The project manager is critically important in construction.
Whether or not a construction project stays on time and on budget is largely up to the project manager, which makes that person critically important. And project managers are paid accordingly: The median salary is $97,027 according to Salary.com.
So what makes a good project manager?
Andru Ramker, president of Hawkeye Construction of South Florida, said the qualities that make a good construction project manager are the same ones that make someone successful in any field, and those are energy, knowledge, work ethic, organization and the ability to communicate with all people at all levels, be it a plumber or the owner of the project.
Field knowledge can be an advantage, according to Ramker. “How do you know if you’re getting snookered if you don’t know what the work is supposed to look like?” And it pays to have a thick skin. “All of the people I know in this business who have to put up with the kind of issues that come up are a little ornery, too,” he said. “You have to be able to take the heat and deal with adversity too.”
Too much hands-on construction knowledge, however, could actually be a bad thing, at least according to Anthony Sierra, president of JP Sierra in Tampa, who has had a long career in construction working as both a subcontractor and general contractor.
The ideal project manager, Sierra said, would have hands-on construction knowledge — but not so much that he over-sympathizes with the subcontractors. If a project manager “relates” too much, Sierra said, he could let that interfere with his primary goals, which are keeping to the schedule and making a profit.
“I don’t want the guy who knows how to turn a screw,” Sierra said. “I want the guy who has enough general knowledge and who can hold everyone to the schedule.”
The ideal, he said, would be a project manager teamed with a superintendent who knows the field inside and out. The superintendent, Sierra said, can serve as a check and balance to ensure the quality of the work, giving the project manager more time to deal with high-level issues. Project managers “should know what they’re good at and leave the details to the super.”
From a subcontractor’s perspective, Brian Jasinski, project executive at Boston-area Gaston Electrical, said teamwork and problem-solving abilities are critical, since jobs can get complicated.
“Project managers play a more important role than ever, and they have to possess traits that help to maintain positive and productive working relationships between the general contractor and subcontractor,” Jasinski said. They should be able to envision the project in its entirety, anticipate potential roadblocks and then communicate information effectively to all the project players.
But most important, Jasinski said, a project manager must have integrity. “A project manager must be firm but fair. Doing this will build trust and long-term relationships that will guarantee competitive pricing and quality performance for the general contractor project after project.”
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.