Becoming a successful construction project manager
Must-have skills and traits
Project management is the foundation of any construction project–mismanagement can subject a project to countless delays and budget overages, and can even lead to it folding entirely.
Whether you’re a seasoned construction manager or a new one, having knowledge of design, architecture, engineering, permitting and regulations, and the technical know-how that comes along with these, are not enough. A project manager not only supervises all these processes but also works as a liaison between clients and the workforce. Undeniably a jack of all trades, a project manager must integrate these skills to navigate and manage the entire construction project life cycle and successfully deliver while staying on budget and within scope.
Here are 7 critical skills of a successful project manager:
A project manager is first and foremost a leader, taking charge from bidding to closure. They set the course the project needs to take and oversee all aspects of the building process for successful delivery. PMs work closely with engineers, architects, and other key members to determine project feasibility according to specifications, develop plans, generate timetables and schedules, determine costs, and manage the workforce effectively and efficiently.
Being a good project manager doesn’t only mean that you’re on top of the project and you get things done, but it also means that you can make your team understand the goals of the project. Your team already knows they have a job to do, and they need to deliver. Although leadership is a soft skill, it is hard to master. Being an effective leader requires you to foresee and resolve all situations affecting the team and the workplace. You should be able to guide and motivate your workforce, influencing and encouraging them toward a shared goal, in this case, a successful construction project.
By integrating management and leadership in project processes, both workforce productivity and construction project success rate improve.
A large part of being a construction manager is communicating with your workforce, vendors, clients, and other stakeholders from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Understanding their different perspectives–and being able to respond accordingly–is a vital skill that nails down the success of your project.
For example, it is the task of the project manager to inform the client about project changes–something that might involve technical information clients can’t immediately understand. Acting as a conduit between different stakeholders is a crucial role you play. This is why knowing how to communicate with different project collaborators is one of the critical skills a construction project manager should master.
Excellent communication also means establishing ways for you and your team to connect, whether onsite or remotely easily. Any adjustment in your project plan, like moving project deadlines, a minor change in design specifications, or introducing new members to the team, needs to be communicated to ensure that everyone moves accordingly.
Transparency in communication also plays a significant role in minimising construction mistakes. Having gaps in communication with your team, like your workforce not being informed of errors that have already happened, can snowball into more significant problems. You must keep a clear line of communication so that you can easily and immediately address concerns, resulting in fewer construction mistakes.
3. Planning and Benchmarking
Planning is one of the main duties of a project manager, and project success relies heavily on a well-executed, detailed, and flexible project plan. Developing a comprehensive project plan ensures that the project is well within budget, compliant with all building codes and other regulatory requirements, and, especially, moving according to the timeline. With this, having benchmarks as part of the project plan is a prerequisite to assess and evaluate your project’s status and progress. Are you still on budget versus the timeline and progress you’ve made? Are there any changes in the project that may affect your projections?
Challenges are inevitable in any construction project, from small errors to natural disasters. While mistakes can occur at any time and be addressed at once, some problems can throw-off your timetable or even get costly–and fast. Project managers should always be ready with a plan of action. As the PM is required to be on top of everything all at once. Having a comprehensive project plan means having the flexibility to strategically adjust to any possible required changes or obstacles your project might face. May it be changing floor tiles, new zoning requirements, or a global pandemic.
4. Cost and Resource Management
No construction project will function without a proper budget. A successful project manager knows how to control their budget and allocate resources to the penny. Managing the financial plan, and knowing how to adjust when the need arises, shows not only your knowledge of the budget but also your adaptability to and preparedness for varying situations. This also shows how comprehensive and effective your project plan is.
Project managers must also coordinate with accounting to make sure that all legal safeguards by way of preliminary notices and waivers are filed accurately. This is to protect the company’s revenue in case payment issues arise in the future or over the course of the project.
There are many software solutions project managers can use to track budgets and cash flow, and they are worth using and investing in. Making use of these helps you as a project manager in monitoring your budget and forecasting any financial adjustments that your project might need.
5. Team Management
What’s the lifeblood of a project? It’s the team working on it. And as a project manager, whether working on a small renovation project or building a skyscraper, you are managing anywhere between one to multiple teams of people. You must identify their strengths and weaknesses so you can delegate tasks and responsibilities properly. This also means you must be ready to coach and guide your workforce towards the success of the project.
As construction best practices show, it has become apparent that effective team management means skipping micromanagement. Having identified your team’s capabilities, you should be able to trust your team’s ability to meet project expectations. Working with specialists, your task is to ensure that every member of your team can trust you as the team leader and, of course, trust one another, to be able to do their jobs and ensure collaboration. That said, it is also important to note that as a project manager, you ultimately have the responsibility to fire the people you hired if need be.
Next to communicating well, successful project managers should be excellent negotiators. Whether it’s persuading a supplier to lower costs or resolving disputes onsite, the project manager should be able to negotiate through these and always strive to create a win-win situation for the success of the project.
Equipped with excellent negotiation skills, project managers can resolve conflicts and issues within their teams and projects with minimal risk to project objectives. Successful negotiation doesn’t always mean win-win, but should always have the objective of consistently achieving better outcomes for all parties involved. It is a crucial skill for project managers to build better relationships with their workforce, clients, and stakeholders.
7. Forward Thinking
Although construction is one of the least digitised industries, it’s quickly picking up pace. There is a constant influx of new technology, and project managers are in a unique position to spearhead innovation on the ground. Project managers should always be up to date on new processes, methods, and technologies that will benefit their project planning and management goals.
Over the last few decades, there have been developments in construction strategy such as Lean Construction Methodology, which minimises waste and maximises value for the client or customer, and Integrated Project Delivery, which gives project managers the ability to streamline projects even more by collaboration, allowing all stakeholders to share project risks and incentives. Having an understanding of these is essential as clients and projects are heading toward synergetic and sustainable practices.
Apart from learning new methodologies and processes, successful project managers also actively seek and learn new technologies. By knowing when to use digital solutions, drones and wearables, and even Augmented Reality and 360 technologies, project managers can improve efficiency, productivity, communication, and quality of work.
Competent project managers are masters of integration and have command of several skills that allow them to drive successful projects. To be a successful project manager today requires possessing a powerful mix of hard skills like project planning, budgeting, and scheduling, and soft skills like leadership, negotiation, and communication. It is impossible to naturally possess all these skills. So a project manager’s success also strongly relies on their capability to adapt to the needs of their projects. Project managers need to be bold enough to use new methodologies and technologies, and to consistently learn new skills along the way.
Questions or comments regarding this blog? Contact Timewax.
Patrick Hogan is the CEO of Handle.com, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.