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By Duane Craig
January 16, 2017
At 4:00am, your alarm goes off and with a jolt to the system your brain is in project management mode.
While most of the world around you is still in bed, you’re in the office by 5:00 am tackling emails. It’s hard to prioritize who to respond to first when your entire inbox is flagged as urgent, but you’re great at taking this circus and turning it into a well-oiled machine.
By 6:00 am you’re on the road beginning your journey from jobsite to jobsite. Between supervising meetings, managing long supply chains, predicting the weather, and reassuring aggressive owners – it’s pretty apparent that getting home on time won’t be in the cards for today unless you can somehow wrangle all of this chaos efficiently.
So for a role that requires so much, what is the best advice given by construction project managers?
Tend to your relationships.
Construction project managers are essentially people managers. And, to successfully manage people you have to forge and maintain effective relationships with them. This goes way beyond simply establishing rapport. People need to understand that your interests, the interests of the project, and their own interests are all tied together. Successful construction project managers have figured out that it's not about them, but rather about combining everyone's efforts. There is no one hero who is going to save the day, and there is no one effort that is going to make all the difference, all by itself. In the end, it is a team effort that is going to deliver the required results.
From the moment a successful construction project manager begins reviewing the plans for the project, they are thinking about relationships. They are studying the plans and studying the participants. They are not only looking to the obvious facts about who is going to do the work, but they are also studying the subtle interplay among the participants. They want to know the challenges the plumbing contractor faced on his or her last similar job while also understanding where this job offers their greatest challenges.
All of the background information helps the experienced construction project manager to forge relationships with the participants that are sensitive to the roles they play in the project, and to the challenges they will face from day one.
If understanding is the foundation for building strong relationships, communication is what keeps them strong. You definitely don't want to be communicating so much that you become a pest, but constant communication just short of that will serve to show that you are not only interested in the team members’ success, but also that you are interested in helping to reduce the challenges they might face. You can think of yourself as a coach or guide, whose main purpose is to help project participants deliver the best project outcomes possible. The construction project manager who hasn't learned to serve is in for a lonely and frustrating project management experience.
Communication also needs to be open and honest, and people should feel that asking questions is okay. Very often the questions are the very things that warn you that things are not quite right. Whether the instructions for the plans are not complete, or the person asking the question doesn't understand the instructions for the plans, questions will highlight upcoming problem areas. That's why experienced construction project managers look at questions as gateways to understanding. Whether the answers give the questioner a new understanding, or they highlight areas requiring closer scrutiny, the project, and the relationships are better served.
Besides understanding and communication, relationships at the project level need nurturing. To nurture effectively, a project manager needs to be agile. Your interactions with the project participants happen at all times of the day, and under all types of conditions. Sometimes people are tired and hungry. Sometimes they have personal matters on their minds. Sometimes everything that could have gone wrong just did. And hopefully, on many occasions everything is just as should be.
To be effective in nurturing relationships with all of the people that a project manager must work with requires agility in communication, and in interactions. You have to be agile enough to adjust your message and interactions so you have the desired effect in the most positive way. That means not only how you structure your communications, but also how you time them. Sometimes, it's better to delay interactions until you, or the other person, are in a more receptive frame of mind. Being agile requires a huge amount care, observation, and quick assessments. But, the result leads to relationships that are resilient in the face of all the vagaries that happen on a construction job site.
Depending on the day, construction project managers will probably provide advice that reflects the realities they are facing right then. But in the quieter moments, when they are considering the big picture, many will tell you above all to attend to relationships. That's because those are the things that matter most at the end of the day, and at the end of the project.
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