Blog Post

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Became a Construction Project Manager

Posted by Kristen Frisa

Construction Project Manager in the Field

One thing to get clear first: there’s no one way to be a construction project manager. Job sites operate differently depending on the complexity of the project and who the general manager is, among other factors.

Still, there are a few things that project managers say they wish they knew when they started out in the job. Skills that would have come in handy, or tidbits they’d pass on to a newbie in the field. Below are some things the pros wish they’d known when they started out in the field.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Many construction project managers have taken the academic route to achieve their current roles. Or, they came from a project manager position in a different industry. Though most have some experience on a job site before they’re left to do things on their own, many won’t understand all aspects of the flow of work on a construction job site.

And that’s okay. With the right skills and attitude, you will learn. The key is to know that you don’t know, so you don’t make things more difficult for everyone present.

On episode 55 of their podcast, The Construction Management Podcast, Damien Edwards and Jason Shipe asked their guests what they wish they’d known when they started out.

“I wanted to get out there and prove I was ready to be on my own right away,” Shipe said, but his background was in the armed forces, not construction. “I didn’t want to ask questions.” He’d recommend a different path for someone just starting out. “Never act like you know everything, at any part in your career,” he said.

What do the pros suggest instead? Take the time to talk to the tradespeople on site. Ask them about their work, about how things are done and what comes next after the step they’re on. “Ask the trades anything you don’t know about timelines or details about what’s involved,” Edwards said.

Being familiar with the scope of work can help you learn more about how the project will run.

Keep an Eagle’s Eye on Your Scope of Work

Construction schedules are tight, and margins are narrow. There will be delays thanks to weather, worker numbers, supply issues, or some other unforeseen issue. What can you do to keep a project on track? First, keep your team to what they were hired to do. That means understanding project scopes from the get-go.

Edwards himself admitted he wishes he’d known how more about how sub contractors schedule their time. Because he presumed they’d walk on to the site and work until their job was done, he found himself in shouting matches with subs who were packing up to leave for the day.

“The one thing I didn’t know, I didn’t know sequencing, duration times, anything,” Edwards said. “The thing I wish I knew is how long each task took.”

“If someone had handed me the scopes and told me to read them all first, I would have avoided so much conflict when I first started out,” Edwards said on his podcast, because too often he went in and gave orders without fully understanding the situation.

“Know your scope of work word for word,” he said. Avoid stepping on toes and delaying schedules that came from misunderstanding what you’re there to do. “If you’re a super or a PM and you don’t have the scopes you need to ask for them,” Edwards said.

Speaking of stepping on toes, construction professionals say learning tactful interactions is another key part of success as a project manager.

A Large Part of Your Job is Diplomacy

Project managers have to know their projects, inside and out. Ensuring timely supply delivery and scheduling the right workers on the jobsite each day are required for keeping a job moving forward.

Just as important, project managers need to work with people. The PM needs to understand what’s going on with each subcontractor and the tradespeople on site, as well as updating executives and owners on the status of work.

Shane Hedmond, a construction project manager and editor-in-chief of constructionjunkie.com, says in his work he often has to talk to store management because work is being done during the night on stores that are open daily. Pleasant relations are required between employees who run the store and workers who build at night.

Hedmond says one of the most stressful parts of his job is coping with unforeseen circumstances. “I communicate timelines to people and then the situation changes and that doesn’t happen,” he said.

He handles the situation by managing expectations from the beginning. “Before things get started I tell them, this isn’t going to be perfect,” he said. “Things will go wrong, but we just have to come up with a new plan and make sure everyone’s aware of the new plan.”

By being open and honest so that everyone knows their concerns are being taken seriously, he manages to keep relationships on track as the project progresses.

Communication Can Save the Day

Open and honest communication gives project managers the tools they need to understand the project better and manage people. Constant exchange of data and ideas provides PMs the information they need to act effectively.

Luckily, technology has made huge strides to improve these lines of communication. Information can be transmitted immediately from the site to managers whether they’re on site or not, and allow for constant correction.

Device Magic helps builders to create custom forms to capture a rich data set, including photos and geotagging, so all stakeholders are up to speed, no matter where they are. This type of communication creates a single source of truth, and helps prevent rework and waste.

A Challenging, Rewarding Career

Project managers juggle many aspects of a construction job, and they do it every single day. Experienced pros in the field say that consistent learning and communication are key to growing into the job.

Over time (and with an adequate stress management routine) project managers come to enjoy the variety and flexibility their days provide, and the rewards of seeing complex projects being completed successfully. If you’d like to learn more about how custom forms can improve communications on your job site, try it for free or schedule a demo.

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