Dandrea heads SC&RA with cool-handed leadership

05 July 2019

ACT Editor D.Ann Shiffler checks in with SC&RA CEO Joel Dandrea about industry challenges and what it takes to keep the Association viable.

As CEO of the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association (SC&RA), Joel Dandrea deals with some bodacious issues. When there’s an incident on a construction jobsite where cranes and heavy rigging equipment are being used, chances are high that his phone will be ringing in short order.


SC&RA CEO Joel Dandrea joined the SC&RA almost 19 years ago after working in policy/advocacy and other roles for the American Trucking Associations.

One week he could be on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers to ask for support for a particular SC&RA initiative, and the next week he could be in Europe representing SC&RA stakeholders on a global safety issue.

Because the industry faces constant regulatory and legislative challenges, his “to-do” list is long and often long term. But through all the travails, Dandrea leads with a cool hand. He is even keeled when things get contentious, and he knows when to push back. Dandrea is sharp, judicious and ever so quick-witted. He brings a combination of shrewdness and compassion, and he leads by example.

Dandrea actually started his career in professional sports marketing and public relations promoting the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards, a difficult job since he is “a hard-core Pittsburgh Penguins fan.” He went on to direct policy/advocacy for the American Trucking Associations, where he also worked on membership, product development, marketing and research and grant projects with the ATA Foundation. His work at ATA was an excellent entre to association management, he said.

In 2000, Dandrea was tapped to lead the SC&RA. He was impressed with the caliber, quality, culture, commitment and personality of the leadership.

“People first, but it was an easy decision to join SC&RA, recognizing the critical role and essentiality of our work in a global economy,” he said. “The organization was generally healthy and had many great programs and traditions and had a loyal membership.”

But then a year later, a dark cloud emerged over the country.

“We were challenged by the horrific terrorism acts of 9-11, international travel issues with the SARS virus and a few other matters that impacted membership and event attendance,” Dandrea said. “We stayed on course and kept pushing ahead, but that was truly a very difficult time for the entire nation. Many other associations were cancelling events or seeing major drops in attendance, but giving full credit to the board, we made the decision to keep moving and hold the events. Our numbers dropped slightly but not nearly as much as many other associations.”

He recalled walking through the Washington National and Lexington, KY Airports shortly after 9-11 on his way to the Crane and Rigging Workshop.

“It was somber and eerie and a gut check for any American with a thread of patriotism,” he said. “I loved and respected the Board’s posture and willingness to take risk and believe in the staff and the programs and value we were offering members.”

Since navigating the Association through those challenges and others, Dandrea has earned the utmost respect of his staff, the Board of Directors and the membership at large. One of the most important issues to finally come to fruition was the OSHA update of the Crane and Derricks Standard and last year’s issuance of the Final Rule on crane operator certification.

“The Association worked with industry for the past 20 years to update and revise the Cranes and Derricks Standard and ensure OSHA’s final rules are fair, effective and viable,” Dandrea said. “This was a huge undertaking and an industry victory that we were instrumental in accomplishing.”

On the transportation side, SC&RA has helped notch dozens of victories, fostering permit and vehicle configuration/size and weight changes through its UPT2021 initiative, which has led to much greater uniformity. Receiving exemptions from FMCSA on select provisions of the hours of service rules for mobile cranes and specialized transportation was also key.

“Although under challenge, receiving the FMCSA exemption on the California meal and rest break requirements is also very significant as it helps prevent a future of state-to-state, patchwork regulations that complicate and add burden and unwarranted compliance costs,” he said.

Coming off the 2019 Annual Meeting last spring, the SC&RA is thriving with a robust and active membership, strong financials and regulatory successes on many fronts. It’s a good time to check in with Dandrea and see what’s on his mind and to get his take on the challenges the Association is facing.

As ever, Dandrea’s answers to my questions are insightful, interesting and spot on.

Workforce development is being addressed through the Leadership Forum, Lift & Move USA and other initiatives. Is progress is being made?

Workforce development is the Number One issue in our 2019-2024 Strategic Plan. There are many industries facing shortages of skilled labor and professional talent. If we’re not out there educating the next generation of our workforce, another industry will, and we have then lost those potential workers.

While it’s still very hard at this point to definitively quantify the effectiveness of Lift & Move USA and some of the apprenticeship programs being offered, member feedback and feedback from the students and career counselors attending these events provides a solid gauge, and the readings for the most part are pretty strong.

The real key to Lift & Move and overall workforce development is for members to establish strong and continuing partnerships at the local level with high schools, vocational trade and technical schools and stay in front of the students and guidance counselors with good information on challenges, opportunities, earnings, benefits and the like. There are some progressive members that have been and continue to do this exact thing at the local level, and they’re finding successes. Because of the competition for skilled labor and professional talent, the reality is some of the members go about the workforce development challenges very quietly and tactfully and realize it’s the consistency of their efforts that pay off in the long run.

The SC&RA Leadership Forum is proving to be an exceptional program, and it’s helping members get new, young leaders introduced to the Association. It’s about building the network of future volunteer leaders, helping the leaders leverage the Association to assist them in their jobs and help their respective companies be more involved, more visible and more effective in serving our mission and the overall industry at large.

Lift and Move

Workforce development is the Number One issue in the SC&RA’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, Dandrea said. Through programs like the Leadership Forum and Lift & Move USA, SC&RA is helping educate the next generation about careers in the crane, rigging and specialized transportation sector. 

The SC&RA is rebuilding its insurance program. What necessitated this change and how do you envision it playing out?

We’ve had an exclusively endorsed property and casualty program with NBIS for more than 22 years. It’s been an amazing partnership with exceptional people and the program has created solid results. The whole insurance landscape is a tough area to navigate for most members and a great deal changes in this space on an ongoing basis.

Our Board, based on collective input from members, has determined that we no longer want to offer one, single, exclusively endorsed market or program. We’ve listened intently for the past few years and members want more options and more competition to be introduced through our program. We’re working through these challenges now and envision having a new platform of options to offer to members by January 2020.

We’re by no means final at this point, but we envision a new program with multiple partners from both the market/carrier side as well as retail producers. We have the benefit of having some members in this space that consistently show up, support the Association, contribute to our insurance and risk management educational sessions and simply participate and help drive positive change.

We’re also looking at some newer entrants that have solid market experience and the level of service and professionalism members are looking for. At the end of the day, it’s the Association’s job to introduce the options and let the buyers decide which brokers they want to work with, what level of product and service they want to buy, where they want to place their coverage, how much they are willing to pay and how they will evaluate results and make decisions going forward as it pertains to managing risk and buying insurance.

What are the priorities for the Crane, Rigging and Specialized transportation Sectors?

On the crane and rigging side, full and final implementation of the cranes and derricks rule has been on our active radar for the past 10 years, with final issues being tied to operator certification and employer compliance with the new qualified operator evaluation and documentation requirements. OSHA is also looking at revising the powered industrial truck standards for general industry and construction as well as their lockout-tagout standard.

On the transportation side, which also impacts crane operations, hours of service and parking continue to be at the forefront.

Additionally, we’re taking the clarification we received from FMCSA on the definition of non-divisible loads and advocating for change and uniformity throughout North America. The Association filed a petition in September 2018 for an exemption from the California meal and rest break requirements. Based on our petition, FMCSA granted an exemption. There are now three lawsuits in California challenging FMCSA’s decision. SC&RA is filing an Amicus Brief in California’s Ninth Circuit Court in support of FMCSA’s December 21, 2018 ruling, maintaining FMCSA has the statutory authority to preempt California’s rules. Our position comes down to one of Federal primacy and helping to promote regulatory uniformity throughout the country.

SC&RA has an incredible legacy. What do you hope to see for the future of the Association and its members?

SC&RA’s legacy is outstanding because of all the great volunteer leaders and staff that have built and served the industry. It’s amazing when we travel around the country and outside of the U.S. and hear the positive feedback on SC&RA and what the Association has meant to member companies over the years – business development, building professional networks and personal friendships always resonate in these discussions.

It’s also been gratifying to see other industry associations outside of the U.S. replicate our programs – whether we go to Canada, Europe, South America or other places around the world, in the past 10 years it’s become increasingly evident our programs have served as very effective models. We’re global partners with many of these associations, but it confirms SC&RA is in fact the world’s leading association in the heavy lift and heavy and specialized transportation industry.

In terms of the future, I’m not smart enough to make industry forecasts 10 and 20-plus years out, but from the sheer standpoint of Association management, constant improvement, embracing next gen leaders, never losing sight of our core mission and adapting to change are key considerations.

What is your management/leadership philosophy?

From a management standpoint, it’s all about the ‘tude. Hire great people with great attitudes and work ethics, empower them to make decisions and create results and don’t micro-manage along the way. Listen as much, if not more,than speak. Admit and own your mistakes. When time is short, don’t waste it, and don’t be afraid to make solo decisions that may be challenged or later changed.

One of my uncles, who was an incredibly successful businessman, told me years ago that if you want to make omelets, you have to crack an egg or two along the way. From a leadership standpoint, be honest, prove yourself trustworthy and transparent and acknowledge those who earn trust in return.

You’ve been with SC&RA for almost 19 years. What keeps you engaged?

First and foremost, it’s the people – the members we serve and the staff and industry partners who remain committed to quality service, positive change, value and results. Our members appreciate our efforts and aren’t shy in stating their thoughts about what we do right and what we need to do to change and improve.

We’re far from perfect and all go through real lifecycles, but apathy and mediocrity don’t live in our offices. Our industry faces constant regulatory and legislative challenges and change, so it’s never boring and easy to stay engaged. From an internal standpoint, creating and managing new programs that deliver value is also engaging. We’ve maintained a 90 to 92 percent member retention rate for the past 10 years. Every person on our staff takes great pride in our work and every person on our staff is key to achieving our results.

What do you do in your down time?

I’m not sure it’s all appropriate for print. (Laughter.)

I feel, work and sleep much better when I’m in a regular exercise routine and that’s built into my weekly schedule. I’m not very good, but I still enjoy an occasional round of golf. I love to ski. I’m all in for occasional travel.

I’m blessed to have four amazing brothers and two incredible sisters; we try to all spend time together at least a few times a year. Most importantly, I have two awesome children, who by choice and demand, are the center of my universe. They lost their mother in April at way, way, too young an age, and it’s my choice and love to keep them upright, focused, thinking in a healthy manner and moving forward, productively, as their mom would want and expect.

What’s the best book you read recently?

The Book of JOY – it might be the best book I’ve ever read. Life’s what we make of it, but often it is not fair. The book was written by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, two of the most amazing, powerful and inspirational men on the planet. The perspective they offer and the manner in which they deliver mind-fuel is outstanding, warm and at times even funny. Without proper perspective, we’re all lost.n

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D.Ann Shiffler Editor, American Cranes & Transport Tel: +1 512 869 8838 E-mail: d.ann.shiffler@khl.com
Matt Burk VP Sales Tel: +1 773 610 9467 E-mail: matt.burk@khl.com