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21 Qualities, Knowledge Areas, and Skills of an Excellent Construction Manager



What comes to mind when you think about the typical construction manager? I usually envision an ambitious person that wants to see things accomplished. The person has most likely selected a career in construction management because they enjoy being on a construction site and take pride in what they have accomplished at the end of the day. I often think back on some of the projects that the team finished wondering how such an undertaking came together. We all know that construction people want to see work get done but there is so much more to the job than that. Here is a list of what I consider to be key qualities, knowledge, and skills that I would expect from a Construction Manager and why. It’s important to note that this list is subjective and based on my own experience. I attempted to rank and rate these, but in the end, there were too many that are equally important except #1 and #2 which I consider the most important.


21.) Knowledge of Welding - Some projects could see a large amount of welding and all projects will see some welding. Welding could be on the critical path and require the tracking of weld inches. Bad or incorrect welding could be catastrophic for the quality, cost, and schedule of the project.


20.) Invoicing, accruals, and other finance – Checking contractor invoices for verification of quantities installed along with other costs per the agreed billing rates or schedule of values is a valuable skill for a construction manager. Monthly accruals or “estimates of work completed” are important to the financial department of the project. Expediting and paying invoices is important to the vendors & contractors.

19.) Cranes and Lifting – Let’s acknowledge that construction requires cranes and lifting from the start of the project to the very end. A construction manager should know about working with cranes, lifting plans, and safely lifting loads. Some large megaprojects could have more than 20 cranes working at the same time. On large projects with many large cranes, a dedicated lifting supervisor would be ideal. One small mistake while working with a crane could lead to serious injuries. The CM would be especially interested in heavy or non-standard lifts and keeping the cranes utilized since they are not cheap to rent and operate.


18.) Punch lists, Systems Turnover, and Commissioning – In my opinion systems turnover is one of the most exciting parts of the project. The CM must be prepared and know how to expedite all the documentation, walk-downs, and completion of punch-list items to hand over the system to operations. Equally important is how to keep people safe when water, raw materials, and other materials are introduced to the systems for the first time. Working with electrical systems and lockout/tag out is especially important during this period. During commissioning, construction tasks are usually still being completed and the team is working around the clock to obtain the key milestone of 1st production. This takes a toll on staff and the CM must push for results but look for signs of fatigue. Based on my experience, the completion of construction punchlists items can be very difficult with some contractors.


17.) Short-Term and Long-Term Outlook – The CM needs to be planning and seeing things well ahead of everyone else to meet specific targets. They should be looking at short and long-term milestones to meet the project goals. To meet these milestones a certain amount of daily and weekly quantities must be installed. Sometimes team members get so focused on their particular scope that the CM needs to come in and make changes to do what is best for the project even if it’s sacrificing a short-term goal to meet a long-term goal. Being able to obtain the drawings, vendor data, reports, and performance data to review the details of a particular scope is extremely important to accomplish this. My methodology has been to obtain early starts on activities to discover any issues as soon as possible.


16.) Site Layout (Especially Temporary Facilities) – Being able to influence or acknowledge construction issues around the way the site is laid out is important. There could be deep foundations that are not critical for the schedule that need to be constructed before a critical path structure can be built. Temporary facilities planning and layout need to be carefully considered. I once saw litigation because a construction warehouse was very far from the facility being constructed. Temporary facility layout must consider productivity, weather, environment, safety, schedule, water, power, and many other requirements.


15.) Quality Assurance / Quality Control - Construction contracts and methodology always tends to push quality back onto the contractors. Contractors must deliver the project to correct quality requirements, but a good construction manager knows that bad quality can lead to tremendous rework and follow on delays. A project that I was a part of had a concrete contractor that was in a big rush to finish. The quality of the concrete led to many non-conformances leading to negative confrontations and claims. The following contractor’s work could not start leading to lengthy delays. The CM should not take responsibility from the contractor for quality but can take measures to proactively check quality requirements as the project progresses.


14.) Contracting Pre-award Scoping – Having a well thought contracting plan as to how many packages and what scope should go in each package is key knowledge required of the CM. This is based on the team’s experience and/or reconnaissance performed where the project is located. Designing some flexibility in the packages is always smart. Proactively vetting contractors’ capabilities, equipment, and people before they are placed on the bidder’s list is something I would expect from a construction manager.


13.) Drawings, specifications, contract documents, procedures, and guidelines – A construction manager needs to be able to read and interpret all types of technical documents. Without getting into the details of the project a significant oversite could occur on the project. The CM should proactively be looking for issues as well as providing comments on all the project documents.


12.) Environmental / Cultural Heritage / Social Best Practices – Starting a project with little or no environmental and social considerations could lead to a catastrophe. It could be anything from dirty water entering streams, extremely dusty conditions, disturbing a sacred site, noise, or mistakenly cutting down a national forest. Not getting the local community behind the project could also lead to project delays and safety issues. On one project, I witnessed rocks thrown at our vehicles and offices by local community members. As for cultural heritage, all you need to search the web for “Rio Tinto Juukan Gorge”.


11.) Development of and input into Project Plans – Many execution plans will need to be developed over the course of the project. It is important to show internal and external stakeholders proof of a plan. To develop the plan, the team would have had to think about how they will execute the work. These plans will also need to be reviewed and updated during the project.


10.) Reporting – Most construction people that I have met and worked with absolutely hate reporting. They want to see the work get done but often complain about all the reporting requirements. Being able to communicate the issues and status via reports is critical for historical records, lessons learned, and stakeholder engagement.


9.) Logistics, Supply Chain, Warehousing, Material Control – This knowledge is critical when we think about all the components that need to be specified, engineered, procured, delivered, offloaded, inventoried, stored correctly, installed, and tested on a project. I have witnessed many mishaps and lessons learned in this area of a project. On multiple occasions, material requisitioning and control were lost leading to erroneous reports and schedule delays. If some instruments and motors are not stored correctly and preserved, the project could suffer significant delay and cost issues. Having a knowledgeable well trained warehouse staff is something that a CM should have a vested interest in. One predecessor to achieving any construction task is almost always having the material.




8.) Knowledge of Constructability – The Construction Industry Institute (CII) defines constructibility as “the optimal use of construction knowledge and experience in planning, design, procurement, and field operations to achieve overall project objectives”. By bringing construction resources onto the project during the design phase there is an opportunity to optimize designs to save costs. I witnessed this firsthand after I had finished a major two-year construction project and went straight back to the engineering office to share all the lessons learned with office personnel. To gain knowledge in constructability, a person must spend time at construction sites. The construction team was constantly reviewing the 3D model, procurement packages, vendor data, drawings, and specifications to save costs and time in construction. Think about the classic cost influence curve. The ability to positively influence the costs of a project is high in engineering then drastically reduces when in construction. Keeping a constructability log is important to show stakeholders the value of having construction engaged early is key to success.


7.) Industrial Relations and Human Resources – This is another one of the areas that we typically push back onto the contractors. A good construction manager knows how to proactively handle these situations both internally and with external contractors. If something goes wrong on site due to an industrial relations issue, the project could be impacted for months. I witnessed significant property damage on a project due to a wage issue among the workers. The massive project became a ghost town for about a week. Morale was low for some time after the event, but I always thought it could have been much worst. After the event, armed police were stationed on the project site.

6.) Some knowledge of all disciplines (Earthworks, Concrete, Structural, Piping, Electrical, Instrumentation). The CM does not need to be an expert in all areas of construction but should have a basic knowledge of all major construction disciplines and how they perform their tasks. The CM should also have some knowledge of the equipment required to carry out the construction tasks.


5.) Engineering, Technical Aspects, Field Changes – The construction manager should have a good understanding of how a project is engineered. Knowing how to navigate the 3D model is a bonus for planning. They must be able to get into the details to resolve technical issues that may affect productivity, cost, and schedule milestones. The CM should have a good working relationship with the Engineering Manager, Field Engineering manager, office engineers, and field engineers to resolve field issues as quickly as possible.

4.) Contracting Post-award Management – Knowing how to work harmoniously with contractors and outside vendors is one of the most critical aspects for every person on a project. This is especially true for the CM. The CM must understand the prime contract and contractors’ scope to get them mobilized and productive as quickly as possible to perform the work safely, within budget, and on schedule. I firmly believe that having a contractor kick-off meeting and inviting all functional leads is instrumental to getting the contractor started with all internal team members having the opportunity to discuss key items and expectations of their function with the contractor’s leadership team.


3.) Schedule, Costs, Performance, Progress, Estimating, Productivity – The CM should have expert knowledge about working with schedules. This includes schedule development and making detailed logic ties in complex schedules. Knowing about progress, earned value, expended hours, productivity, cost, and performance is critical for a successful project. In my experience, I have seen some weaknesses in construction personnel with this knowledge area.


2.) People Skills – For any project leadership position, an individual must have the soft skills and relationship-building skills to be able to get the work done. The CM must act with empathy when dealing with people and issues to get the work done. The old days of bullying, yelling, and intimidating people to get the work done are over. A job description that I found stated the following: “Must be able to demonstrate good communication and interpersonal skills to maintain a positive work environment between all parties including the Client, Contractors, and other stakeholders throughout the project life cycle”. I think this sums up how important people skills are for this position. I have learned that people are motivated by different things and no person is led the same way. I believe some CMs and even PMs focus too much on their project and not enough on the people doing the work.


1.) Health & Safety (Especially construction devices) – Knowing construction safety practices and devices is easily the number one knowledge and skill area that a CM should have. If the company constructing the project has a strong safety culture, they will demand that safety always take top priority over everything. The OSHA Part 1926 Safety and Health Regulations for Construction are an excellent reference for aspiring construction managers to gain knowledge. No one should feel comfortable going to work at a site that puts productivity ahead of safety. Morale is low at sites with many safety incidents or even fatalities.


In closing, it could be impossible to find a perfect construction manager based on my list, but that is why constructing the project is a team effort. The CM must recruit, train, coach, and mentor people with specific expertise to get the work done. I have worked with some great ones over the years. As always, I am looking forward to your comments.

Joe





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