Earlier in October, I listened with interest a story about the financial troubles plaguing a Toronto condominium corporation. Some of you know of my research in knowledge transmission and its importance in cultivating public awareness; I want to use this story as a springboard to talk about engineers’ legal obligation and social responsibility vis-à-vis condominium boards. They are a huge source of revenue for any engineering firm but through educational elitism, poor communication skills, general indifference and aversion to legal repercussions of saying or doing too much, condo boards regard the engineering industry with equal helpings of mistrust and fearfulness.
It is true that there are Board of Directors (“BoD”) with hidden agendas and as a group, or as individuals, may have motives beyond an engineer’s responsibility, e.g., interior amenities renovation vs. exterior building restoration, ground keeping vs. building envelope upkeep vs. politics. However in many cases, my believe is that more can be done to educate and dissuade misconceptions. This type of service should be provided as part of the scope for engineering professionals when interacting with the general public, which many of the BoD members generally are. Here the differences between an engineer who deals only in facts & concrete conclusions and one who makes assumptions and trusts their intuition are chasmic.
I would argue that engineers are reluctant to provide opinions because they don’t understand the reason behind the line of questioning. I can tell you, as a member of a BoD, that the only one constant reason for the line of questioning is cost – now and down the road. Period. For an engineer, to overthink it is to let your own insecurities rule what you already know, stuff breaks and fixing them now costs less than the alternative. Your job is to sell the probability that the exterior building elements will break with more frequency than the interior building elements will need replacement; as engineers we know this to be true, we just have to translate this into a language that laypeople understands.
We can achieve that by being effective communicators. By writing articles, making presentations and various public knowledge disseminations, we can build client relationships and lay the groundwork for those educational discussions. Elder statesmen may not be well suited for these roles as it involves late nights and a lot of grinding but they have an abundance of information and a sense of dos and don’ts to keep the junior team members on track. My personal experience has been that board members are often ill-equipped to handle the challenges managing a building involve. Our assistance and the questions that we answer makes them into smarter board members and their likelihood to engage our industry grow accordingly.
As always, I would love to hear any of your comments on this and previous articles.