Construction management can be downright grueling. But, by using 16 proven construction management tips, the work becomes much easier.
Over the years, I’ve managed construction work and been the lead engineer on many projects. I’ve learned a lot through my mistakes and working with poor construction managers. Also, I’ve picked up invaluable tips from some downright amazing construction managers.
So, I’m going to share a lot of what I’ve learned. You can then use these tips on both small and mega construction projects.
#1 Use advanced software and hardware
Both 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, as a construction manager, you need to do hundreds of repetitive tasks. But by using specialized technology, you can automate and streamline a lot of your work. Even more, technology will reduce your overhead costs as you don’t need to hire 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. For example, have everyone download and use the same project activity tracking software.
#2 Maintain construction site safety
This is a no-brainer, but a lot of times, safety regulations loosen overtime on construction sites. People become lazy and it’s a cost-saving 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, a lot of fatalities you can easily prevent by doing the following:
- Completing a construction site hazard analysis before starting any work
- Mandating worker safety training
- Procuring and renting only code-compliant equipment and devices
Also, check out my 12 construction site preparation rules. They’ll help you plan ahead to maintain a safe construction site. Because when it comes to safety, proper planning is super important.
#3 Don’t breach your contract
Don’t try to pull a fast one by breaching your contract to maximize your profits. Because more than likely you’ll get exposed.
As an example, I once had a run-in with a construction manager as the lead engineer. The construction manager kept me out of the loop with an expensive product submittal. He told the vendor what he thought was acceptable to build. The vendor then started building, and the contractor later sent over a submittal to cover his ass.
To point out, the proper process is a contractor gives an engineer’s specs to a qualified vendor. The vendor then puts together a submittal package of what they intend to build per the specs. Then ONLY, once the engineer approves the submittal, can the vendor start building.
Now, back to my example. Right when I saw the submittal, I rejected it. Because the product didn’t comply with my specifications. I didn’t even care the vendor had started their work while burning the contractor’s money.
The construction manager tried to convince me otherwise, to accept the submittal. He became desperate and even angry, telling me I’d delay the project and cost him money. In the end, HE wasted months of time and lost tens of thousands of dollars because HE breached his contract.
The moral of the story is, always follow your contract. AND, if you’re going to divert from your contract, inform ALL parties immediately. Only then, take action. Don’t try to pull a fast one on anyone.
#4 Communicate and communicate fast
Most construction mistakes come 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 of course helped them, but I also reminded them of how they were an ass.
In the end, it all comes down to treating others how you’d like to be treated.
The project manager’s communication pipeline
A single pipeline needs to be set up and followed for all communication. This way, all information will properly flow to all the appropriate parties.
For example, as an engineer, there are certain things I won’t do. I typically won’t respond to direct questions from a construction manager. Because the questions would be outside of a project’s communication channel. And I know it’ll cause future problems.
The construction manager will claim I said one thing when I didn’t. Also, other parties will become angry about why they weren’t in the communication loop.
Just as important, construction managers need to update their clients. This helps with building trust and then strong relationships.
Important Note: technology enhances communication unlike ever before. You can now easily create transparent flows of communication. For example, use a work execution platform to sync all construction activities together. This includes documents, photos, comments, calendars, updates, budgets, and scheduling.
Everyone in real-time can then effortlessly remain in the communication loop. This is something to consider to enhance project management.
#5 Closely track project budgets
Keep a close eye on all project costs. This is even more important if your company underbids a project. Because you’re then walking a fine line trying to squeeze out any profit.
Next, always be mindful of the following project costs:
The below data from Statista lists major construction projects going over budget. So even the best of the best can’t always control project budgets. Sometimes budget issues come from bad management and other times from poor initial budgeting.
|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|
Finally, ALWAYS watch over your schedule like a hawk. Because time is money. If a project stretches on longer than expected, you’ll start bleeding money fast.
#6 Plan each project meeting and eliminate unnecessary meetings
Always create meeting agendas and only invite people who absolutely need to attend. This will keep meetings efficient, and you won’t waste people’s time.
For large projects though, meetings are common and are a necessary evil. But, I still find most of them to be 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 just sat silently for 2-hours twiddling my thumbs.
This is why I always tell contractors I’ll only physically attend meetings I’m 100% needed for. 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 talk.
#7 Build strong relationships
Building strong relationships starts with being kind and showing empathy. Of course, sometimes you need to be a hardass to get work done. Because some people need a fire lit under them.
BUT, being a hard ass and being blatantly rude are two completely different things. I’ve had construction managers speak to me outright rudely before, for no reason. They just thought they could make me bend the rules in their favor by being overly aggressive.
This doesn’t work. 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 if you asked.
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 realize EVERY project comes with risks. These risks can come in all shapes and sizes too. For example, consider the following types of project risks:
- 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 doing a geotechnical analysis before dewatering the construction site
- A supplier shipping the wrong materials
So before you start any work, understand all the project risks involved. Figure out how you can mitigate the risks without impacting your project deliverables.
At the same time, don’t skip over any risks to try to save a quick buck or two. Because if something goes wrong, you’ll only get hit with litigation. And this is why I find 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, there’s no way you’ll know everything. Plus, the construction industry is rapidly and constantly evolving in the following areas:
- Engineering practices
- Equipment and technology
- Safety and environmental requirements
So, learn as much as you can and familiarize yourself with your construction site. Also, learn what the professionals working under you are doing. This way you can catch mistakes before they turn into large hairy problems.
I also recommend documenting all critical project information. This means sending out emails versus phone calls, to have everything on record. 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 a bunch of lazy incompetent workers, you won’t be able to get very far. It doesn’t even matter how great of a construction manager you are. Thus, choose your team carefully by properly vetting everyone.
At the same time, don’t try to micromanage a project. For one, many construction projects are simply too large, even if you tried. Secondly, you need to focus on the project’s end goal as the leader. This is why you need an awesome team you can trust.
#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 too. Plus, you’ll gain the respect of others you work with.
I’ve first-hand seen how everyone follows the lead of a great construction manager. For example, when a construction manager makes a mistake and owns up to it, others will follow suit. In other words, other people will own up to their mistakes too. This is a powerful leadership quality.
#12 Maintain project schedules
In construction, the popular saying is,
Every day matters!
Because time is money. So keep a close eye on your schedule at all times!
At the same time, learn about all the moving pieces of your project. This way, you don’t set schedules too tight or loose.
Important Note: every part of a construction project requires separate scheduling attention. For example, the construction work you’re very sure of can have tight schedules. While construction work with greater uncertainties needs loose schedules.
Just as important, become familiar with the different forms of project delays. The first set of project delays are out of your control, and include the following:
- Owner changes
- Labor strikes
- Natural disasters (e.g. floods, fires, and earthquakes)
- Slow decision making by governmental or oversight parties
- Intervention by outside agencies (e.g. environmentalists)
- Site conditions differing from concealed conditions
- Errors and omissions in contract drawings and specifications
Now, the second set of project delays are controllable and preventable by you. These project delays include the following:
- Late deliverables by suppliers and subcontractors
- Slow mobilization
- Delayed responses from engineers over submittals and questions
- Poor workmanship by contractors
- Labor strikes over a contractor’s inability to negotiate unfair work practices
- Poor management and planning
#13 Never stop learning
Like in any other field, don’t EVER stop learning. Once you quit learning, you’ll deliver low-quality work. Plus, you may have difficulties even getting new projects to manage.
So, look to constantly learn about the following subjects:
- New construction based software and hardware
- Amended local, state, and federal agency construction codes and regulations
- Latest construction practices and methodologies
Even go learn a little about the different disciplines of engineering. You’ll only become a better construction manager. Plus, you can better call out the bullshit of engineers.
#14 Remain patient and flexible
It’s VERY 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 extreme example, I’ve worked on a project where workers found artifacts when excavating. This discovery put the entire project on pause indefinitely. Even more, the project design had to change accordingly too.
Now I’ll admit, finding artifacts isn’t common when excavating. But project changes, in general, are VERY common. Even the best construction managers can’t avoid changes.
So you need to expect constant revisions at all stages in the construction process. All the while, you need to keep your cool and remain flexible. I suggest giving yourself wiggle room with every project budget and schedule.
Important Note: problems are common in large construction projects. It’s because there are many moving parts and thus more points of failure.
The trick is, with every problem, you need to keep the entire construction team in the loop. Because you never know how a problem can affect someone’s work.
#15 Become an awesome leader
The construction manager is the leader. So you need to continue leading when the going gets tough. This means keeping a positive attitude and always pushing forward. 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 also emotional intelligence. You need to be able to read individual people because each person is different. If you treat everyone the same, some people will smile at you while others will lash out.
#16 Learn to say ‘no’
Sometimes your client may press you to make outrageous design changes. For example, they may want you to get a project done months ahead of schedule. In these instances, you need to put your foot down and just say “no.” And this is totally okay because some changes are simply not possible.
So don’t get blinded by dollar signs, or how generous your client seems to be. 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. Not so nice now, right?!
Now, the best construction managers I know never shy away from speaking their minds. They always 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 using these tips, you can hit any project out of the park.
In the end, great construction managers are worth every last penny they’re paid. 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.