People want to learn how to lead well. Just look at the perpetually burgeoning publishing field of leadership manuals. From time-worn classics such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to newer additions such as Good to Great by Jim Collins and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell, there’s no shortage of practical and inspirational tomes about how to become a great leader. However, these books often run into a common issue: Because they’re written for a general audience, implementing their recommendations can prove challenging when applying them to a specific field.
In this article, we will discuss how eight general and specific skills and traits inform construction project manager responsibilities. If you’re currently a construction project manager who wants to grow or if you want to develop construction project manager competencies, read on! Our list of necessary skills and qualities begins with:
Flexibility and Problem-Solving Skills
Mike Tyson, one of the bad boys of boxing, famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Indeed, the literally bruising sport can leave fighters reeling, and sometimes managing a construction project can feel just as battering. A supplier fails to follow through. Subcontractor problems develop. The project’s scope suddenly changes without warning. Any of these shifts can endanger a project, yet they’re completely common complications that fall well within a project manager job description. In order to finish on time and on budget, a manager will have to effectively deal with them in a prompt manner.
Closely related to flexibility is the virtue of patience. Stuff happens in construction projects just as it does in life — only more so. This isn’t a career for individuals who don’t want to handle inconveniences, irritations, and unexpected occurrences. Planning and establishing a building requires the management of an untold number of variables, and problems are a part and parcel of it. If you find your temper growing short whenever things go wrong or your attention wandering to some less trying task, you won’t execute your duties well. Additionally, subordinates will take note of your attitude and likewise fail to perform at their peak. No matter what occurs, the outlook of an effective construction manager should match that of one ancient Roman emperor: “Calm acceptance of what comes from a cause outside yourself and justice in all activity of your own causation.”
Speaking of keeping things on time and on budget, that’s where leadership comes into play. It might seem strange to use the very term we want to define as part of its description, but we all understand that leadership involves proactively taking control of multiple aspects of a situation — and that’s incredibly important from the earliest stages of a construction project.
When describing how projects invariably unfold, experts reference three things: scope, time, and cost. As a general rule, you can’t decrease one of these without increasing the other two. It’s vital that construction project manager skills include the ability to understand a client’s priorities (i.e., whether scope, cost, or time is most important). Then the manager must successfully steer the project so that this priority gets realized.
An essential part of directing any construction project includes managing teams. Think of a construction project manager as the keystone for the entire endeavor, the individuals that binds its disparate parts into a unified whole. Every action and piece of information intersects with a manager’s orbit. That’s why important team-management competencies such as effective communication, openness to feedback, and negotiation matter.
However, there’s one element of team management that is too often neglected. Knowing how to not micromanage is an essential skill. Because so many parts of the project rely on the project manager, it’s tempting for the manager to want to have a hand in absolutely anything. A wise manager, though, knows that’s impossible and takes a step back, placing the right people in the correct positions and trusting in their judgment.
Just because the construction industry produces edifices that last for decades or centuries doesn’t mean their practices remain carved in stone. Emphasizes change, standard operating procedures shift, progress happens — and construction project managers have to keep up with all of it.
In an ideal world, managers would already possess all of the expertise they need for any job. However, reality doesn’t work that way. Change occurs constantly, and effective managers must constantly acquaint themselves with developments in the field. Practically speaking, this involves managers possession an innate love of learning. They shouldn’t reflexively turn up their noses at innovations such as drones or augmented reality. Similarly, they shouldn’t automatically dismiss newer methods such as integrated product delivery or lean construction.
Managers locked into a simplistic-thinking mindset believe that their choices break down into “good” and “bad” options, alternatives that are hard-locked into positive or negative categories. But experienced managers know that’s incorrect. Every choice — even those that seem the most positive on their face — involve trade-offs, opportunity costs, and unforeseen risks.
This insight is hardly new. An ancient writer once said, “The fastest runner does not always win the race, the strongest soldier does not always win the battle, the wisest does not always have food, the smartest does not always become wealthy, and the talented one does not always receive praise. Time and chance happen to everyone.” What separates successful construction management professionals from the unsuccessful is their ability to prepare for and manage those unexpected occurrences even when they can’t directly foresee them.
A construction manager has a limited impact on the financial management of any project. After all, clients ultimately determine the budget, detail the project’s scope, and provide a generalized timeline. It’s up to project managers to work within those parameters as best as they can.
That being said, understanding how to take the sum the client offers and properly allocate all of the line items it must contain is an essential part of making the project run smoothly — or even run at all. So is forecasting and figuring out how to manage when one supplier comes back with a higher than expected quote and knowing the best way to manage changes without going over budget. Financial management is the proverbial oil that makes the project’s wheel turn without squeaking.
An Action-Oriented Mindset
Some construction project managers can work with numbers. They comprehend their clients’ goals and know the areas in which they’re willing to bend. They understand how to adapt their approach to changing circumstances. They’ve remained up to date on the industry’s best practices and study new approaches when they break onto the scene. Such project managers would invariably prove successful, right? Not so fast. There’s something else they absolutely need: action and initiative.
To put it mildly, construction project management isn’t a career for the faint of heart. Irritations, discouragements, hassles, complications, and setbacks crop up almost every day. It’s far too easy to ignore the difficult parts of the job and focus on the minutia that’s easier to manage. It’s also deadly to your project’s success. A successful construction project manager must focus on the client’s ultimate goal and take concrete, forward-moving action every day to achieve it, no matter how challenging or unpleasant.
If you need a construction project manager who exhibits all eight of these skills and characteristics, look no further than GNP Realty. Our management team has extensive experience helming projects in Chicago proper and throughout the greater Chicagoland area, as well as the passion to ensure you get the end project you want each and every time. Contact us today!