Are you a manager or a leader?

Sep 11, 2022

When your team views you as a leader and not just a manager, they will work much harder and be willing to go the extra mile when necessary.

The textbook definition of a project manager is “a professional in the field of project management whose responsibility is to lead the work of a team to achieve project goals and execute a project successfully by monitoring given constraints such as defined scope, schedule, and budget.”

Project management is a technical role that requires a project manager to have industry competency as well as strong organizational, planning, and leadership skills. An effective project manager must be focused on deadlines and prioritizing tasks while simultaneously managing team members both individually and as a collective group. Project management is also a role that requires soft skills including emotional intelligence, self-confidence, adaptability, decision making, problem solving, collaboration, communication, empathy, time management, assertiveness, and creativity.

In the AEC industry, engineers are stereotypically known to possess type-A personalities. They are methodical in their work, strong problem solvers, and reliant on facts. Data driven analysis and calculations are very important for an engineer to be successful. Project managers must remain involved in the technical “nuts and bolts” of the project alongside the engineers while concurrently focusing on the bigger picture. It is imperative to understand how engineers gather and process information and to develop strategies that play to their strengths to move the project forward and deliver a successful outcome.

Engineers value accuracy and specific details, so pretending to know what you don’t know and being unable to admit weakness is a quick way to lose respect and trust amongst the team. Tough, awkward, or sensitive conversations with clients or coworkers are also typically not a strong suit of an engineer, meaning they may prefer to rely on the soft skills of a project manager in such situations. Taking on the nontechnical duties of the project can also be a great way to build rapport and prove your commitment to the team. Lastly, providing feedback in a safe and discrete manner is often desired by engineers as they generally take great pride in being an expert in their field. Avoid micromanaging for that same reason. Asking for regular feedback from your team is another method to improve your management skills and show humility. We can all agree that the best managers aren’t managers, they are leaders. Managers exercise power and authority to control a group of people to accomplish a certain goal. Leaders influence, inspire, and empower others to contribute to the team’s success. When the team views you as a leader and not just a manager, they will work much harder and be willing to go the extra mile when necessary.

As much as the role of “project management” implies that the responsibilities of a project manager are solely project related, it could be argued that a more accurate title would be “people management.” At PK Electrical, we recognize that a project team can only be effective and cohesive when all members are actively contributing and communicating. To ensure that each person is properly supported and empowered to perform their role, we strive to focus on the needs and strengths of each individual team member and avoid using a blanket management style. Our management team also routinely trains and coaches employees on the importance of a proper hand-off and setting each other up for success. Our goal is to help our clients achieve their visions by delivering a project that is on schedule and budget, but we also place a high priority on growing and mentoring our team members. Our firm practices servant leadership, which involves project managers putting the needs of the team before their own. By fostering working relationships with each team member and understanding specific goals, it not only benefits the individual, but the firm and project outcome as well.

In addition to internal relationships, external relationships are vital to our success in the AEC industry. The PK Electrical team is known not only for our high-quality designs and excellent client service, but also our culture based on teamwork and fun. The ultimate goal as the project manager to is ensure we maintain a positive relationship with clients and protect our reputation of being a responsive, professional, and trusted partner. We all know that one project and even one employee can make or break a partnership and have lasting effects, reaffirming the importance of the project manager remaining engaged and motivated from project start to finish.

One of the most rewarding aspects of leading an engineering team is the opportunity to influence the growth and efficacy of the firm while helping clients achieve their visions. Project managers need to be dynamic and well-equipped with both soft and hard skills to function effectively and cultivate the support of their team. Leading a team of engineers is a continual learning process. You should celebrate the wins of your team and also be agile enough to pivot when things are out of alignment. Using these tips can help transform you from a manager to a leader and help to foster a thriving team of engineers. 

Linda Schulte, PMP, is a project manager at PK Electrical, Inc. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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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.