Being a construction manager is a tough job, no matter how you approach it. Between the challenges of balancing a budget, that ever-looming deadline on the horizon and, of course, the inevitable last-minute disasters, it’s a miracle anything gets done. And of course, there’s the people to worry about.
To help you out, we’ve come up with a short list of the difficult personalities you’re likely to run up against in the construction world, and how to manage them without stepping on any toes.
The Rookie Project Owner
He’s enthusiastic, creative, and anxious to get this thing going, no matter what it takes… even though he has no idea what he’s talking about. His budget is laughably small, his expectations excessively high and his projected time line isn’t just impossible—it’s downright absurd. But he’s footing the bill, which makes him your boss. How can you bring him back to reality without getting yourself fired?
When you’re dealing with somebody who’s used to hearing “yes,” it can be tricky to tell them “no.” Your best bet is to make sure you support all your decisions with facts. Find information on another project that’s similar to what your project owner wants. Show him the facts (especially what it cost and how long it took to build) so he can get a better feel for what’s doable. Then, once he’s on board with reality, point out places where you could save time or money, but be sure to emphasize what gets lost in quality, too.
Remember to leave the final decision up to him, so he still feels like he’s in control. This project is his baby, after all—you wouldn’t want to beat him before he’s even out of the gate.
The Visionary Architect
She went to a liberal arts college where she learned fancy terms like balustrade and loggia, and she’s determined to use every last one of them in her architectural masterpiece—your project. But her designs are too ornate for the budget, or impractical for the local weather, or even in direct conflict with the laws of physics, which has your construction engineer on the verge of a nervous breakdown. How can you defuse the situation without insulting your architect’s “creative genius”?
The trickiest part of this situation is the number of personalities involved. You have to find a solution that your owner and architect are happy about, while giving your engineer something to work with. A good way to avoid this situation is to encourage your project owner to hire a joint engineering and architecture firm, but if you’re already in the middle of it, the best plan of attack is to get everybody in a room together and mediate the ensuing argument. Have your engineer outline the issues clearly and simply, and talk about them as though they were mere oversights on your architect’s part rather than obvious mistakes. Don’t allow interruptions or raised voices, and be firm—nobody leaves until everyone is on the same page.
The Unreliable Supplier
Before setting the final budget, you did your homework. You spent days running all over town, and you found good deals. Too good, in fact. Now it’s time to start construction, and the material hasn’t arrived. Or worse, it is here, and the supplier is asking twice the agreed-upon price for it. How can you play fair with somebody who’s trying to pull a fast one on you?
In this case, the best offense is a good defense. Before settling on any material supplier, you should make sure that his business is above-board, and engage his services with a very specific contract, including rates and delivery times. Sometimes, just the presence of a contract is enough to deter any funny business. Ultimately, the most important thing is to keep your calm. Losing your temper won’t change his mind, but it might give him legal grounds to back out of the deal.
To avoid situations like this, ask around about the reputation of any company you work with. If a guy has a history of breaking contracts, he can’t be trusted, no matter how good his deals are.
The Persnickety Inspector
Urban legend tells us that all inspectors want you to fail. Of course, that isn’t true, but the stories come from somewhere and you’ve just met the source. She goes over every detail with a white glove. If there’s a problem, you can bet she found it and reported it six different ways, which means more delays and expenses for you. How can you avoid setting off her alarms and get on with the work?
The key here is to beat the inspector at her own game. Don’t wait for her to tell you what’s wrong. Regulations are publicly available, so you can look them up yourself and get your project up to specs before the inspector gets there. That way, you can make sure that she only comes once, because there won’t be any mistakes for her to sniff out.
The Lazy Subcontractor
No project manager can do the work alone. Construction is a team effort, and hopefully your subcontractors agree. But occasionally you’ll come across one who thinks you ought to be doing his job for him while he pals around with his workers. It’s a lot of work to find a new one, so you’d like to get this one on the same page as you. But how can you motivate somebody who doesn’t want to be motivated?
Unfortunately, motivation is a very hard thing to force upon somebody, but it’s worth trying. Sit him down and have a serious conversation about what you expect from him. If he thinks he’s just a grunt, he might not consider his work important. Stroke his ego a bit—tell him that you can’t do your job without him, and you would really appreciate his help. Be genuine. If you make it sound like he’s doing you a favor, he’ll be more likely to want to help. But keep an eye out for replacements, so you don’t lose time looking if he doesn’t shape up.
The most important thing is to be honest with the people you work with. If they trust and respect you, they’re more likely to listen and do what you want. And remember: it would be nice if people cooperated all of the time, but if they did, you’d be out of a job.