Nobody doubts that if the industry is to undergo the necessary culture change, clients must take charge. What everybody wants to know is how
Behind all the analysis of the industry in recent times is the unquestioned assertion that, if the necessary improvements are to be achieved, clients must lead. But what does this actually mean? What justification do clients have for their claim to lead? And why should suppliers, financiers, or indeed anybody else, accept it? To me, leadership means defining clear objectives, and then making the most effective use of all the resources available to achieve these. Easy to say, but far from easy to implement successfully. Leadership does not mean bullying other parties into providing goods and services to their major disadvantage. Construction clients do not show leadership by demanding that suppliers shave their prices or lose the work. Nor are they showing initiative by threatening litigation and placing all the blame on on the suppliers when things go wrong. No matter what your industry, such actions would be defined as misuse of market power, not leadership.

Defining clear goals involves a vision of what is required in the long term. For construction clients that vision relates not only to meeting business needs, although this must remain the main motivation, but also to meeting environmental and social responsibilities.

In September the strategic forum's report, Accelerating Change, will be presented to the government and to the public. In all the contributions to the forum's studies made by clients, both individually and collectively through the Confederation of Construction Clients, the notion of the client's vision was heavily emphasised.

So how should we, as clients, go about implementing this change? First, clients must decide, with the assistance of external expertise as well as internal investigation, what they need done. By defining the exact nature of their business requirement, the client will know whether construction is in fact the best way of meeting it. With that decision taken, the informed client will seek to lead its supply chain in making its project requirements transparent. The intention must be to create an environment in which all members of the supply team can contribute their individual expertise to effecting the common goal.

Leadership does not mean threatening litigation and placing the blame on the suppliers when things go wrong

But life being what it is, processes must be established, including management and reporting systems, so that the different project stages can be undertaken by those best qualified to do so. The client, who ultimately pays the bills, must be confident that the true, whole-life costs of the project are known and recorded. What we are talking about is the ability to stimulate and manage genuine collaborative action, with all contributors gaining in self-esteem with recognition of the quality of their input, while being confident that they will receive a fair reward for it.

The need for continuing improvement in performance is not just confined to client–supplier relationships. Clients must also continually adapt their own best practice procedures, training their own personnel in such skills as designing and communicating a clear briefing, understanding and working with integrated supply chains, and establishing financial regimes that concentrate on whole-life value rather than lowest initial cost. They must establish and observe the disciplines of targets and milestones, ensuring that all aspects of the projects, including health and safety and the training of their suppliers' operatives, are fully covered.