Accomplishing things through others

Aug 28, 2017

When you think about it, management of the design process for a complex construction project is all about accomplishing things through others. Many different people have to come together to get something done by a certain point in time. And most of the time, the people involved don’t report directly to the project manager. They may not even work in the same company. That makes it hard.

As difficult as this should/could be, there are still individuals who shine at it. Here are some of the ways they get people to work for them:

  1. They are direct communicators. They don’t speak in riddles and over-use cliches to avoid turning people off. Everyone on the project team understands what they are supposed to be doing because the job has been laid out and the end goal explained. There’s no doubt where they stand on any issue.
  2. They are willing to do their share of the work. No one wants to give their all to someone whom they perceive isn’t working as hard as they are. This is absolutely fundamental to effective leadership of others.
  3. They give plenty of recognition for a job well done. A smart project manager always makes an extra effort to heap praise on those most deserving. Any positive feedback they themselves get from a client or anyone else they direct toward the people who are actually doing the work.
  4. They make sure everyone gets paid – and paid well. This means going to bat with the department heads and other people who determine what a team member makes compensation-wise, and speaking up for them. It also means sub-consultants don’t get beaten down during fee negotiations and get paid when the prime’s firm gets its money from the client.
  5. They can put themselves in the other guy’s shoes. A good PM can empathize with the other people involved. Putting themselves in their shoes makes them more sensitive in terms of how they communicate and what they’ll ask (and expect) out of someone.
  6. They anticipate problems before they occur. Being able to predict what people will misunderstand and how they could mess something up by accident, or who won’t get along, or who will do the wrong thing, is the mark of an effective project manager. Some of this comes from experience. Some of it comes from being a smart observer and student of human behavior. This is one of the most important skills you can have as a PM!
  7. They confront problems quickly. Nothing other than wine improves with age. All problems must be dealt with expeditiously if you are going to keep people from wasting their time. And no one wants to waste their time as ANY good PM knows.
  8. They keep their perspective on the value of a good client and remind everyone of that. I teach this every year to my entrepreneurship students. If someone comes into a fast food restaurant and has a bad experience, the loss is not the $1.20 the restaurant would earn on that $8 meal. The loss could be $1.20 times 52 weeks in a year for five years if that person was a typical repeat customer. Same thing applies in our business. A good PM also understands you can’t try to make a killing on every project. Sometimes you have to work for less because it’s the right thing to do – to help make up for past problems – or to help the client out of a jam as a company or even personally.
  9. They are willing to fire a bad client and walk away. An effective PM cannot allow his or her people to be abused or unappreciated by a bad client. No client who repeatedly has unrealistic expectations can be tolerated. People with short fuses who destroy the morale of those doing the work may not be worth trying to serve. A good PM isn’t afraid to say, “We’ve had enough.”
  10. They show respect for everyone. And that includes being super responsive and making sure people don’t waste their time doing the wrong thing because they haven’t been communicating with them. No one is beneath them. No one should ever be mistreated or dressed down publicly. And no one can be treated as if their time isn’t the precious commodity it is.

So what do you think? Could your PMs do a better job at these things? If so, you better get to work!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.