An Estimator is...

Vince Bailey

September 2007

My predecessor in authorship of this column once penned a fine, two-part piece enumerating the necessary skills that an aspiring estimator might be expected to develop in order to become a successful agent of construction procurement (I believe it might have been entitled "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” or something of the sort). It was a thoughtful essay, and the author captured each requisite skill imaginable and detailed them quite thoroughly. I’m certain it’s become something of a standard in ushering along a generation of budding young quantifiers.

Nevertheless, something was missing. While his list of techniques and aptitudes was quite complete, the page limitations apparently kept him from exploring the personal and professional qualities that are equally (if not more) crucial to the proficiency and success of the truly consummate estimator—the qualities of character.

At the risk of approaching a restatement of The Boy Scout Law (and there is, admittedly, some overlap), I would like to suggest a list of qualities—character traits—that I have observed many of the most excellent members of our profession employ to one degree or another:

Diligence—the kind of perseverance and attention to detail that allows the estimator to draw the most information possible from a set of conceptual scribbling, and present a coherent, quantified analysis of a constructible project.

Timeliness—the art of knowing how much of the above- referenced diligence one can bring to bear before the window of opportunity slams shut.

Honesty—a value that is practiced too little but is always demanded. In an industry in which a good deal of wealth changes hands on a daily basis, we are a transparent lot, and trust is priceless. Fortunately, if we practice honesty as a matter of course in all of our dealings, our reputation precedes us. If we falter though, even once, and our duplicity is found out, our effectiveness is damaged, sometimes irreparably.

Focus—the ability to manage time and resources, to create and arrange avenues of research, to organize reams of information comes from years of discipline and practice, along with a balanced lifestyle that promotes clarity of mind.

Courage—the conviction that allows us to speak our truth clearly, confidently and without reservation in the face of skepticism and disputation.

Sociability—the personal grace that allows us to build professional relationships (and even friendships) in a sometimes contentious business environment.

Responsibility—the recognition that we are self-determined, proactive and able to take control of the way we respond to any given set of circumstances.

Consistency—the resistance to deviating from a working set of principles—such as the ones above. Also known as dependability—a necessary prerequisite for working with any sort of team.

Integrity—the sum total of all the above traits. If you peruse the list and apply these principles to some of your day-to-day events, you’ll notice a certain interplay working between the lines. Diligence and focus give rise to timeliness. Honesty promotes courage. Responsibility feeds into diligence, and so on.

As I said, I’ve developed this list of character traits through years of working alongside some of the best men and women in our industry, and I’ve noticed a level of consistent success that seems directly proportional to their degree of putting these principles into practice. Given this, I would like to invite the reader to adopt this or a similar code as a standard for his professional endeavors. While such a code might well be employed in any profession, I believe it is particularly useful in an environment of high stress, ambiguity, duplicity, treachery and the constantly looming phantom of possible failure. Integrity can be our saving grace in the high-anxiety world of construction estimating.

About the Author
Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.