10 habits of successful construction project managers

10 habits of successful construction project managers

 10 habits of successful construction project managers

The other day while talking to construction management students I was asked what a construction manager should do to become successful. My answer was that they need to have knowledge and experience of the industry, but as important is to master many of the soft skills that are often not taught at college or university such as being able to communicate, negotiate and delegate.  In this article I discuss important habits that successful construction managers should master.

10 habits of successful construction project managers  

Good construction project managers: 
  1. Plan – project managers and construction managers must be able to plan. By this I don’t mean they should only know how to prepare and follow a construction schedule or programme. Rather, the construction manager must also be able to plan what must happen today on their project, what must happen tomorrow and how what they do today will impact what happens tomorrow. They should know what needs to happen next week and next month and how what they do today will impact whether they achieve what must be achieved next week and next month. This planning entails ensuring that the project has the required people, materials and equipment on time. Planning is about ensuring that the work is coordinated and organised and not completed in a haphazard approach. Following a construction schedule is a good start, but it’s how we get the tasks completed on time that’s most important. Far too many construction managers lurch from crisis to crisis because they haven’t planned the work properly. These problems include forgetting to order materials, not having sufficient resources or having resources standing because there’s no access.
  2.  Communicate – construction is a people’s business. Construction managers have to communicate from morning to night. Written communication is as important as verbal communication. The communication must be clear and understood by the person receiving it. In construction we encounter people from diverse educational, economic and cultural backgrounds and communication must be adapted to the situation as well as to the person. Communication should be polite and refrain from being personal. Poor communication can lead to mistakes, disagreements and detract from the message. Communication includes providing constructive criticism and telling someone when their work doesn’t meet the required standards. It’s also complimenting someone for good work and saying thank you.
  3.  Delegate – construction isn’t achieved by one person. It’s impossible for a construction manager to build a project on their own. The art of delegation is essential. Delegation isn’t just about telling someone what to do, but rather it’s about ensuring the person has the knowledge (or can obtain the knowledge) and is capable of carrying out the task, then, ensuring they understand what’s required, and finally following up to ensure the task has been completed. All too often managers delegate tasks to people who don’t have the necessary authority or don’t have the knowledge to carry out the task. Poor delegation is asking a junior to negotiate an important item with the customer, or telling a senior manager to carry out menial tasks which could be done by others. Asking someone to make you tea every day isn’t delegation, especially if it’s not that person’s responsibility to make tea. Also, when tasks are assigned to someone and then there’s no follow-up to ensure the tasks are completed, isn’t good delegation. Of course micro managing someone to ensure the task given to them is executed precisely as you want it completed is also poor delegation.
  4.  Negotiate – construction managers must be able to negotiate and persuade people. This may include the customer, suppliers, subcontractors and their own team. Every day is about convincing people that your proposal is correct and that your proposed path of action is best. It could be negotiating with a customer for a new project, negotiating a variation claim or negotiating the best price from a supplier or subcontractor.
  5.  Manage their time – construction managers are being bombarded by multiple problems and people all the time. If they aren’t careful they can be swamped and important issues may be forgotten or left until it’s too late. Managing time is about being organised, ensuring that everything is filed correctly where it’s easily accessible. It’s also about ensuring that important issues are prioritised and tasks aren’t forgotten.
  6.  Get to the work site – projects can’t be only managed from the office. Going through the project site enables the construction manager to assess the quality, safety and productivity on the project. They can better understand problems, even foreseeing potential problems before they develop into full-blown problems. They can interact with their team and understand the mood of employees. No report can take the place of physically being on the project at the ‘coal-face’ where the work is happening.
  7.  Understand the contract document – unfortunately some construction managers don’t read their contract document until the project is in trouble – by then it’s too late. It’s important to understand the contract document to ensure that both the contractor and the customer meet their obligations under the contract and that the project conforms to the scope of works and specifications. Understanding the contract documents can minimise conflicts and arguments and ensure the contractor claims what they are due.
  8.  Understand costs – construction managers should understand what materials, equipment, people and processes cost. This doesn’t mean that they have to always know exactly what everything costs, but they should at least understand the various cost components of an activity. Working for a time in the estimating department provides valuable experience and insights into the cost makeup of the various tasks on a project. Understanding value and costs provides an essential component for deciding methods and materials and for improving productivity.
  9.  Make timely and informed decisions – construction managers have to make decisions on a daily basis. The wrong decision could possibly cost the company millions or even put someone’s life in jeopardy. Yet to not make a decision can sometimes be more harmful than making the wrong decision. Construction managers have to carefully weigh their decisions to ensure they are the best decisions made with the available information and considering alternative options.
  10.  Understand they are responsible for people’s lives – accidents can happen suddenly and can be devastating for the people involved and seriously damage the company’s reputation. Good construction managers do not put progress or dollars before people’s safety. Unfortunately we still see people’s lives disrupted when buildings collapse due to faulty workmanship. Workers and members of the public are frequently injured during construction. Taking a short cut, not checking that bracing is correctly installed, using faulty equipment or allowing poor safety habits all lead to accidents. Good construction managers take safety seriously and ensure their team also does so. They understand the consequences of their actions (or lack of action) and they lead safety by example.


There are many who think that a degree or college course can make them a construction manager. There are others who may have years of construction experience yet are still ill equipped to be a good construction manager. Yet much of what’s in the above list isn’t included in university and college curriculum. Good construction project managers mentor people that work with them so they can be the next successful construction managers.  Construction project managers need to get the basics right. They should understand the principles of construction but as important is to understand the principles of management and master the softer skills of people management. 

What do you think makes a good construction project manager?
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'Construction Management: From Project Concept to completion' takes you through all the stages of a construction project from deciding what you (or the owner) wants, where to build, who to employ, pricing procedures, all the way to completing the project. Paul's new books 'An Introduction to Building and Renovating Houses - Volumes 1 and 2' is for everyone planning a new house or renovation.
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Click on image to read a preview  These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores. Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website. Visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com to read other similar helpful articles.

Read a preview of Construction Claims  Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.  © 2016 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.

The Author: Paul Netscher 
                                          Paul Netscher

With 28 years of construction experience spanning 120 projects in 6 countries I’ve seen mistakes and poorly managed projects. But I’ve had many wonderful successes. My projects included industrial, concrete, building, earthworks and infrastructure. Indeed there are few in the industry fortunate enough to be involved in so many different projects with a variety of clients.  I hate seeing projects done poorly so I’m inspired to help the construction industry, passing on my knowledge and experience. I enjoy mentoring and training those working with me. There's a need for experienced and knowledgeable construction managers and I can help you and your company make every project a success.  I’ve written 7 construction books: ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: 
The Practical Guide’ and 'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors'. and 'The Successful Construction Supervisor and Foreman' and 'Construction Project Management: Tips and Insights' and 'Construction Management: From Project Concept to Completion'. Lastly 'An Introduction to Building and Renovating Houses - Volumes 1 & 2' is for home owners. These books have favourable reviews. Readers said: "Those considering a career as a construction manager or becoming the owner of a construction company - would benefit immeasurably by reading this great book." and: "This book helps with practical tips learned from real experiences. A must read book for the people who are involved in construction projects, especially project managers." All available on Amazon.                                      
My Specialties are: securing projects, tendering, risk management, project planning, contract variations, project management, safety, training, lectures, construction writing, troubleshooting, construction management systems, problem solving, cost management, measurement, project reviews.  Connect so we can share knowledge. [email protected]

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