Clients want strong project leaders rather than mere project “administrators” who’ll simply manage things and move them around. They especially want a project manager who has the authority to impel the project through her firm; someone who can commit the firm’s resources.
Each time a PM, without this level of authority, is asked to do something by the client, there will be a schedule delay caused by the PM having to ask permission, or wait and analyze before committing the firm’s resources. Truly effective project managers require a level of authority that gives them the right to commit their firm on a client need-by-need basis. While effective PMs must be empowered to commit the firm’s resources in a reasonable and prudent way, they must also have the ability to:

  1. Sell the project to the client. The PM must have the skill to communicate the firm’s ability clearly, succinctly—and with authority.
  2. Motivate a team of design professionals and nonprofessionals. This includes outside agencies, subcontractors, and consultants who must be roused to perform at their utmost in the client’s interest.
  3. Know when to take charge. The project team is looking to the PM for guidance and direction. However, each team member must be allowed to exercise judgment and creativity within the constraints of the project and the team member’s role.
  4. Negotiate a fair and reasonable contract and favorable remuneration. The PM must understand finance and serve as the last bastion of the firm’s cash flow picture.
  5. Accomplish rather than excuse. Numerous excuses can be made for any project that does not meet budget, schedule, or quality needs. But the successful PM views difficulties as challenges and gains the respect of clients, supervisors, and peers by accomplishing the project’s objectives despite any problems.
  6. Serve the client. The key phrase is “serve,” not servile. The PM must sometimes tell the client things he/she doesn’t want to hear (for instance, that the cost to construct a favored design concept exceeds the budget). The ability to successfully manage client relationships is one of the project manager’s most important skills.
  7. Meet the schedule. PMs must make it their job to see that everything possible is done to complete the project within the contractual time frame.
  8. Make the planned profit on every job. Every PM must truly understand that in order to survive (not to mention prosper), design and construction firms must generate a profit.

The most effective project managers embody the skills and abilities in this list, and carry an authority in their organization that allows them to make decisions and adhere to commitments. PMs should be wary of firm leaders that don’t provide this level of authority or who are constantly second guessing their PMs decisions. And firm leaders should be wary of clients that don’t expect and demand PMs to have decisionmaking powers.
Is better project management on your wish list for 2015?  One way to make it a reality is to attend PSMJ’s A/E/C Project Management Bootcamp.