The Eleven Percent: Meet Samira Kraziem, Construction Project Manager

Kraziem describes how she went from zero technical knowledge to running crews of 400, plus the satisfaction of revitalizing her city.

While studying for her master’s degree in speech pathology, Samira Kraziem took a job that changed her career path: receptionist for a general contractor. The reception part wasn’t the impetus; all the different aspects of the construction industry itself intrigued her.

“I loved it so much that I ended up quitting my master’s program and jumping in full-time,” she says. “I haven’t looked back since.”

Today, Kraziem works with Florida-based Suffolk Construction, where she started as a project administrator in 2015 and steadily worked her way up to senior project manager. Kraziem bounces between job sites and the office, keeping her challenged and entertained.

We asked Kraziem how she grew into her role, her experience with artificial intelligence (AI) on the job site, and more.

Q: What skills helped you advance in construction?

A: I didn’t have a lot of technical knowledge, so I was hyper-focused on spending time in the field and absorbing all of the knowledge I could from the tradespeople who build the buildings.

I knew understanding what they do on a day-to-day basis was key to growing in my own role, so I would come in early and stay late, or even come back in the middle of the night if there was something interesting going on.

It felt like drinking from a fire hose on a daily basis for the first few years, or like I was a sponge just trying to absorb as much as I could. That led to becoming a project coordinator, then a project engineer, and then transitioning to the managerial side.

Gaining that technical knowledge across all of the trades was critical for me to become a senior project manager. I’m often in trade partner meetings with electricians, plumbers, masons and concrete finishers, and I need to be able to coordinate between them and problem-solve for them. To do that, I need an understanding of how each of their scopes functions on their own, plus how they collaborate with each other.

Q: What’s an example of the types of projects you work on?

A: We recently completed the Asher building in downtown Tampa. It’s a 22-story mixed-use building, with retail components on the bottom and residential above.

Partway through, there was a major design change to add a hotel, which reclassified the type of building and changed the code requirements. So that was a challenge, to shift gears, implement code changes correctly, preserve our schedule, and be mindful of the owner’s budget.

Also, we broke ground right as COVID began. At the height of the project we had nearly 400 people working onsite, so there was an extra challenge of keeping everyone safe.

On a more personal side, I really enjoyed the project because Tampa has been going through extreme, rapid growth in the last few years and I actually live downtown. So to be part of its redevelopment from a sleepy city center to the epitome of a live-work-play environment was really remarkable.

Q: What are some challenges of being a woman in your field?

A: Despite there being this growing shift of how women are perceived in the workplace, we are definitely still the underdogs. So learning to navigate that was a challenge, and still can be a challenge.

Some men have shifted their mindsets and are respectful. But with others, I think it can be tough for them to see a woman in a leadership role and hold the same respect for me that they do for my male counterparts. It often takes me being a bit more persistent and assertive about my expectations, in a non-threatening way, in order to prompt a shift in their behavior or attitude toward me.

Once they realize I am here to help and support them in their job, the situation usually improves, and mutual respect can exist.

Q: How has the market challenges affected your industry?

Samira3 Samira KraziemCourtesy Samira Kraziem

A: There’s a labor shortage, so companies are becoming compelled to create good working environments in order to attract and retain younger talent. At Suffolk, that looks like good benefit packages, flex time off and a strong caring culture.

There’s also been a significant increase in the cost of construction. To tackle that, I think we’re going to see more innovation and implementation of technology.

Q: What kinds of tech? AI?

A: Artificial intelligence is a promising area for construction and can assist with managing risk, collecting data and streamlining processes.

For example, we’ve started a design collaboration process called Plan + Control, with an in-house team of 25 data analysts who collect project data to understand patterns and identify areas to improve future processes. And we’ve begun implementing OpenSpace, a 360-degree AI photo technology that creates a virtual job site walk-through to provide teams, clients and partners with visibility and insight into the state of the project at any given time. We’re even automating it on some Suffolk job sites with the help of Boston Dynamic’s Spot the Robot Dog.

We are also seeing a growing trend in green building. For example, the Asher building is LEED Gold certified, and Suffolk’s Tampa office is housed in the first building in the city to achieve WELL Gold certification. Tampa is the first city in the world to have a WELL-certified city district. Here’s what you need to know about green building certifications.

Q: Are there many women at your company?

A: Actually, we’re quite a bit above the national average, with about 28% female employees. In 2021 we started an initiative called Rebuild the Ratio, which aims to grow that number to 38% — a 10% increase within 10 years.

To do that, we have an internal Women Who Build business resource group, which includes a mentoring and coaching program, networking events and opportunities for team bonding. I get together with my mentee at least once a week. She’ll share her frustrations, and we work through them and talk about what it takes to get our jobs done well. It’s been a mutually beneficial experience for sure.

Our company also created an activity and coloring book called Building Together, which shows illustrations of actual Suffolk women working on job sites. We hand those out at community engagements and local schools to try to spark that excitement for the industry.

And we partnered with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts — our national headquarters is in Boston — to create a Construction 101 curriculum for Scouts to learn about the industry and earn a badge. When I was younger, it never crossed my mind that this was a career option, so I think inspiring younger girls is pretty cool.

Q: What are your pro-specific tools?

A: I don’t tote around a traditional tool bag, so my tools are a little less tangible.

On a day-to-day basis I lean on software like Voyage Control, which helps manage daily deliveries. It’s definitely key for lessening some of the madness that can occur if you’re not logistically coordinated on a job site. I also use OpenSpace to map photos to floor plans. It helps us do quality control checks and document progress.

As far as more tangible tools go, Suffolk just made a switch to Kask safety helmets, in lieu of traditional construction hardhats. It’s an added layer of protection and they’re proven to be much more durable.

Samira Kraziem Bio

Born and raised in Miami, Samira Kraziem earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Florida International University before switching to a career in construction. In 2015 she joined Suffolk Construction, a national enterprise that builds, innovates and invests.

Kraziem started as a project administrator before promotions to project coordinator, project engineer and assistant project manager. She’s now a senior project manager, working out of the Tampa office.

Writer Karuna Eberl Bio

Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to Family Handyman. She spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. Eberl has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary, The Guerrero Project.

Karuna Eberl
A freelance writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening for Family Handyman. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Some of her other credits include the March cover of Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel and Atlas Obscura. Karuna and her husband are also on the final stretch of renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado. When they’re not working, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van.