Construction management isn’t easy. But by using certain construction management tips, you can deliver awesome projects while profiting.
I’ve managed construction work and been the lead engineer on countless large projects. I’ve learned a lot through mistakes and from some awesome construction managers.
So I’m going to share 16 construction management tips mixed in with my experiences. You can use these tips on both small and mega construction projects. You can then deliver knock-out projects every time!
#1 Use advanced software and hardware
We live in a technological age. Every industry today is transforming through advanced software and hardware. Even the traditional construction industry is rapidly evolving.
So take advantage of the many new tools at your disposal to optimize the workflow of your projects.
Because as it is, you juggle hundreds of different responsibilities as a construction manager. Your attention is constantly pulled in many opposing directions too. By using specialized technology, you can automate and streamline a lot of your work.
Plus, new technology is a huge cost saving. You can reduce your overhead costs by using technology versus hiring extra staff.
Important Note: once you select a software tool, have everyone use it. This will keep a uniform workflow among all staff. 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%|
Thus, 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, 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, the most important thing is proper planning.
#3 Don’t breach your contract
Don’t try to pull a fast one by breaching your contract, to get a project done sooner.
I know, time is money. But by cutting corners, you can get hit with HUGE penalties and fees.
As an example, I’ve had construction managers keep me out of the loop with project submittals. They told the vendors what they thought was acceptable to build. The vendors then started building.
To point out, the proper process is for a contractor to provide our specs to a qualified vendor. Let’s say we’re talking about a Motor Control Center (MCC). The vendor then puts together a submittal package of what they intend to build using our specs. Then ONLY once I approve the vendor’s submittal, can the vendor start building.
In my example, the construction manager decided to bypass me in the workflow. The contractor had the vendor put together a submittal for formality purposes only.
Right when I saw the submittal, I rejected it without hesitation. Because the MCC didn’t comply with our specifications.
The construction manager then tried to convince me otherwise. He became desperate and even angry as he tried to direct me to accept the MCC submittal. 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.
#4 Communicate and communicate fast
Most construction mistakes are from human errors sourced from poor communication.
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. You need to effortlessly be able to speak with the following groups of people:
- Vendors and suppliers
- City and agency reps
On the same token, when messages come your way, respond to them immediately. Don’t endlessly sit on messages. At the same time, don’t play hot potato. Don’t try to pass the puck to others without doing your part, to move responsibility onto others.
Instead, respond the best you can, and only then pass the puck to others.
I’ve worked on projects where I didn’t receive a response to my questions for months on end. Then at the end of the construction period, the construction manager scrambled to get me to do things. Because his ass was now on the line.
But, I had my hands tied as my work depended on his responses. Still, without shame, the construction manager would emphatically tell me,
I need your responses ASAP man! Time is money and you’re costing me money!
All the while, he conveniently forgot how he slowed down the project by ignoring all my messages. I had to point out, design work takes time. It’s not something you can rush.
In the end, if you pass the blame onto others, you’ll have a bunch of people unwilling to help you. Especially in a time when you need help the most.
The project manager communication channel
Communicate through the project manager. This way, all information will properly channel to all the appropriate project parties.
I typically won’t respond to inquiries, when a construction manager directly calls me. Not only is the call out of the project’s workflow, but it’ll cause all types of future problems.
For example, the construction manager will claim I said one thing when I didn’t. Also, other parties will become angry about why they were left out of the communication loop.
So always first establish the pecking order in every project, and follow it!
Just as important, provide updates to your client. Keep them in the loop with what’s going on, to earn their trust. This is a part of building strong relationships that are worth their weight in gold!
Important Note: technology enhances communication unlike ever before. You can easily now create a transparent flow of communication.
Using a work execution platform, you can 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 incurred project costs. This is even more important if your company underbids a project. Because you’re then walking a fine line in trying to squeeze out a profit while not cutting corners.
Always consider the following project costs:
The below data from Statista shows major construction projects that went over budget. Even the best of the best always can’t control a project budget. Sometimes budget issues come from bad management, and other times there’s scope creep.
|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|
What’s more, 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.
In the end, your goal is a happy client and as the infamous saying goes,
keeping the cash flow river flowing!
#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, meetings are a necessary evil, but they’re not always needed. I find many of them to be unnecessary.
I’ve had construction managers ask me to attend every construction meeting in person. These were weekly meetings too!
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 a contractor 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 sometimes, I need to drive 4 hours one way or hop onto a plane to attend the meetings. It’s ridiculous!
#7 Build strong relationships
It’s a simple concept, but it’s not always practiced.
I’m talking about being kind and not making life difficult for other parties in a project. To point out, sometimes you need to be a hardass to get work done. Because a lot of the time, people need a fire lit under them so they get work done on schedule.
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. It doesn’t work like that!
Matter of fact, 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. Many other engineers and suppliers feel the same.
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 on a project deliverable to a client in your contract.
- Ordering from a vendor whose lead time may significantly impact your schedule.
- Overlooking an ephemeral stream and not contacting the local environmental agency.
- Not doing a geotechnical analysis before dewatering your construction site.
- A supplier ships you the wrong materials.
So before you start any work, look ahead and understand all the project risks involved.
Figure out how you’ll mitigate the risks without impacting your project deliverables. This includes eliminating the risks you have control over.
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.
I find the following quote rings true for almost every major project I’ve been a part of,
“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, ask questions. Also, just ask questions to learn more.
As a construction manager, you’ll work with many different trades. So not surprisingly, you won’t know everything. Frankly, there’s just too much to possibly know, especially with large construction projects.
Plus, the construction industry is rapidly and constantly evolving. Every year you’ll find advancements made in the following areas:
- Equipment and practices
- Safety and environmental requirements
In short, try to familiarize yourself with your construction site. Also, learn what the professionals working under you are doing. In return, you’ll become a better project manager. Plus, you can catch mistakes before they turn into large hairy issues.
I also recommend documenting all project critical information you gather. This means sending out emails versus phone calls, to have everything on record. If shit hits the fan, you want to at least have a record to save your ass.
#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 who 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 your project too. Plus, you’ll gain the respect of others you work with.
I’ve first-hand witnessed how everyone follows the lead of a great construction manager. If a construction manager makes mistakes and owns up to them, others will follow suit.
This is a powerful quality of a great leader.
#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.
Construction parts you’re very sure of can have tight schedules. Then construction parts with greater uncertainties need loose schedules.
Now, project delays come in two forms. 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
Then the second set of project delays are controllable, and you need to prevent them. 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 fall behind, and you’ll deliver low-quality work. Plus, you may have difficulties even getting new projects to manage.
So, look to constantly learn about the new following subjects:
- Construction based software and hardware
- Local, state, and federal agency construction codes and regulations
- Construction practices and methodologies
Even go learn a little about the different disciplines of engineering. You’ll only become a better construction manager for it.
Plus, you can better call out the bullshit of engineers. This is a powerful ability to have.
#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.”
I’ve worked on a project where workers found artifacts when excavating.
This discovery put the entire project on pause indefinitely, and the design had to change.
Now, 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 to do continuous revisions at all stages in the construction process.
The point is, small changes can greatly affect your entire project plan and timeline.
In short, always remain cool and flexible. So, give yourself wiggle room with your 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.
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
You’re the leader as the construction manager!
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 people, to properly react. Because each person is different, you can’t treat everyone the same, and expect the same output.
#16 Learn to say ‘no’
Your client may press you to make design changes. Or, they may try to push you to get the project done months ahead of schedule.
In these instances, you sometimes need to put your foot down and just say ‘no.’
Many times, added project scope turns into a change order. Thus, you can get more money from your client to do the added work. But sometimes, the change is something you can’t deliver on. So regardless of more money, you need to say ‘no.’
The best construction managers I know never shy away from speaking their minds. They always tell you exactly how it is. They don’t bullshit you!
Construction management is far from easy, and it can be thankless work. But if you properly plan ahead, you can hit any project out of the park.
So, use each of these tips to help level up your construction management skills. The more of these tips you use, the better you can manage projects. Because all these tips directly or indirectly tie together.
In the end, great construction managers are worth every last penny they’re paid. They’re invaluable resources who bring to life the design work of engineers.
What are your thoughts on construction management? What construction management tips do you think are the most useful.
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
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.