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PMs - 3 Reasons You Aren't Being Promoted (and they aren't just budget or scheduling issues)


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The typical next career steps for construction project managers include director of construction, project manager of engineering, senior project manager, director of operations, VP of operations, or, in small firms, vice president or partner. 

Your firm’s size and its level of sophistication will determine the kinds of roadblocks you’ll encounter when going for promotion. Your experience level and skills also weigh heavily in the balance. In short, there are hundreds of reasons you are not moving up, but here are the reasons nobody likes to talk about. 

Just What Does it Take?

Most construction organizations have fuzzy goals for promotions, often coming from unwritten “gut level” feelings held by company leaders. Reasons for not getting promoted often include:

  • Needing better communication skills
  • Displaying a more executive presence
  • Needing to show more leadership.

Often, the reasons you didn’t get the promotion include vague feedback about people skills and powers of persuasion, according to John Beeson writing in the Harvard Business Review.

Vagueness often arises because people hate delivering tough messages and because managers and HR people don’t want to risk losing a good employee, even though they aren’t promoting them. 

Don’t settle for obscure answers, ask what you can specifically do to make yourself more promotable. 

Getting past vague rules for promotion requires one thing. When you don’t get it, get specifics about why. Don’t settle for obscure answers, ask what you can specifically do to make yourself more promotable. If no one knows and promotion is your goal, you might consider looking for a new firm to work with.

Are You Literally Attractive Enough?

Nobody in management or HR will admit that your appearance could be working against you.

There are decades of evidence that attractive people come out better in all kinds of ways, including in promotions. Attractive people get judged as “more intellectually competent, emotionally adjusted, and socially appealing,” according to Psychology Today. And that’s not the only source saying that. Studies and research have consistently backed that up.

So, a man in construction who doesn’t have that chiseled, rugged-looking face and tall, assertive presence, stands less chance of getting promoted. Of course, if you are a woman in construction that low dose of attractiveness is a double-edged sword. It is not only harder to get hired and promoted but also difficult to get taken seriously. 

Unfortunately, the attractiveness problem is tough for both sexes. Short of plastic surgery and adding lifts to your shoes you’re pretty much stuck with what you have. So, try to improve what is possible. Become a “smart” dresser, improve your posture, and become an expert communicator. You are working against automatic, ingrained responses to appearances that make people assume an attractive person is smarter, healthier, and more conscientious. Whatever you can do to tip the scales in your favor can only help.

The Unspoken and Assumed

When you are going for vice president of operations or project manager of engineering, or other next steps for a construction project manager, you need some intuitive skills and abilities matching those positions. In short, you will spend more time influencing and guiding others. 

You will also have to work more on strategic issues that are going to affect the company months or years away. The days of tactical project management must give way to days of strategic company management. If you don’t know your company extremely well and haven’t learned to take the long view on issues, you won’t have what it takes to fill upper management roles. 

A construction director or director of operations must oversee a complex big picture of projects while keeping an eye on business goals. You need to balance the short-term with the long-term. These are skills that often aren’t talked about or articulated, but they somehow get considered in the deliberations about who gets promoted. Even less talked about are the considerations about who is more “politically correct” and who projects the company’s ideal “image.”

You need to balance the short-term with the long-term goals.  

Finally, there is the possibility that someone needs to retire or otherwise move on before there is a place for you to fill. Then, short of moving on yourself, you’re in for a waiting game unless there is an interim position that is an upgrade. 

There are many typical things you can do to get ready for a promotion, and there are also things you have little control over. But, by knowing all you can about the next job you want, and understanding the selection process, you can at least improve your chances.

If you liked this article here are a few eBooks you may enjoy:

How to Hire Talented Workers Even During a Labor Shortage

3 Major Qualities of a Successful Task-analysis Approach

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