Learn what it takes to succeed as a construction manager.
Construction projects are complex undertakings involving dozens of project stakeholders working in tandem to achieve a common goal – that of delivering a quality project on time and within budget and under the terms outlined in the contract agreement.
Unfortunately, the vested interests of stakeholders often compete and conflict with others, putting the project at risk of failure or delay. For this reason, for the project to succeed, all parties must coordinate their interests in favor of the common goal. This where a construction manager comes in to provide unity of command, unity of direction and deliver the project as planned. A construction manager accomplishes this by putting in place a system that ensures each stakeholder keeps their end of the bargain as agreed.
Before we go into the tasks and responsibilities of the manager, it will be helpful to outline the roles of the individual stakeholders. This will give a clearer picture of the coordination necessary to see a project through to completion.
There are generally two groups of stakeholders whose different expectations are managed throughout the contract.
Group 1: Internal stakeholders
Members of this team are parties to the construction contract. They are actively involved in the execution of the project on site and include:
- Project developers. This could be investors and financiers and their legal representatives. Their principal objective is to see the project completed on or before time with no cost overruns or compromises on quality. The sooner this team can start realizing returns on investment (ROI), the more satisfied they will be with the project performance. More often than not, a construction manager is an employee of this group and represent their interests on site.
- The design team. This group is comprised of architects, engineers, cost estimators and other consultants. Their primary interest lies in delivering a high-quality project to the developers and proving their worth in the industry. They are keen on enforcing design standards and quality of workmanship. Common roles of architects include detecting poor workmanship and improper site management in projects.
- The general contractors. This group is comprised of subcontractors, tradespeople and their construction workers. The construction manager works with contractors to administer the contract and coordinate employees in such a manner as to minimize disputes and ensure a smooth flow of activities on the site.
Group 2: External stakeholders
This group is not a party to the contract. The members are not actively involved in the execution of the project but are affected by it positively or negatively. They include:
- Local authorities, who issue building permits in the interest of the general public. Their inspectors enforce building codes on construction sites.They will shut down a site if they detect construction illegalities or factors that present health and safety hazards to the crew.
- Buyers, who are the eventual consumers of the finished product. They are keen on getting value for their money.
- The general public, who are concerned with how the construction is affecting them positively or negatively. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some activities taking place on a job site will impact a section of the public adversely. Part of a construction manager's duties is to plan and execute the project in such a manner that fulfills as many external stakeholder needs and concerns as possible without compromising the purpose of the project.
With some projects, it's not uncommon for the construction manager to take on the role of general contractor or the right-hand person. When playing these two roles, managers hold a stake in the project. They may also work in conjunction with other construction managers in a massive project and be responsible for a smaller section of the development, e.g., concrete work. It's also possible they could be an independent consultant, managing multiple projects at the same time.
How to succeed as a construction manager
Since construction projects are unpredictable and adversarial, the manager rarely, if ever, has a typical workday. They may perform all or any combination of the following duties on a single workday.
Preparing and interpreting contract documents
At the beginning of a contract, a manager and their team must study all project documents in preparation for the workload ahead. They send out requests for information (RFIs) to the design team at this point (and throughout the construction period) to clarify all ambiguities in the contract. On a daily basis, they must refer to this set of documents – and revisions thereof – for guidance on:
- The scope of works to be executed on site
- The design standards to be adhered to
- The level of workmanship expected from the contractors' team
The design team prepares most of these documents. However, it is the job of the manager to generate a comprehensive project master schedule to guide the site from start to finish. They can then issue instructions to contractors, allocate resources and supervise the work to ensure every activity is going according to plan. Because delays are inevitable in most construction projects, they often revise the master schedule, get it approved by the architects and plan the next course of action accordingly.
Communicating with project stakeholders
It’s standard practice to routinely use construction management apps to increase the efficiency of the whole construction team. These apps help managers to quickly complete the following tasks:
- Organize all contracts in a central database and disseminate the information to all parties concerned
- Generate, revise and monitor the project master schedule
- Store all project documents and reports for reference in case disputes, arbitration or litigation arise in the course or at the end of the contract
- Update and issue instructions to the whole crew
- Efficiently manage the resources on-site
- Communicate to concerned parties the urgent matters arising on-site
- Update all stakeholders on work progress
In addition, a manager must always be on call. Site issues can arise in the wee hours of the morning and require attention. An example is being awoken in the middle of the night after a bulk excavation site collapses due to heavy rains. Indeed, construction management is certainly not a 9-to-5, five days a week job.
Inspections and meetings with project stakeholders
It's necessary to schedule and attend different types of meetings throughout the contract. Some examples of meetings construction managers attend include the following:
- Site meetings to discuss progress and matters arising in the contract
- Site inspections to monitor progress
- Building Inspections by local authorities and OSHA
- Meetings with local authorities to obtain licenses and permits
- Meetings with the local community to resolve problems such as noise, dust, blocking of roads and disruptions to water supply
- Meetings with materials and equipment suppliers to streamline logistics
- Meetings with contractors to evaluate progress
- Meetings with the entire construction crew to carry out housekeeping exercises
- Final handing-over meetings
- Dispute resolution meetings, including arbitration and litigation proceedings
- Meetings with potential clients
- Meetings with union representatives to negotiate workers' rights
- Any other ad-hoc meetings as may be required in the contract
In conclusion, the job of a construction manager is to deliver a quality project on time and budget while managing the expectations of project stakeholders. Having fulfilled their obligations, they can hand over the keys at the end of a project. Assuming there is no need for lengthy dispute resolution proceedings at this point, all parties can go in peace, with a successful project having been completed.