This article was written by Gisela LaPoint, Senior Project Manager at independent tenant advisory and project management firm, Kernel Property. She has close to 20 years project experience on both the client and contractor side.

As a construction project manager your ultimate responsibility is to ensure that your project is delivered on time and budget, with a high-quality finish. However, this can only be done with a good team working with you. Here are some tips to ensure the best outcomes for your projects – and your career.

Communication is key

In my experience, I have found that communication is the key to effective project management. Throughout your project management career, you will work with waves of different people that have a range of personality types, work styles, skills, and experience levels. These people will be part of different teams that have different responsibilities on the project, which could be architects, engineers, clients, subcontractors and even your own project management team.

As the Project Manager you are responsible for:

  • Understanding what is required from each team member.
  • Ensuring they are clear on what is expected.
  • Making sure team members have sufficient information to complete their jobs in the time they need.
  • Developing an understanding of how best to communicate this information with them.

This will eliminate any unnecessary delays to project programme or accidental omissions and will assist in the production of a high quality outcome because the right information was provided at the right time.

Some methods of communication are more formal, chairing weekly meetings and issuing meeting minutes, preparing progress reports, issuing budget updates and contractual letters, etc. This will also serve as record keeping and will prove extremely useful when looking for information later in project.

Other methods are more informal, ‘checking-in’ phone calls, emails, dropping in on site to inspect works. An appropriate mix of all forms should be utilised on your project, on a regular basis, to maintain information flow and to understand how the team is going. This will allow you to maintain a constant rapport with your team and will result in reduced downtime or need for unnecessary variations for your client because you will be made aware of any issues as they arise.

And issues will arise! It’s guaranteed. A quick phone call can result in an efficient solution to an obstacle and circumvent an otherwise stressful situation. I find that personal communication is very often more effective than emails or spreadsheets when trying to resolve project hiccups.

You can often solve a problem in three minutes over the phone or on site, which potentially would have taken several emails, and resulted in unnecessary stress or misunderstanding. (In saying that; always follow up with an email to record the agreed solution!)

Leadership and team engagement

As a project manager you should have the qualities of a leader. You need to ensure your team is producing and delivering quality work in a timely manner. Sometimes projects face a number of challenges, for instance, budgeting concerns affecting design outcomes, constricted timeframes and latent site conditions to name a few. Any of these factors can cause a team to lose momentum.

The clarity of your communication plays a huge role in keeping the team engaged and focused. As the leader, your team will be constantly looking to you for guidance and direction. It is your job to set the pace, and tone of the project. How you resolve the project challenges will illustrate to your team what you expect from them in finding effective solutions.

Taking the time to really understand your team, clearly articulating what you expect from them and what success looks like will go a long way to ensure the smooth completion of the project. It is hugely rewarding for everyone to have an aligned and collaborative team that generates creative solutions to cost or design obstacles and who have ownership over the outcome of the project.

Technical knowledge

Just like any other field, construction comes with its own language of technical terms and knowledge. While you don’t need to know how to construct a wall, knowing how to read drawings, having a full understanding of different contract types and project structures, and an understanding of services such as mechanical, fire, electrical and hydraulics will make your job a lot easier.

If you are reading this and don’t have any construction experience, don’t worry – many of these attributes can be learned on the job if you have a good attitude, a keen eye for detail and a willingness to learn. At Kernel Property we have brought people on board with little construction experience and seen them grow into highly effective project managers that are well respected among the contractors and get the job done. While technical knowledge is important – knowing that you do not know everything is essential.

Personal attributes

All professions require certain personal attributes to succeed – being organised, having strong administration skills, being able to work in a team environment and demonstrating professionalism etc.

Being a successful Project Manager not only requires those attributes, but also calls for strengths in areas that are a bit more personally specific. Critical to success are; confidence to lead a team, resilience and the ability to face an issue or obstacle head on, and then continue to the next one, and ultimate accountability for the success or failure of the team. The ability to be decisive under pressure is a key skill you will develop as you gain more experience.

As you build your experience, it is important to develop your ability to have constructive and direct conversations, in order to resolve project challenges and conflicts. This can be confronting but does not need to be scary or unpleasant if you approach it thoughtfully. It is necessary to be able to openly discuss the hard issues, and to be able to move forward with an effective solution or re-set the expectations to avoid disappointment.

Building relationships

Some projects may take a few weeks. Other projects will extend over several months or even years. Ideally you will ‘get along’ with all the members on your team. Strive to always build rapport, be fair and transparent in your communication, work together to learn and share your knowledge, and you will achieve this. Working in this manner will also help you to build trust between you, your clients and the rest of the team. This basis of trust will create a strong foundation from which you can lead a successful project, and hopefully future projects.

Working as a project manager can be as difficult as it is rewarding, but if you stay resilient, organised, lead your team, and communicate effectively, you will enjoy the successes of your projects and journey of your project management career.