As a senior director for Washington, D.C.-based building consultant firm MGAC, Kristina Leighty wears many hats. In her more than 30 years as a project manager, Leighty has experience in tracking budgets and schedules, managing design and construction teams and developing solutions to mitigate project risks.
Leighty graduated from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1990 with a degree in interior design and started her career as a junior designer at an architectural firm in Anchorage, Alaska.
“At that time, it was common to see more women in interior design as opposed to architecture or construction,” she said.
As her career progressed, she found that she enjoyed the technical and construction phases of the jobs she worked on. When a client approached her to start up its project management division, she jumped at the chance.
Now with decades of experience, she has led projects across the retail, government, corporate, technology, life science, education and industrial sectors. Clients at MGAC range from Freddie Mac to Microsoft and language immersion preschool CommuniKids.
Here, Leighty talks with Construction Dive about changes in the industry, opportunities for women and trends in project management.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: How has the industry changed over the past 30 years?
KRISTINA LEIGHTY: When I first started, it would not be uncommon for me to be the only woman on a jobsite with all men. Nowadays, it is quite the opposite, there are a lot more women on a job or a project.
You also find more women are in the trades as electricians, superintendents, mechanical contractors and cabling installers than years prior. Jobs once thought only for men are now in the cards for women, and it is awesome to see. It is great to walk onto a jobsite and see women in an industry that once primarily included men.
What benefits are there to working in construction?
The benefits are innumerable, especially on the project management side. It is exciting to take an idea and see it come to life. We get to interact with a number of different people that all have wonderful experiences and talents, and every day you get to learn something new.
It is not the kind of job where you are behind a desk, but one where you get to be on a site and an office with a lot of comradery and team building with the entire project team. There isn’t one day that ever goes the way it was originally planned; each day comes with surprises and changes.
What are a few of the projects you’ve most enjoyed working on and why?
We have been working on several projects with our childcare and preschool client, CommuniKids, over the past two years. In addition to those, we are wrapping up two projects with Microsoft and another confidential technology client.
Every project is rewarding in its own right and has its rewards due to the teamwork between the architect, general contractor, engineer, subcontractors and clients. Projects that involve children and families can be particularly rewarding; seeing a child’s face light up with excitement will make anyone’s day.
What advice would you give to young women considering construction as a career?
My advice would be to definitely consider becoming a project manager or construction manager if you are interested. Regardless of your industry or field of study, if you are a person who loves to work on a team, is a good leader, a good listener and communicator, organized, dependable, trustworthy and dedicated then you have all the ingredients to become a PM.
I have found this career to be one where you learn confidence and how to communicate effectively and be a good team member. You don’t have to know everything, but a little about a lot of different things.
Trust those who are the experts to teach you what you don’t know and be the glue that holds the project team together.