The Role of the Project Manager on a Construction Site
The role of the Project Manager on a typical construction project can be in the form of:
- An individual who has sole responsibility for running the project, the manager may work alongside a quantity surveyor, a foreman, etc.
- An individual who has a team of project managers, foremen, quantity surveyors, health & safety offices, etc. to help with running the project. This role is often referred to as a Contracts Manager who either manages a number of small projects or one large project
- An individual who has a number of operatives answering direct to him/her. This role is often referred to as a foreman who is working either for a main contractor or subcontractor
In this article, when I refer to a Project Manager, I am referring to all three of the above situations.
The role of the Project Manager, as I see it, involves some or all of the following traits (not in any particular order):
- Health & Safety
- Commercial Monitoring
- Quality Assurance
- Be “Jack of all Trades”
- Communication and Negotiation Skills
- People Manager
- Problem Solving
On some projects the role of the Project Manager will require that the manger be able to function comfortably with all of the above descriptions. On other projects, some of the descriptions may not be applicable to the Project Manager or he/she may have help with meeting some of them.
Health & Safety
A well managed site is a safe site and the Project Manager needs to ensure that the site is always safe. Maintaining a safe site involves carrying out inspections and ensuring that all actions arising from the inspections are acted on in a timely fashion. An important aspect of this is to have written confirmation that the various inspections have been carried out and closed out. The Project Manager has to be ready when the health & safety authority comes knocking on the door, a safe site with the required backup can make the process a lot easier. Obviously, some organisations have full-time or part-time Health & Safety Officers who can aid the Project Manager in dealing with the above situations.
In order for a Project Manager / Supervisor / Foreman to manage a project effectively, alongside the Quantity Surveyor, he/she must know the financial performance of the project. The manager needs to have the awareness to ensure all variations are being picked up, all delays are being recorded, that the correct amount of labour is on the project, all contra charges are being allocated, the amount of completed work is being claimed in the valuation, etc. Failure to monitoring each of these key financials and to take action where required can affect the project’s bottom line.
The Project Manager needs to ensure that all tradesmen / operatives working on the project install their work with quality in mind. This is often lost in a project as usually there is a “mad panic” to get the job done, see my earlier article on ”The importance of information on a construction project” as to how this can happen. However, when quality is missing from an installation, it usually costs time and money to correct the issue. The Project Manager also needs to ensure that quality inspections are being carried out and recorded for all works being installed. This can be delegated to others but when something goes wrong it is often the Project Manager who has to outline what has gone wrong and how it can be put right.
The Project Manager has the overall responsibility for creating, maintaining and driving the construction programme. However, the programme relies on numerous parties, from the design team to the general operatives, to be implemented but it is up to the Project Manager to ensure that all parties are coordinated and their progress is being monitored against the programme. The same applies to a foreman driving a programme for a subcontractor, he/she is relying on their operatives to get their package done.
Procurement is a fundamental process on a construction project, from awarding subcontracts to ordering plant and materials. The Project Manager, usually with the Quantity Surveyor and Procurement Dept, has to determine how each package of work/item is to be awarded, for example, the cheapest subcontractor is not always the best option to go with. If the procurement process goes wrong, it is usually the Project Manager and his/her team who have to deal with the fallout.
Jack of all Trades
Quite often the Project Manager has to get involved in resolving details, such as, drainage, cladding, glazing, roofing details, internal finishes, etc. The Project Manager has to be a “Jack of all Trades” to help create, comment and implement the various details required to bring a construction project together.
Communication and Negotiation Skills
Communication is a trait which is central to all aspects of the Project Manager’s work. The Project Manager needs to be able to interact with all project stakeholders. He/she needs to be able to handle themselves in the meeting environment, be able to express themselves with the written word and effectively communicate to the site team their vision of how and when various stages of the project will be complete.
A construction project is a very complex environment which relies on the input from numerous parties – from design to installation to commissioning. Negotiations on a construction project can initially take the form of various discussions from ironing out construction details to site access to settling a final account. The Project Manager, sometimes with the commercial team, has to fully understand the problem and work with the relevant stakeholders to find a solution that is workable to all.
While negotiations will usually take the form of meetings which over time should lead to a resolution of the issue, this is not always the case. When the discussions become difficult, the Project Manager needs to know where he/she and their organisation stand in the dispute. The first port of call is the contract documents (the contract itself, the specifications, the drawings, bill of quantities, etc). The Project Manager needs to be able to use these documents to his/her organisation’s advantage – which is not easy. The Project Manager has always to be thinking, right from day one on a project, what happens if this does not work out. He/she needs to ensure that measures are put in place to document and monitor against all eventualities. If required, these measures will form the backup to defend their position in the dispute. This is such an important point – if you have no BACKUP, you will be on the losing side and this can be very costly.
The Project Manager is usually never alone in managing a project, he/she has a team consisting of foremen, engineers, health & safety officers, quantity surveyors, quality assurance managers, admin staff, general operatives, subcontractors, etc. The team needs to be looked after and when problems arise the Project Manager works with the team to try and resolve the issue – on occasion this can be a difficult task.
The team has to be treated with respect which can be easier said than done – emotions can run high, especially, on high pressure projects. The Project Manager has to try to keep his/her emotions in check, again, this is easier said than done and probably comes a little easier with age and experience.
If the Project Manager loses the team the project has a high possibility of failing.
The problems on a typical construction site can vary from design issues to logistics to costs to programme issues. Usually not a week (or in some cases a day) goes by when a problem does not need to be resolved. The Project Manager, alongside his/her team, is central to resolving these issues.
I recall on one of my past projects, where we had to remove a tower crane which was located in the centre of a large building and had a maximum lift of circa 20 tonne. The original plan (from when the crane was erected) was to remove it from the street adjacent to the site circa 70m away, consequently, a 500 tonne mobile crane would be required to complete the removal. A 500 tonne crane is not a small piece of kit, it takes a day to mobilise and another day to demobilise. Therefore, we needed 4 days to remove the tower crane (2 days to set and remove the mobile crane and 2 days to remove the tower crane). However, over the months that followed the crane erection, we sought permission from the local authority to close the street for 4 days but we were unable to get the permission. This in turn left us with a major problem – how do we decommission the tower crane without causing disruption to the local authority? The answer was to bring the mobile crane inside our building, this entailed driving the 500 tonne crane (120 tonne without its ballast) over a 3 story basement car park, placing the required temporary works to take the mobile and its entourage (12 articulated loads of gear plus a 100 tonne crane to aid the set up of the 500 tonne crane) which took some planning. I always remember looking at the outriggers of the mobile crane (each had a digital gauge display which could show the load that was on the outrigger), the display showed 340 tonne of point load going into the suspended slab which was supported by 100s of back propping. The crane was removed as planned and the adjacent streets did not suffer any disruption. The above is an example of how my team and I worked the problem and came up with a solution for all stakeholders.
For a project to be a success, the Project Manager has to drive the project. He/she is usually given a start and finish date. It is the Project Manager’s vision as to how the project will be successfully completed within the parameters set by the client.
The Project Manager has to lead his/her own team, the various subcontractors, the suppliers and in some instances the design team. He/she has to guide each stakeholder with their vision of how the project will be delivered and executed. The Project Manager requires leadership characteristics to bring all stakeholders on the roller coaster ride that is bringing a construction project to a successful conclusion.
I found that the best way to achieve this is by leading by example – being hands on with the team to solve the various problems, to ensure systems are in place to protect the organisation from unforeseen events and to track various activities against cost and time. Again, it is all about bringing the team with you – if you can achieve this, the battle is half won.
It is clear from the descriptions above that the role of the Project Manager is a job that requires a wide range of expertise in a wide range of various disciplines. I think of all the various job roles on the market, the role of the Project Manager is one of the most understated, especially those involved in construction.
PIMeo, our document management and cost monitoring application, can help with managing the various descriptions the Project Manager has to encounter while managing any construction site.
- Provide the BACKUP documentation should a dispute arise
- Track the cost of Labour, Plant and Materials against the programme
- Aid with the collaboration with the design team
- Play a role in meeting both Quality Assurance and Health & Safety objectives