Single-person management

Nov 12, 2023

Single-person management may be one of the single most limiting factors to any AEC firm’s growth.

Single-person management may be one of the single most limiting factors (pun intended here) to any AEC firm’s growth, yet I rarely hear it talked or written about.

“What is single-person management,” you may ask?

It is very simply this: When all decisions of any importance have to be made by one person in the business. Typically, this person is the owner, but I have seen a couple instances where the owner of the business has a spouse or someone else who has assumed this role. It could also be the head of a single office or department in a larger firm who functions this way.

When this condition exists I always try to do two things. One, figure out the WHY. Why is this owner so untrusting of anyone else that they have to make every call? And then secondly, how can I change their thinking to start delegating some authority and responsibility to other people?

Here are some of the “whys” that I commonly hear, along with my response to help change the single-person manager’s thinking:

  • Single-person manager: “It’s my money and I am taking all the risk, therefore I need to make all of the important decisions.”
    My response: Have you considered selling any ownership to your key people so they have some risk also? If not, why not? Do you share any financial information with your people so they understand the numbers and how you are taking on all of the risk for the firm’s performance? Do people understand the ramifications of failure?
  • Single-person manager: “We don’t have any people who care as much as I do about this business.”
    My response: Why is that? Are you doing a poor job with your hiring practices? Are you losing good people because of how they are treated? Do you do anything to weed out non-performers and replace them with people you think will be high performers? Do you have any incentives for good people to care about how the firm is doing?
  • Single-person manager: “My name is on the door and anything we put out here has to reflect what I think is good.”
    My response: So does that mean you personally have to do everything? Isn’t there anyone you trust to understand what your priorities are and why you think things need to be done a certain way? Have you ever considered bringing some new people in from other companies that you admire? How can you train your people so they understand the how and why of what you do so they can do it?
  • Single-person manager: “I tried giving someone some authority once and they made bad decisions.”
    My response: Is a sample size of one representative of all people? Did you make any efforts to train this person who failed to make good decisions or did you just put them in the role with no direction? How do you think other companies get past this so they can grow? Certainly not all decisions need to be made by you – what decisions can you part with?
  • Single-person manager: “I can do ‘X’ better than anyone else, so I always do ‘X’.”
    My response: How will anyone else get good at this if you never give them a chance to do it? My experience is this is very typical but sometimes if given a chance to do it for a while, you may find that someone else is actually better than you at “X.”
  • Single-person manager: “I know I need to let go, but still, I can’t do it.”
    My response: Do you like being trapped by your business? How does your spouse or other family members feel about your inability to let go? Is this the way you run your personal life as well? Do you see any negative ramifications of not being able to let go at all?

To conclude, I know that it’s not easy to change someone who has operated their whole life one way. The only way I know how to do it is to ask the tough questions and point out the negative consequences of not changing along with how great things could be if they do change. Although it doesn’t always work, it does sometimes! 

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

About Zweig Group

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.