Sarah Oaks—A True Team Leader
True leaders do not reach the pinnacle of success by stepping on the backs of others, but rather by recognizing the contributions of those that surround and support them. Projects, particularly in design and construction, are completed through the skills and talents of teams. Sarah Oaks, operations manager for DAY CPM, not only recognizes this herself but works tirelessly to make sure others see that success comes from the efforts of many.
While she may seem the perfect fit for her role as operations manager, Sarah did not arrive here directly. “I graduated at the peak of the recession with a degree in architecture, jobs were hard to find,” she said. Driven by her positive experience doing community service while in college, she started to look at AmeriCorps and discovered an opportunity through that organization with Portland Public Schools. She initially worked on sustainability research and bond planning efforts but was soon able to get a taste of project management work when Marysville K-8 suffered a fire and required a partial rebuild. While her architecture education was more focused on design, and the outward appearance of buildings, she found project management offered more opportunities to creatively influence the what and why behind them and advocate for the end-user. Being able to work on projects that were cornerstones of the community and impacted so many families also resonated deeply with Sarah and ignited a passion for stakeholder engagement and communications.
With that experience under her belt, Sarah joined DAY CPM as a project manager. For one of her first projects, Sarah was a leading member of the team that worked on the Tigard-Tualatin school bond that passed in 2016. In that role she worked with District leadership, coordinated project teams, developed standards for consistent project execution, and led the creation of the stakeholder engagement plan. She credits her success in this role in large part to strong alignment with the client’s needs up front and establishing trust with them through proactive communication, strong representation of their interests, and consistent delivery. Sarah was also challenged by her first leadership role managing a large project management team. “It was a steep learning curve navigating how to respond to the needs of each person and balance my own responsibilities at the same time. I appreciate the patience and grace my team extended to me–that experience was formative and taught me a lot,” she said.
Last spring, Sarah met with Henry Alaman, senior vice president, who joined the company around the same time she returned from maternity leave. “He made an effort to talk to everyone about key priorities they wanted to see him focus on and narrowed in on three that were most critical for staff. In that first conversation, we found a lot of common themes and potential focus areas but one near and dear to my heart was that we lacked a formal mentorship program,” she said.
As the company was rapidly growing it had become more challenging to see who was doing what, what was being accomplished, and who needed help. Over the past year, a concerted effort was made to build a mentorship program by identifying mentors, determining the structure, and convincing staff of the benefits to them personally and to the company. The mentorship program officially launched in November 2020. “It’s been incredible to give more visibility to what people are doing on their projects and find out what else they want to learn. We’re able to provide recognition for folks who were flying under the radar,” she said.
With her great strides both internally and externally for DAY CPM, Sarah was promoted to operations manager. She was honored by the promotion and recognizes that she is in a somewhat unique position. “Right now, there are not a lot of other women at my level in the construction industry. It’s very important that it’s not just me occupying this space and taking it for granted. I want to make sure I don’t stay up here alone.” With that in mind, Sarah has committed to helping implement the company’s equity and inclusion plan, and works hard to give visibility and opportunity to all employees, and ensuring title, salaries, and opportunities are distributed in a fair and equitable manner. She’s pleased with the willingness of DAY CPM to self-examine where they succeed and where there’s room for growth in creating a workplace that is truly inclusive.
Sarah’s work has not gone unnoticed. This past fall she was recognized by the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) as a 2020 Phenom under their Phenoms & Icons Award. While honored to receive the award, she’s quick to point out that she did not rise to where she is without a lot of support.