Dave and Steve are the perfect pairing to discuss their career lessons learned and to lend advice to the next generation who will carry the torch forward.  Both Dave and Steve are active in the ECC Board and both have taken on assignments where they can help provide a forward focus to the industry.

After the theme was picked for this year, Dave Senko quickly came up with the idea for the forum topic that he will be leading in San Antonio.  Site Leaders: Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future will be a walk back through time addressing how the industry dealt with new things while executing projects, learning ‘on the run’ how to embrace them and integrate them into the ways of working. In his words, “things we now take for granted today were completely new at one time.”   The presentation is broken into eras, appropriately named as the OSHA Era (1960s-70s), the Email Era (1980s-90s), the Y2K Era (2000s –10s) and the Unknown Era to come.

Steve Cabano has led and assisted in many of Pathfinder's consulting efforts in areas such as Master Planning, Project Controls, Project Execution Planning, Contracting, Procurement, to name a few. He also has had a strong focus for effective industry training and development and through the International Project Management Academy (IPMA).  Steve has led ECC’s Academia initiative over the past few years and leading up to the 2018 ECC Annual Conference this year, he will help lead a half-day session with Industry Leaders and members of the Academia community on Wednesday, September 5th, 2018.

We asked Dave and Steve to answer a few questions to allow them to share a bit about their past and to help provide a future focus for the industry.

FUTURE LEADERS: Can you share a few memories from your career including your work life, your assignments, company culture, etc.?

Dave Senko (DS):  What a whirlwind career! I worked and traveled to all of the continents, almost all the US states and too many countries to count. I recall when I was trying to build my resume with only one project, then two, then three; how empty it looked… and now, there are too many to list, or even remember!

One of the most vivid memories of my career is how active it was; never a dull moment; which is actually one of the primary reasons I chose it. I think of the long hours and back to back weeks and months. I recall one project I averaged over 120 hours per week, some weeks over 140 hours… you can do that math. There were years I worked every single day and half of the nights. By design, in construction, we work ourselves out of a job, time after time after time. It is what we do.

Of course, company culture has changed. Most have evolved from having retirement pensions to making you sign an ‘at-will’ employment affidavit when you sign on. When I first started working, if I had been given an employment statement stating I had to agree that employment was at-will, could be terminated at any time for any or no reason with or without notice, I would have probably said… “wait, what?”

Steve Cabano (SC): I have spent most of my working career as a consultant after spending a number of years working as a Project Manager for the US Navy. As a consultant, it amazes me that we continue to make the same mistakes over and over. The industry struggles are less about how to plan and execute projects and more about how to efficiently and effectively implement the known Best Practices of our industry and get our management to respect this moving forward.

FUTURE LEADERS: Share how you are contributing to the workforce of the future.

DS: I enjoy helping the graduates and folks early in their career on the subject of networking. Perhaps that is yet another concept that has become increasingly important in recent years, especially with the advent of so many communication methods and social media.  I often tell them, years ago, we blindly answered job ads as a routine; but now it is very likely, their next job will come from someone they know.

SC: Through the ECC Academia initiative, I do believe we are making universities aware of what they can do to better prepare their graduates for the Engineering / Construction work environment. The university curriculum is currently geared to the engineering technical disciplines and they do an excellent job in building these skills. However, if someone is interested in project type work, there is little in the way of education in the skills of project management, decision-making, business acumen, etc., in the engineering curriculum.  The ECC initiative is now broadcasting these gaps, and the universities are adjusting their offerings to address these gaps.

FUTURE LEADERS: What are some of the challenges that you see in front of the workforce of the future?

DS: The biggest challenge I see is how to efficiently deal with the change coming, as quick as it is coming. Technology and tools are replaced, or at least enhanced, before you even learn how to use them. The emphasis will need to be on lightning quick adaptation of new things.

SC: I believe we need to utilize technology advancement to the greatest extent without minimizing the importance of human reasoning/problem solving. It frustrates me that we expect machines to address all the problems in a project. Most project issues are related to human interactions, poor scope management, communication issues, skill set gaps, quality issues, etc. The next generation of project resources needs to understand what makes a project succeed or fail and learn how to address these issues by following industry Best Practices and effectively communicating across owner, contractor and supplier lines.    

FUTURE LEADERS: Since your career began, what within our industry culture has changed for the better? What has changed for the worse?

DS: For the better:  Without question, it is safety. I recall back when I did not want to wear a safety belt, and neither did the guys I worked with. We did it to keep from getting fired. My car didn’t even have seat belts! Safety became a value in time, with eventually the process safety element taking hold. I lost my project team in the Isom Blast in Texas City 13 years ago. However, that event drove process safety implementation into a new gear that changed the industry.

For the worse: Perhaps quality of personal communication. Before electronic mail and cell phone technology arose, there was a more focused effort on the quality, content and brevity of a message; now words fly abundantly everywhere via voice and text; sometimes not with the optimum effect.

SC: The positive improvements are easy - we have better tools, faster calculation capabilities, instantaneous data retrieval, endless communication capabilities, etc. The negative side of this is that we don’t communicate as we did in the past - we do not have a personal relationship with our project counterparts. There is also a lack of respect for the importance of the stage gate deliverables in running the project; it is not just about developing them to get through the gate. These deliverables need to be clearly defined and it takes time to consider all the interfaces and roles/responsibilities of each project participant. There also seems to be a lack of passion for executing the project as planned. Project milestones are looked on as more of a suggestion or desire rather than an absolute commitment to better the project.

FUTURE LEADERS: What advice would you give to the Future Leader community of today and the next generation of Future Leaders?

DS: My advice to Future Leaders of today and tomorrow is to step out of your comfort zone and step up. Stretch yourself and take charge of your careers. What we accomplished in 50 years, you need to accomplish in 5! The industry is in need of competence and efficiency now more than ever before. It is you that will provide both of them, so get busy. And in your spare time, network, network, network.

SC: Acquire a true thirst for knowledge, strive to know everything you can about planning and executing projects better, develop a passion for this industry and become the best of the best in your selected field. Not every Best Practice is applicable for every project but knowing the value proposition of each practice and implementing those that will truly add value is a key skill set to have in the projects business. Use technology to enable/assist the human decision-making process, not act as a substitute for it.  People still plan and execute projects, but technology is gaining a bigger piece of the pie. Learn how to make technology support the human not replace them.

We are thankful for the effort that both Dave and Steve are putting into the next generation, and for their willingness to share their advice to the Future Leaders.  As we wrap up the final entry of the Flashback Friday series, we leave you with some information of our current decade, the 2000s.


  • $/Barrel of Oil:  Low $36.34 (2016); High $91.17 (2013)
  • Minimum Wage: $7.25 (2010-2018)
  • Average cost of a new car: $27,950 (2010); $36,270 (2018)
  • US Population: 248,709,873 (1990 Census)


  • 2010 An explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig working on the Macondo exploration well in the Gulf of Mexico leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days before the well was closed and sealed. Shortly after the event, a six-month moratorium on all deep-water offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf was declared.
  • 2010 On January 27, 2010, Apple Computer unveils the iPad tablet computer.
  • 2011 A 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes Japan on March 11, 2011. The quake and subsequent tsunami devastated the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku.
  • 2011 After 25 seasons and more than 5,000 episodes, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" airs its last original episode on May 25, 2011.
  • 2015 195 countries endorse the Paris agreement to limit climate change, which included new climate commitments.
  • 2017 Hurricane Harvey makes landfall in the United States, flooding broad swaths of Texas and Louisiana and causing tens of billions of dollars of damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
  • 2010s The golden age of Internet Stardom begins – anyone and everyone is just a million “likes” away from becoming “viral” online.

ECC Conference Themes:

  • 2010 Business as Unusual: Gaining Advantage in a Dynamic Project Landscape
  • 2011 Journey into Uncharted Territories: Repositioning the Projects Business in a World with Changing Boundaries
  • 2012 Capitalizing on the Velocity of Change
  • 2013 Conquering the Summit: Aspiring to Flawless Project Delivery
  • 2014 Aligning the Stars: Connecting People, Projects and Performance
  • 2015 Complexity, Ambiguity and Volatility: Leading in the New Normal
  • 2016 Today, Tomorrow and Beyond: Leveraging Leadership, Diversity and Innovation!
  • 2017 Doing More with Less: A Roadmap to Capital Efficiency
  • 2018 The Next 50 Years: Capturing Transformational Possibilities