A Different Kind of Project Manager

When I started my design/build company, the construction department was comprised of one superintendent. From time to time an architect would jump in and help with in-office tasks. As the company matured, it became clear that having employees wear too many hats rendered more inefficiencies, and resulted in a lack of accountability.

Influenced by a builder friend’s company in Colorado, I chose to add an office component to the construction team, dedicated primarily to customer service and to act as a liaison between all the interdepartmental and external entities. It was at this point I adopted the concept of a project manager as an integral part of each project team.

I realized that the project manager title could be confusing since production builders and commercial contractors use this term to describe the head of their construction departments. But I thought it was descriptive of the position, and for lack of a better name, it stuck. All of our PMs either have an interior design degree or an architectural degree, patterning my Colorado friend’s approach and bolstering our firm’s credentials.

In high-end residential particularly, clients expect extensive time and catering to their needs. A superintendent does not have the time to provide this level of service. The PM caters to the client, and over the past eight years or so this position has been refined to become a true co-manager along with the superintendent. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and most importantly our clients have a tremendous appreciation for the service we provide.

As with any management position, getting the right person in place is key. It’s not as easy as throwing any interior designer or architect into the construction mix and letting them run with it. It takes a specialized individual who has a love for the construction part of the project and whose aptitudes prepare them to be in the hub of activity.

There are many people with design degrees for whom design is not their strength, but they possess a love of construction and strong management abilities. If their goal is to be involved with design, however, any tenure in management will be short-lived.

PMs are charged with the management of just about anything that is client-related on a project. The position calls for a high level of technical knowledge as well as strong client interaction. It is best for the PM to not only be personable but also be a public relations wiz, catering to the client’s wishes while keeping it enjoyable.

Responsibilities range from getting final client approvals and ordering of finishes; working with vendors to ensure accurate specifications and timely delivery; managing line-item budgets related to finishes; managing critical path timelines; and always communicating with the client.

PMs coordinate requests for information among all departments including architecture, interior design and construction. This support allows the superintendent to focus on his top job responsibilities and achieve impeccable quality control, scheduling and cost containment.

Ultimately, it’s the good managers overseeing effective systems that affect successful projects. Investing time and money in a project manager will help the other managers work more efficiently. Most importantly, raising the service bar by providing exemplary client care will foster a truly memorable experience and a long-term prosperous relationship with your homeowner.