In this article I discuss important habits that successful construction managers should master.
10 habits of successful construction managers
Good construction project managers:
- Plan – project managers and construction managers must be able to plan. By this I don’t mean they should only know how to prepare and follow a construction schedule or programme. Rather, the construction manager must also be able to plan what must happen today on their project, what must happen tomorrow and how what they do today will impact what happens tomorrow. They should know what needs to happen next week and next month and how what they do today will impact whether they achieve what must be achieved next week and next month. This planning entails ensuring that the project has the required people, materials and equipment on time. Planning is about ensuring that the work is coordinated and organised and not completed in a haphazard approach. Following a construction schedule is a good start, but it’s how we get the tasks completed on time that’s most important. Far too many construction managers lurch from crisis to crisis because they haven’t planned the work properly. These problems include forgetting to order materials, not having sufficient resources or having resources standing because there’s no access.
- Communicate – construction is a people’s business. Construction managers have to communicate from morning to night. Written communication is as important as verbal communication. The communication must be clear and understood by the person receiving it. In construction we encounter people from diverse educational, economic and cultural backgrounds and communication must be adapted to the situation as well as to the person. Communication should be polite and refrain from being personal. Poor communication can lead to mistakes, disagreements and detract from the message. Communication includes providing constructive criticism and telling someone when their work doesn’t meet the required standards. It’s also complimenting someone for good work and saying thank you.
- Delegate – construction isn’t achieved by one person. It’s impossible for a construction manager to build a project on their own. The art of delegation is essential. Delegation isn’t just about telling someone what to do, but rather it’s about ensuring the person has the knowledge (or can obtain the knowledge) and is capable of carrying out the task, then, ensuring they understand what’s required, and finally following up to ensure the task has been completed. All too often managers delegate tasks to people who don’t have the necessary authority or don’t have the knowledge to carry out the task. Poor delegation is asking a junior to negotiate an important item with the customer, or telling a senior manager to carry out menial tasks which could be done by others. Asking someone to make you tea every day isn’t delegation, especially if it’s not that person’s responsibility to make tea. Also, when tasks are assigned to someone and then there’s no follow-up to ensure the tasks are completed, isn’t good delegation. Of course micro managing someone to ensure the task given to them is executed precisely as you want it completed is also poor delegation.
- Negotiate – construction managers must be able to negotiate and persuade people. This may include the customer, suppliers, subcontractors and their own team. Every day is about convincing people that your proposal is correct and that your proposed path of action is best. It could be negotiating with a customer for a new project, negotiating a variation claim or negotiating the best price from a supplier or subcontractor.
- Manage their time – construction managers are being bombarded by multiple problems and people all the time. If they aren’t careful they can be swamped and important issues may be forgotten or left until it’s too late. Managing time is about being organised, ensuring that everything is filed correctly where it’s easily accessible. It’s also about ensuring that important issues are prioritised and tasks aren’t forgotten.
- Get to the work site – projects can’t be only managed from the office. Going through the project site enables the construction manager to assess the quality, safety and productivity on the project. They can better understand problems, even foreseeing potential problems before they develop into full-blown problems. They can interact with their team and understand the mood of employees. No report can take the place of physically being on the project at the ‘coal-face’ where the work is happening.
- Understand the contract document – unfortunately some construction managers don’t read their contract document until the project is in trouble – by then it’s too late. It’s important to understand the contract document to ensure that both the contractor and the customer meet their obligations under the contract and that the project conforms to the scope of works and specifications. Understanding the contract documents can minimise conflicts and arguments and ensure the contractor claims what they are due.
- Understand costs – construction managers should understand what materials, equipment, people and processes cost. This doesn’t mean that they have to always know exactly what everything costs, but they should at least understand the various cost components of an activity. Working for a time in the estimating department provides valuable experience and insights into the cost makeup of the various tasks on a project. Understanding value and costs provides an essential component for deciding methods and materials and for improving productivity.
- Make timely and informed decisions – construction managers have to make decisions on a daily basis. The wrong decision could possibly cost the company millions or even put someone’s life in jeopardy. Yet to not make a decision can sometimes be more harmful than making the wrong decision. Construction managers have to carefully weigh their decisions to ensure they are the best decisions made with the available information and considering alternative options.
- Understand they are responsible for people’s lives – accidents can happen suddenly and can be devastating for the people involved and seriously damage the company’s reputation. Good construction managers do not put progress or dollars before people’s safety. Unfortunately we still see people’s lives disrupted when buildings collapse due to faulty workmanship. Workers and members of the public are frequently injured during construction. Taking a short cut, not checking that bracing is correctly installed, using faulty equipment or allowing poor safety habits all lead to accidents. Good construction managers take safety seriously and ensure their team also does so. They understand the consequences of their actions (or lack of action) and they lead safety by example.
There are many who think that a degree or college course can make them a construction manager. There are others who may have years of construction experience yet are still ill equipped to be a good construction manager. Yet much of what’s in the above list isn’t included in university and college curriculum. Good construction project managers mentor people that work with them so they can be the next successful construction managers.
Construction project managers need to get the basics right. They should understand the principles of construction but as important is to understand the principles of management and master the softer skills of people management.
What do you think makes a good construction project manager?
To read more about the author’s books and find out where you can purchase them visit the pages on this website by clicking the links below:
'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide'
'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide'
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