The agent is responsible for directing the construction work on site. He (or she) will have wide powers to employ men, hire machinery and equipment, purchase materials, and employ sub-contractors. His powers to do this without reference to his head office, will depend on the size of the job, its nature and distance from head office (particularly for overseas work), and his standing within his firm. The agent must be knowledgeable in the arts of construction, able to command men and be a good organizer. He needs a sound business sense, because his job is not only to get the works built properly in accordance with the contract but also to make a profit for the contractor. Some agents have risen to their position mainly by experience gained through many years on construction, others are professionally qualified engineers. Agood agent is probably the most secure guarantee an employer can have that his works will be built well.
Control of the work is exercised through down the line management which operates through a hierarchy of responsibility. Directions proceed from the agent, through his sub-agents, to the foremen and then to the tradesmen and labourers.
This is necessary so that each person is clear as to what his responsibilities are and what he is supposed to do. Thus, if the agent sees some work being done which does not meet his approval, he will issue his instructions via the sub-agent in charge of that work. Day-to-day instructions are usually given verbally; they need to be clear, as simple as possible, and not capable of misunderstanding.
This is not always easy to achieve when complex situations arise. Unnecessary explanations accompanying an instruction are best avoided because this can sometimes lead to misunderstandings due to pressure of work.
The agents chief problem is to keep the work progressing as efficiently as possible. His main troubles occur when an unexpected difficulty is encountered, or there are problems with labour, plant, or materials. When any of such difficulties occur, the agent may have to change the days plan of work and issue new instructions. He has to choose between the options open to him, bearing in mind both his short-term strategy for the next few days, and also his
medium-term strategy of what operations must be completed within the next 2 or 3 weeks. As in a game of chess, present moves have to be decided in terms of some overall strategy, the moves having to be re-thought whenever circumstances change especially the weather.