Construction management can be downright grueling. But, by using 16 proven construction management tips, the work becomes easier.
Over the years, I’ve managed construction work and have been the lead engineer on many projects. I’ve learned through mistakes and working with both poor and amazing construction managers.
I’ll show you how you can streamline the management of both small and mega construction projects.
#1 Use advanced software and hardware
The hardware and software in the construction industry are rapidly evolving. So take advantage of the many new tools to optimize your workflow.
For example, construction managers do hundreds of repetitive tasks. By using software, you can automate these tasks. Even more, you’ll reduce your overhead costs, as you no longer require extra staff.
Important Note: once you select a software tool, have all staff use it. This will keep a uniform workflow among your entire team.
#2 Maintain construction site safety
Often, safety measures loosen over time on construction sites. People become lazy and it’s a cost-savings to cut corners. According to 2019 workplace OSHA data in the U.S.,
- On average, 15 workers die every day
- 2.8 workers get injured and/or become ill per 100 workers
Also, the following are the leading causes of fatalities in U.S. workplaces according to OSHA:
|Cause of Fatality||Fatality Source Percentage|
|Falling from unprotected sides/holes, and poor construction||36%|
|Struck by swinging, falling, or misplaced objects||10%|
|Caught in or between machines, devices, or tools||2%|
So, safety needs to be your number one priority at all times. Not only is it a legal liability, but you don’t want someone getting hurt on your watch. It’s not something you want on your conscience. The great thing is though, you can avoid many fatalities by simply doing the following:
- Completing a construction site hazard analysis before starting work
- Mandating worker safety training
- Procuring and renting only code-compliant equipment and devices
Also, check my 12 construction site preparation tips. You’ll learn how to plan and maintain a safe construction site.
#3 Don’t breach your contract
I once had a run-in with a construction manager, as the lead project engineer. The construction manager purposefully kept me out of the loop with an expensive product submittal. He told the vendor what to build, versus directing him to the contract documents. The vendor began manufacturing, and the contractor later sent me a submittal to cover his ass.
The proper process is for a contractor to hand an engineer’s specs and drawings to a qualified vendor. The vendor then assembles a submittal package of what they intend to build, per the engineer’s documents. Then only, once the engineer approves the vendor’s submittal, can the vendor start manufacturing.
Now, back to my story. Right when I received the submittal, I rejected it. Because the product didn’t comply with my design. I didn’t even care the vendor had started manufacturing.
The construction manager tried to persuade me to accept the submittal. He became desperate and even angry, telling me I’d delay the project and cost him money. Ultimately, he wasted months of time and lost tens of thousands of dollars because he breached his contract.
The moral of the story is, always comply with your contract. And, if you’re going to divert from your agreement, first, inform all parties immediately. Don’t try to pull a fast one on anyone.
#4 Communicate and communicate fast
Most construction mistakes are from human errors, sourced from poor communication. And this is why all great construction managers have impeccable people skills. I’d go as far as to say it’s a job requirement, as you’re endlessly bombarded with messages.
In your position, you need to effortlessly be able to speak with the following groups of people:
- Vendors and suppliers
- City and agency reps
- Lawyers and accountants
On the same token, when messages come your way, respond to them immediately. Don’t endlessly sit on messages and/or play hot potato. I’m talking about moving your responsibilities onto others.
I’ve worked on projects where I didn’t receive responses to my questions for months on end. Then at the end of construction, the construction managers scrambled to get me to do things. Because their ass was now on the line. I helped, of course, but I also reminded them of how they ignored me previously.
In the end, treat others how you’d like to be treated.
The project manager’s communication pipeline
Set up a single communication pipeline model. Enable project information to appropriately funnel to all project players.
For example, as a subcontractor, I typically won’t respond to direct questions from a construction manager. Because the questions are outside the project’s communication channel. I don’t want to overstep my professional boundaries.
The construction manager can claim I said one thing when I didn’t. Also, the contractor I’m subcontracted under can become angry over why they were left out of the communication loop. Instead, I would forward the question to who I’m contracted under.
#5 Closely track project budgets
Keep a watchful eye on all project costs. This is even more important if your company underbids a project. Because you’re then walking a fine line, to squeeze out any profit.
Be mindful of the following project costs:
The below data from Statista lists major construction projects going over budget. So poor budgeting affects even the best of the best.
|Project Name||Project Over Budget Amount|
|Sochi Olympics||39.00 billion|
|The Channel Tunnel||21.10 billion|
|Three Gorges Dam||16.18 billion|
|Boston's Big Dig||13.45 billion|
|London Olympics||11.91 billion|
|Athens Olympics||6.99 billion|
|Denver International Airport||3.10 billion|
|Brazil World Cup||$2.50 billion|
In the same vein, watch over your schedule like a hawk. Because time is money. If a project stretches longer than expected, you’ll bleed money.
#6 Plan each project meeting and eliminate unnecessary meetings
Create meeting agendas and only invite people who absolutely need to attend. You’ll keep meetings efficient, without wasting anyone’s time.
For large projects though, meetings are common and are a necessary evil. But, I still find most of them unnecessary.
I’ve even had construction managers ask me to attend weekly in-person meetings. Not only was it a waste of my time, but it was a huge unnecessary expense for the contractor. Because most of the time, the discussions had nothing to do with my design work. I’d just sit silently for 2-hours, twiddling my thumbs.
For this reason, I tell contractors I’ll only physically attend meetings if I’m absolutely needed. Even then, I’ll ask if I can call in from my phone. Because I’m not going to drive 4 hours one way or hop onto a plane, to listen to others speak.
#7 Build strong relationships
Building strong relationships begins with being kind and showing empathy. Of course, sometimes, you need to be a hard ass to get work done. Some people need a fire lit under them.
But, being a hard ass doesn’t mean being blatantly rude. I’ve had construction managers speak to me outright rudely before, for no apparent reason. They thought they could make me bend the rules in their favor, through aggressiveness.
In these instances, I’ll do the bare minimum per my contract and not one iota more. Whereas if you were kind, I’d even help you with out-of-scope work.
In short, don’t be an asshole. In return, you can more efficiently complete projects and further pad your pockets.
#8 Mitigate project and construction risks
Great construction managers understand every project has inherent risks. For example, consider the following:
- A construction worker working on a poorly constructed wobbly elevated platform
- Over-promising a project deliverable to a client
- Ordering from a vendor whose lead time may significantly impact the project schedule
- Overlooking an ephemeral stream and not contacting the local environmental agency
- Not completing a geotechnical analysis before dewatering a construction site
- A supplier shipping the wrong materials
So before you start a project, understand all the project risks. Figure out how you can mitigate the risks, without impacting your project deliverables.
Also, don’t dismiss any risks as trivial, to try to save a quick buck or two. If something goes wrong, you’ll get hit with litigation. And this is why the following quote rings true for almost every project:
“No major project is ever installed on time, within budget, with the same staff that started it.”
In summary, plan, plan, plan, and be ready to instantly pivot!
#9 Remain curious and ask questions
If something doesn’t seem right to you in the field or office, then ask questions. Also, just ask questions to learn.
As a construction manager, you’ll work with many different trades. So not surprisingly, you won’t know everything. Plus, the construction industry is rapidly and constantly evolving in the following areas:
- Engineering practices
- Equipment and technology
- Safety and environmental requirements
- Construction codes
You constantly need to remain in learning mode. Familiarize yourself with your construction site, and learn about the work of professionals working under you. You can then catch mistakes before they turn into large hairy problems.
In the same vein, document critical project information. Instead of making a phone call, send out an email for record purposes. Because if shit hits the fan, you want to at least have a record of what transpired.
#10 Build an awesome team
A construction manager stands on the shoulders of his or her team.
If your team consists of lazy incompetent workers, you won’t get far. It doesn’t matter how great of a construction manager you are either. So, choose your team wisely by properly vetting everyone.
Also, don’t micromanage workers. For one, it’s not possible with large-size construction projects. Secondly, you need to focus on the project’s end goal as the leader. Otherwise, the project will suffer.
#11 Hold yourself accountable
If you make a mistake, own up to it. In return, you’ll set an example for your staff and all other parties in the project. Even more, you’ll gain the respect of the people you work with.
I’ve first-hand seen how everyone follows the lead of a great construction manager. Once a construction manager owns up to a mistake, others will follow suit. This is powerful leadership!
#12 Maintain project schedules
In construction, every day matters. Because time is money.
So always keep a close eye on your schedule. Also, learn about all the moving pieces of different project types. You’ll avoid setting schedules too tight or loose.
Equally important, become familiar with the different forms of project delays. The first set of project delays are outside your control, and include the following:
- Owner scope changes
- Labor strikes
- Natural disasters (e.g. floods, fires, and earthquakes)
- Slow decision-making by government or oversight agencies
- Intervention by outside agencies (e.g. environmentalists)
- Site conditions differing from perceived conditions
- Errors and omissions in contract drawings and specifications
The second set of project delays are controllable by you, and include the following:
- Late deliverables by suppliers and subcontractors
- Slow mobilization
- Response delays from engineers over submittals and questions
- Poor contractor workmanship
- Labor strikes over a contractor’s inability to negotiate unfair work practices
- Poor management and planning
#13 Never stop learning
Once you quit learning, your work will suffer. Instead, constantly learn about the following subjects:
- New construction software and hardware
- Amended local, state, and federal agency construction codes and regulations
- Latest construction practices and methodologies
Even learn about the different disciplines of engineering. You’ll only become a better construction manager. Plus, you can more easily call out the bullshit of engineers.
#14 Remain patient and flexible
It’s rare for a construction project to go without a hiccup. Something always goes wrong. There’s a popular saying by Denis Waitley,
“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
As an example, I worked on a project where workers found artifacts when excavating. This discovery placed the project indefinitely on pause. The project design then had to change as well, to work around the excavation area.
Now I’ll admit, finding artifacts isn’t common when excavating. But project changes, in general, are common, even with the best construction managers.
So expect constant revisions at all stages in the construction process. All the while, remaining cool and flexible. Give yourself wiggle room with project budgets and schedules.
Important Note: problems are common in construction. With every problem though, keep the entire construction team in the loop. You never know how a change can affect someone’s work.
#15 Become an awesome leader
The construction manager is the leader. So never quit leading and remaining positive, even in tough times. Will Rogers captured this urgency the best with his following quote:
“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”
A big component of leadership is emotional intelligence. Learn to read people, as each person is different. Treating everyone the same is a recipe for disaster.
#16 Learn to say ‘no’
Sometimes, your client may press you to make outrageous design changes. For example, they may want you to finish a project, months ahead of schedule. In these instances, you need to put your foot down and say “no.” Because some changes are simply not possible.
So don’t get blinded by dollar signs, or how generous your client may seem. With any change order, there will be an amended contract. And if you can’t meet your contractual obligations, your client can take you to court. They’re not so nice now, right?…
The best construction managers I know, never shy away from speaking their minds. They tell you exactly how it is without any bullshit.
Construction management is far from easy, and it can be thankless work. But if you properly plan ahead and use these tips, you can hit any project out of the park.
In the end, great construction managers are worth every last penny. They bring a bunch of lines and numbers on paper to life.
What are your thoughts on construction management? What construction management tips do you think are the most useful?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.