If you're in the construction industry then you may have heard of Hensel Phelps' Project Superintendent, Kabri Lehrman-Schmid. She has completed 8 landmark projects, $1.5B value in completed work, and put 3.7M square feet of work in place, from Washington D.C. to California.
Kabri is also the Director on the Board of the National Association of Women in Construction (Puget Sound chapter) through which she supports industry-specific organizations that serve pre-employment youth, the skilled trades, and construction management.
Kabri presents regularly at regional and national conferences, including the Construction Management Association of America's National Conference, the Association of General Contractors Safety & Environmental Conference, and the Procore’s Groundbreak Conference.
These accolades and accomplishments encourage Kabri to continue to provide resources and opportunities to make careers in construction accessible to people of all backgrounds bringing more diversity and inclusivity to her industry.
You’d never know, but Kabri actually stumbled upon her career by pure chance. Two years into pursuing her Civil Engineering degree at Columbia University, she found herself unhappy with her life trajectory. A serendipitous moment and a leap of faith would change everything.
Kabri worked at a local Starbucks during her undergrad and every morning, three project managers would come in from their construction project across the street.
One day, I went up to them and asked if they knew of any internship opportunities. Two of them dismissed me, but one followed up and helped to connect me with an incredible internship on the world's largest facility renovation project at The Pentagon. That internship opened my eyes to the exciting possibilities in the world of construction.
Flash forward 13-years Kabri now leads contractor teams as a Hensel Phelps' Project Superintendent.
A Whole New World
According to Kabri, most people are simply unaware of the awesome opportunities within the construction industry. Signing the initial offer letter with a general contractor didn't seem to fit the narrative for someone from her engineering upbringing and schooling.
I think my high school self would be very surprised, mostly because I didn’t know anything about construction and had no idea this world even existed. Most women are not aware of the rewarding benefits that exist in the field. There is so much opportunity and pride that can be found in the work that you help build to life.
Kabri leads the reconstruction initiative with Sea-Tac Airport
Kabri believes that more women in construction should share the opportunities that can be found in construction and spends her time spreading awareness to the younger generation. She is a strong advocate of students going into skilled trades.
I wish I would have had that experience because the knowledge acquired through the skill trades creates an incredible foundation. These practical skills offer you a mobile work set and earn you entry into a strong community.
Keys to Success
Throughout her 13-year career, Kabri ascended to become a successful Project Superintendent for one of the largest construction contracting companies. Respect in the industry is earned with time and hard work. However, Kabri shares that there’s another key skill that is imperative to succeeding in the industry.
In my opinion, communication is the most important aspect of being successful in the construction industry. Do your research, ask for input, and always follow up. For me, it means researching documents until I’m satisfied with the answer. It means calling back my trade partners until I fully understand their needs and they feel like they can trust me. It means listening to the verbal and emotional feedback from my staff and crews in the field in order to manage them, as people.
Hensel Phelps has helped to sharpen Kabri's skills that make her an effective leader.
I love the people I work with. We triple check things and try to make ideas happen that benefit everyone involved. As a company, we rely heavily on communication, honesty, and transparency. We hold ourselves to a very high standard.
Raising Awareness for Mental Health
In 2018, the CDC found that male construction workers have the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. (2018 analysis). These shocking statistics moved Kabri to advocate for mental health and suicide awareness in the industry.
As a superintendent with the respect I've earned building relationships in the industry, I feel that I have the opportunity and obligation to raise awareness and provide resources on mental health.
She advises that a variety of industry-specific elements act as risk factors that can contribute to a decline in mental health like seasonal and irregular work schedules, inconsistent health care, and chronic pain coupled with the rising opioid epidemic. Additionally, construction has a macho mentality that makes it difficult to even acknowledge or talk about mental health.
As a woman, I have an edge when it comes to bringing awareness to stigmatized issues in the industry. I'm not expected to keep my emotions private and can start conversations on topics that my male counterparts might find resistance in broaching.
At Hensel Phelps' safety week, Kabri held group sessions on mental health for 250 employees. She shared the alarming statistics, the warning signs of someone suffering from depression, and the national and local resources for mental health healing. Kabri is also working with the University of Washington's suicide prevention program to create a toolkit for the industry.
Due to Kabri's advocacy efforts, Seattle will launch its first construction suicide awareness program at the Sea-Tac airport job site.
Kabri Discovers Xena
Kabri hiking in Washington with her wife and two kids
Our construction superstar discovered Xena Workwear from a fellow NAWIC board member who shared a LinkedIn Post.
As a Superintendent, I interface quite often with engineers and construction management, so I am frequently in the position where I need PPE footwear to transition between sites. This is especially true at the beginning of a project when I'm checking out the site and doing the design. I thought Xena was awesome, the footwear looks great and the purpose behind it is exactly aligned with what the construction industry needs.
Through her leadership, philanthropy, and advocacy, Kabri Lehrman-Schmid is making a positive impact on her industry. She is breaking ground on fundamental aspects of making careers in construction accessible and welcoming for anyone of any background. She embodies the selflessness and dedication required to make the massive systemic changes needed to disrupt the construction industry, with rippling effects across every industry in STEM.
By Courtney Faye Brown. Courtney illuminates relatable stories that raise awareness and help to advocate for women empowerment. She is the official writer at Xena Workwear.