What makes an inclusive leader? Skanska's Katie Coulson explains

August 16, 2019 | Daisy Bernard

Ahead of her talk on the subject at Women in Construction USA, she shares how to 'be comfortable being uncomfortable'

In an industry of predominantly white, male, cis-gender employees, an inclusive leader is essential. But what are the traits of an inclusive leader, and how can we learn to adopt them? 

Katie Coulson, Vice President – Account Manager at Skanska shares her insight on challenging the traditional image of a leader in the industry and widen our understanding of our leaders' responsibility towards inclusivity.


How did you get into your role?

I did an internship in college in road construction and was hooked.  I worked for a couple owners managing construction and then switched to the general contracting side twenty-one years ago.  I started at Skanska as a Senior Project Engineer and worked my way up to Vice President – Account Manager.

What does an average day look like for you? 

First thing and last thing, I check my emails.  I usually have meetings with our client ranging from safety to execution, 1:1’s with my direct reports, staff planning discussions  - I have approx. 200 people on my team, so it is critical we manage based on increase or decrease of work.  I work on culture ranging from D&I planning, health & wellness for Skanska employees and craft workers, or leadership training.  I review indicators for projects to ensure we are on track and focus on areas that we know are coming up.

What does being an inclusive leader mean to you?

I want people to come to work and be their true authentic self and treat others the way they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated. 

What characteristics make a good leader to you? 

Constantly learning.  I listen to a lot of books during my commute, my current favorites are Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown which talks about Belonging and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton which both talk about the death penalty and how race effects who is there.  It is a great way to start and end my day.

What traits should be avoided in a leadership role?

Being happy with where you are at, you need to be constantly changing and evolving.  Fear – not everything will work, but we need to try new things to get better.

As a leader, how do you think communication with your employees comes into play? What makes a good/bad communicator?

I think it is really important to understand yourself to be a good leader and employee.  We have recently did DiSC training for our entire team to work on communication.  The better we know ourselves and can understand others, the easier it is to communicate and work together.

How can you build trust with your employees?

Being open about what is happening and collaborating on ideas.  I believe when we share the good and the bad we can all grow together as a team.  Sometimes it is difficult to work through, but usually we are better as a team when we do.

Do you think emotion should come into leadership? E.g, is it OK to cry at work or discuss personal issues?

I share personal issues at work so people can know me better and feel comfortable sharing about themselves.  When we know each other better, we care more and want to help each other out whether it is safety on the jobsite or jumping in to help with tasks.

What are practical strategies leaders can use to adopt D&I within a business?

As I mentioned before, I think learning is so important.  Be open and talk about unconscious bias and learn about Pride and other cultures.  We should feel as comfortable about someone who is Catholic not having meat on Friday during Lent as we do about someone fasting during Ramadan. 

We learn the most when we put ourselves in uncomfortable places, one of my mottos is “be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Katie, along with other inspirational speakers, will be speaking at Women in Construction USA.The conference takes place on 18-19 September 2019 at Hyatt Regency, San Francisco.