How to Be a Better Construction Project Manager

Project Manager Discussion

Construction project management can be extremely demanding since there are just too many variables at play at any given time. A project manager can successfully deliver a project only if they can effectively coordinate their team members and facilitate their successes.

To be a better construction project manager, you must know to plan, communicate, delegate, and negotiate. You should understand project requirements and costs to make informed and prompt decisions. Most importantly, you must display the shrewdness and attitude needed to achieve project success.

According to the CMAA (Construction Management Association of America), a construction manager could be in charge of more than 100 different tasks at a time. Keep reading to learn how you could be on top of them all and also excel.

Make Planning a Habit

Planning a construction project means preparing and adhering to a program or schedule. The planning should be both long-term and at the everyday level. You must know how to plan for the day, the next day, and the day after. The things you do today might affect your prospects tomorrow. You must, therefore, have a plan in place for those contingencies too.

Planning for an Upcoming Project

If there’s a project on the horizon, start making plans before the official start date of the project. The earlier the preparation, the better would be the results. A construction project requires extensive planning for its various stages, including design, procurement, and pre-construction. Moreover, the different stages may require revisiting or revisions as the subsequent phases of the project unfold.

All of this planning entails making sure:

  • The project has the requisite materials, people, and equipment to get started with.
  • A construction schedule is in place and there’s clarity on how the various tasks should be completed and by when.
  • The team has been organized, with the roles clearly explained to each team member.

Project managers who don’t plan well before the commencement of a project or plan during the project often find themselves in crisis scenarios or unable to meet deadlines.

Planning for Unforeseen Circumstances

Multiple things could go wrong at a construction site. The shipped materials may have issues, or structural support could have failed, causing unavoidable delays. If you’re prepared or anticipating such scenarios, you are likely to have a plan B ready to roll.

Certain risks, however, could be extremely difficult to predict and mitigate. A sandstorm, thunderstorm, or hailstorm, for instance, are some of the natural calamities you may have to put up with at a construction site. Also, unexpected environmental issues at the pre-construction stage could cause changes in the basic design of the project.

Collecting historical data or learning the geography of the site better would help plan for these natural occurrences better. Also, put technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), to good use. For instance, machine learning may not prevent the calamities from happening, but it would certainly help make the job site safer.

To gain complete knowledge of how AI and machine learning have impacted the construction industry, watch this Autodesk video:

Constantly Communicate With Your Team

Unlike accounting or coding, the construction business is about people and how they interact with each other. Therefore, as a construction manager, you cannot just sit in your cubicle perusing blueprints or proofreading contract documents. You must, in fact, be communicating with your team throughout the day.

A construction site has people from diverse economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds. The instructions you provide and the lexicon you adopt, therefore, should be typical of the language your team uses. If you cannot effectively communicate and connect with varied people in your team, costly errors may happen, and disagreements would become part of the course.Effective communication is not just providing instructions and specifying requirements; it’s also offering constructive criticism. If a staff’s work is not up to the mark, you must be able to effectively pass that message to the concerned person. Similarly, if an employee does well, it’s imperative you appreciate the good work.

The communication could be textual or in-person. Project requirements, critical feedback, etc. should be emailed or transmitted digitally so that you have proof of the correspondence. Minor project correction messages or urgent correspondence should be in person. If you need a record of the communication, you may email the same to the concerned employee later.

If you have to reply to or send hundreds of emails daily, consider using automated reporting system tools. These automated delivery tools can also come in handy for delivering status reports and various spreadsheets.

Delegate Work to the Right People

Without proper delegation, no construction project can be completed to satisfaction and/or in time. Delegation is not simply telling people what to do. There are various stages to it. It starts with identifying the right people for the task.That’s not all. After identifying the correct person for a given task and effectively communicating task requirements to them, periodically following up with the worker until the assigned job is completed is important.

Many construction project managers fail badly at delegation. They assign work to people without considering certain skill sets or process knowledge. For instance, poor delegation is telling an intern to negotiate with an important customer or ask a senior employee to take care of menial tasks.

If the project is massive and/or long-term and there are more than a handful of people working on the project, it could become difficult to delegate and communicate with them all. In such scenarios, delegating leadership is highly recommended.

A good construction project manager is someone who acknowledges the enormity of a project and accepts the fact that they cannot manage it all by themselves.

These are managers who feel insecure delegating supervisory roles to members of their team. They are invariably the most stressed of them all at work.

Be Physically Present at the Site

A construction project cannot be successfully managed from within an office. In fact, a construction manager needs to be more hands-on than project managers in any other industry. Spending maximum time at the project site makes it easier to realistically assess the project team’s productivity levels, the safety measures in place, and the quality of work being done.

When you’re at the site, you are better positioned to understand project issues and employee concerns. You will also be much more equipped to foresee potential issues before they snowball into a major crisis. No number of reports, virtual monitoring, email communication, etc. could substitute being physically present at the job location.

Negotiate Hard

As a construction manager, you should know how to negotiate and convince. You need negotiation skills to tackle your team members, superiors, clients, vendors, etc. every day at work.

Knowing how to persuade people is, in fact, imperative to get work done as a manager. If you are delegating a task to a team member, you should not just communicate the job specifics but also ensure the employee knows why they are ideal for the job.

If the concerned employee is not convinced, they may not commit to the job as you may want them to and that could cause work delays or result in tasks not completed to satisfaction. At the work site, you may have to use your persuasion skills to:

  • Negotiate with a client for a fresh project
  • Discuss a variation claim
  • Bargain for best prices from subcontractors or suppliers

Know Your Costs

In construction, the wages, permits, equipment, and materials required for projects are typically exchanged between multiple vendors and financial sources. From the original bidding activity to the project closeout phase, a construction manager is responsible for monitoring and tracking all expenditures, particularly the costs pertaining to initial budgets.

Even smaller construction projects consist of several hundred moving elements and individual costs. You need not know the cost of each item or component by the exact figure, but you must have more than just a fair idea. If you know your costs, you would be in a much better position to:

  • Negotiate project costs with clients.
  • Seek necessary funding from the finance team.
  • Zero in on the right materials and tools needed for a particular project.

Project costing knowledge is something you passively acquire on the job over a period. That said, you must still actively put in efforts to learn the various project costs quickly.

To facilitate learning, use cost management software and tools as you progress through the various phases of construction project budgeting. Moreover, the software platforms would provide you extremely handy construction project management templates.

The software platform could be used to key in costs, budget changes, etc. to stay updated with your project’s finances. This cuts out the need for manual budget calculations or coordinating with different people. Also, tools such as DocuSign could be used to manage contracts electronically or spend less time collecting signatures for multiple invoices.

Stay Updated and Be Decisive

Regardless of the number of projects you’re handling simultaneously, it’s imperative you keep tabs on everything or have real-time information about them all. Whether it’s laying the foundation for a project or mapping the plumbing and electrical lines, you should be at the helm of all things that fall under your scope.

You need not be hands-on with the various projects, but you should also not step back so far that you have little to no knowledge about a project’s current status or the pace at which it is progressing. To follow up on key tasks and know when and how to close out projects, staying in the loop is critical. Most importantly, timely decisions can be made only if you have relevant information to boot.

As a construction manager, you will have to make important decisions on an everyday basis. Any bad decision on your part could cost your company millions of dollars and may even cost lives or gravely injure someone. And if you think you could be extra-cautious and take your own time, there will be some major opportunity costs to tackle.

It’s imperative to strike the right balance between making decisions in haste and not calling the shots at all. The information you have on hand and your awareness with relation to available tools and options would help you make the right moves promptly.

Do Not Compromise on Quality

Accidents are more likely at a construction site than in the company’s office. Mishaps cannot be completely ruled out even when all precautions are in place. A minor error in judgment is, at times, all that’s needed for a disaster to take place.

A major accident could be financially devastating and hurt your company’s image too. And when there is a loss of lives, things become even more complex legally and otherwise.

Workers and the public are injured frequently during construction. For a finished building to collapse and be reduced to dust, any of the following could be the cause:

  • Faulty equipment
  • Improper installation
  • Poor safety practices

Great construction project managers never put money or quality before their team’s safety. Therefore, never compromise on what your project really needs to progress or be finished to quality.

Take Ownership

Managing a construction site is no less than running a business. Every project you take on brings with it its own set of challenges. If you don’t treat your projects like your own or are more worried about your monthly checks, you’ll not make a good construction project manager.With an entrepreneurial mindset, you will be able to engage with different teams and clients better and successfully create a dynamic and cohesive work environment.

As the individual in charge, you should also constantly guide and take responsibility for the things gone wrong. When the outcome of a task is not as per your expectations, do not go around putting the blame on your team. If you do so, your team members will lose faith in you and may not follow your lead going forward.

Things Not to Do as a Construction Project Manager

Great construction project managers are never guilty of the following:

Micromanaging

Micromanagement is a big no at a construction management site. The scale of construction projects and the different teams at work render micromanaging a colossal waste of time and effort, in fact. As the project manager, you should have trust in your team members and leave certain things for them to handle independently.

You should believe your team is capable and skilled enough to finish the project before the deadline. Do not go around seeking updates every few hours. When you trust your subordinates with the job, they are likely to have complete faith in you with regard to task distribution and assignment.

Multitasking

Whether you are working on multiple projects or a single project, try not to get busy with all things requiring your attention at once. Even if you are a skilled multitasker, you are likely to make errors in judgment or mistakes that could lead to bigger issues.

Prioritize your work. Do not waste time on tasks that need not be immediately addressed. The more common issues impacting a construction project are lost productivity, financials, employee concerns, etc. Reading and/or responding to emails are usually not high priorities.

You should, therefore, not be mixing it up with the more important tasks. If needed, work with your team to create a proper action plan. However, if tackling the smaller problems first and focusing on the bigger issues later works for you, go ahead.

Faking/Dishonesty

Good construction project managers are honest. They provide honest opinions or feedback on a project or team performance, even if it is not what the management or the team wants to hear. Therefore, do not go out of your way to appease people or be in everybody’s good books. A great project manager is both honest and courageous enough to call a spade a spade.

Delivering unhappy or unfavorable news to a superior or customer is no fun and could also draw wrath. But the ability to do so also exhibits strength of character. Project delay reports, issues affecting logistics, the non-feasibility of a certain building plan, etc. are things a project manager should be honest and forthcoming about.

By being honest and willing to have difficult conversations, a project manager saves everybody’s time, including theirs, and adds value to the project by addressing issues quickly, not letting issues fester, and causing further delays or exacerbating minor concerns.

Preferred Construction Project Manager Skills/Personality Traits

Good construction managers exhibit certain skills and traits – both at the site and in office. They are:

Sound Computer and Accounting Literacy

A project manager not just spends time at the site, but also a significant amount of time in the office. Some of the project management work you would have to do within office settings include:

  • Set up project timelines
  • Schedule and manage subcontractors
  • Track the permitting process
  • Manage a complex budget
  • Keep up with change orders

All of these tasks require computer knowledge. Though most construction companies have custom software to manage these different tasks, spreadsheet software skill is invaluable. Accounting knowledge and math skills, on the other hand, are important to work on billing and budgets.

Excellent Communication Skills

Wanting to communicate with clients and your team is different than actually being able to communicate effectively. It cannot be stressed enough how vital solid communication skills are to become a project manager and do well in the role.

You would be dealing with company management, owners, architects, project engineers, vendors, inspectors, subcontractors, etc. on different issues as the manager.

Your job would, at times, entail juggling requests under stressful scenarios. Therefore, the ability to stay unnerved (at least externally) would speak volumes of your leadership skills. Solid communication skills will help you sail through tough situations with relative ease. And good communication is not just oral communication.

There will be lots of paperwork at a construction site, from RFIs (requests for information) to email correspondence. A construction project manager, on average, spends more than 3 hours checking and replying to emails. This means handling more than 70 emails a day. If you are not good at writing, you’ll not be able to handle them all to satisfaction. Therefore, get better at writing.

Affable Demeanor

Enthusiastic project managers or leaders with the right attitude usually do not get the praise and applause they deserve. A construction site is a hotspot of stress. The pressure attached to completing work within the deadline and doing it to specifications can take a heavy toll on morale and the mental health of the people involved.An upbeat, motivated, and enthusiastic project manager could be the perfect antidote in such situations.

A construction project manager’s cheerful personality would not just help lift up the spirits of the workers but will also enhance their confidence. This, in turn, would result in increased productivity. Not to mention, the team would feel motivated to work harder, meet deadlines, and not disappoint their manager.

Continual Learner and Open to Feedback

The construction industry, like most other sectors, is continually evolving and modernizing. Construction management has never been as technical as it is now, thanks to the influx of different software platforms that help simplify various processes.

Just procuring different software and other tools, however, is not enough. You should also learn how to use and incorporate them into your workflow.

Also, you must be open to feedback –be it on your implementation of the different tools or handling of teams. You need to be open to suggestions and feedback from both the top management and your subordinates.

Being the team manager doesn’t mean people working under you are inferior or don’t know better than you. They sometimes might provide invaluable inputs, and it will only be in your interest to listen and take it from there.

If you are not learning new methods and practices and taking feedback or critique with the right mindset, you will most likely not grow as a manager.

Inspiring and Motivating

Construction projects could last for months and even years. During the period, there could be multiple challenges and delays affecting subcontractors and other team members. Irrespective of the situation, a project manager should come in with passion every day and maintain a strong work ethic.

Showing up to work early, leaving late, and exuding enthusiasm during working hours will surely rub off on the people around the right way. When things are not right, good project managers should take note of the drop in spirits and put in conscious efforts to set the tone of the place right.

Construction Management Education or Experience: What Counts the Most?

To be a construction project manager, a college degree may not be enough or even required. Some people have worked their way up from the bottom and become project managers without a certificate or bachelor’s degree in construction management. That said, years of experience doesn’t always guarantee a project manager job.

To be considered for the project manager role, the experience accumulated over the years should be varied and holistic. You should have hands-on knowledge in multiple aspects of a construction business, which includes cost control, estimation, safety and risk management, and contract administration. If you spent decades working only as a carpenter, you are unlikely to lead a project.

Formal education in construction is not needed, but a construction management degree would never hurt. The education would introduce you to the various complexities of the business.

With interests in green building increasing, for instance, securing a LEED AP certificate from the USGBC is certainly an advantage. If a contractor is hiring a project manager for a green building project, they will look for someone with the certification.

Construction industry education could also be acquired through internships with architects and general contractors. If you worked as a general laborer during your school summer break, the valuable job site exposure you received could add value to your resume.Needless to say, the broader your experience in and knowledge of the industry, the likelier are your chances of succeeding as a construction project manager.

Conclusion

If you want to become a construction manager or get better at it, you have multiple things to consider and work on. At no point will you feel clueless about how to get better. You just need to know your strengths and weaknesses as a budding manager and be willing to put in the time and effort needed to work on your pitfalls and build on your skills.

Great construction project managers are people who are aware of themselves and the things around them. Most importantly, they know how to communicate with all kinds of people at different levels to get work done. They are also capable of disagreeing or speaking their minds.

Most importantly, do not just focus on yourself. Focus on building a team that bonds, interacts, and collaborates. Ultimately, construction is not just building a structure. It’s also about developing and maintaining robust relationships with people.

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