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What are the top qualities of a first-rate construction project manager?

A good project manager embodies a rare combination of qualities

To lead to successful outcomes, project managers of all stripes have similar strengths. These include (but are certainly not restricted to) honesty, a knack for meticulous planning, skillful communication, the ability to delegate and work with others, accurate budgeting, obsession with detail and creative problem solving. A project manager worth his or her salt will have all the qualities needed to see a project through from start to finish, whatever that project may be.

Okay, but what about construction project managers?

In addition to qualities common to all good project managers, a CPM or construction project manager needs a particular set of skills and abilities. Check out our list to see if you’ve got what it takes.

1) Flexibility. Expect the unexpected is one of those truisms that can be applied to just about everything. But you might think that a savvy construction project manager’s goal is to head surprises off at the pass and stick to the plan. Think again. The nature of the construction business is to anticipate the unexpected, weigh risks and be able to change course quickly when necessary. Flexibility is also part of a CPM’s daily life: this is not a job for people who want to work set hours and leave their work behind when they head home.

2) Knowing when to build bridges, negotiate, placate and reassure… and when to put your foot down. Construction management is not for the faint of heart. Being the point person is not only part of project manager’s skill set, it’s the job description. Because risk management and handling the unexpected are an integral part of said job, the usually amiable CPM needs to know when and how to be firm when the situation warrants it. A detailed knowledge of scope (who’s responsible for what) and contract management is crucial here.

3) A love of building. And the knowledge and field experience to support it. If you don’t know the difference between concrete and cement and haven’t got the faintest idea about how buildings are created or restored, this may not be your calling.

4) Humor. Stuff happens. Remember Rosalita, that Bruce Springsteen song where he says, “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny”? If you’re not able to laugh about and effectively manage risk and change, if you’re going to stay up all night worrying about a client’s sudden decision to replace guest quarters with an aviary designed for peregrine falcons, consider other careers.

5) A desire and natural ability to “mind the store,” even when the “store” is ridiculously complex. According to the CMAA (Construction Management Association of America), your average CPM shoulders 120 routine responsibilities divided among seven categories: planning, cost management, time management, quality management, contract administration, safety management and CM professional practice. This last covers specific activities such as establishing the project management team, implementing project controls, defining roles and responsibilities, developing and enforcing communication protocols, and determining which elements of the project are liable to give rise to disputes and claims. Which leads to another element of the list:

6) Teamwork. In this field, a natural ability to work with others is an absolutely essential construction management skill. This is not a good career for mavericks, divas, lone wolves or those who tend to go rogue.

Add to this construction project manager skill set an ability to work under stressful conditions, to think outside the box, good math and IT skills, great people skills and a natural-born tendency to move and shake and, by George, you may just have what it takes.

Want to know more? In an interview published on the website, Thrive Global, Stonemark Construction Management’s founder and president Bart Mendel was asked to share some guiding principles for his business. His answer?

1) Base your business on integrity;

2) Create an environment of safety where mistakes are allowed and not penalized;

3) Never compromise your principles;

4) Learn how to listen, because what people say and how they act can be misleading; it isn’t necessarily what they mean.

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