Project Manager in Training: Leverage Your Current Team

A program that produces a strong bench of homegrown project managers is possible even for small contractors.

The labor shortage in construction is no secret. Skilled craft workers are harder to come by for sure. But many companies are also finding it difficult to fill all-important project manager positions. In-house training is one solution.

Project managers often find themselves taking on a variety of critical duties during the course of a construction project — scheduling, estimating, budgeting, negotiating subcontracts and change orders as well as playing liaison between the company and the owner. A good PM can make the difference between a project that comes in on time and on budget and one that doesn’t.

Sometimes PMs arrive at a company with a great deal of experience. In other scenarios, that expertise is gained as an employee moves up through the ranks of junior project manager, tradesman or supervisor. In either case, contractors need to nurture and develop the skills PMs need to succeed.

Julia Strong, CEO of Dallas general contractor C1S, said her company provides career development both to help retain current project managers and also to ensure the company has a pipeline of experience to help it grow.

Assign a mentor

Mentoring is one way to groom an employee for a project manager position (or any other position) or improve a project manager’s skills.

Mentoring at C1S happens in house, but the company also takes advantage of programs offered by TEXO, the largest construction association in Texas and a collaboration between local affiliates of The Associated General Contractors of America and the Associated Builders and Contractors. 

Typically, Strong said, each new project manager is paired with a senior project manager. Newer project managers are also invited to ask questions of and meet with any senior project manager in the company.

Use cross training

Exposure to different positions within a company — aka cross training — is important, Strong said, if only to give existing or prospective PMs a glimpse into their coworkers' responsibilities. The better a project manager understands the different roles on a project, the more effective he or she will be. After all, a good project manager needs extensive knowledge of the industry.

Sometimes, exposure to different functions makes workers reconsider their futures, said Strong — and that’s okay, too. "They have the opportunity to stay with us, not just in a vertical career path. They can move to sales, estimating or some other role. They don’t have to look to a different company to do something different."  

Enroll employees in a course

There’s a lot involved in becoming a project manager and no shortage of skills and knowledge to learn. A project management course, like the week-long course offered by The Associated General Contractors of America, can provide a leg up for early career PMs or employees looking to improve their PM skills.

Let young managers lead

Strong said to help junior PMs advance, it's important to grant them opportunities to lead. For example, she said, in owner progress meetings, executives should do their best to sit back once in a while and give those younger managers a chance to rise to the occasion and represent the company without interference.

"Let them be front and center, and don't rescue them," she said. "They have to take their shot at it. That's the only way they're going to get good at it."