The Role of the Project Manager for Engineering and Construction

The role of a project manager in a design and construction project can usually be summarized in a short narrative within a project’s contract documents, but is rarely as easy as it sounds. The role of a project manager quite simply, is to lead the project team to ensure a quality project is produced within time, budget, and scope constraints. Simple enough, right? Well, it rarely is.

This is due to the fact that each project is unique with its own specific goals that must be achieved despite all the risks and problems that may be encountered externally or internally. Success depends on carrying out the required tasks in a logical and predetermined sequence that utilizes all available resources to their best advantage. The project manager must perform the five basic functions of management: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling.

Project planning is the heart of good project management. It is important for the project manager to realize that he or she bears responsibility for project planning – and the earlier the better! Planning is a continuous process throughout the life of the project; one that evolves and changes, and it must be done with input from all project stakeholders.


  • Develop planning focused on the work to be performed
  • Establish project objectives and performance requirements early so everyone involved knows what is required
  • Involve all discipline managers and key staff members in the process of planning and estimating
  • Establish clear and well-defined milestones in the project so all concerned will know what is to be accomplished and when it is to be completed
  • Build contingencies into the plan to provide a reserve in the schedule for unforeseen future problems
  • Avoid reprogramming or replanning the project unless absolutely necessary
  • Prepare formal agreements with appropriate parties whenever there is a change in the project and establish methods to control changes
  • Communicate the project plan to clearly define individual responsibilities, schedules, and budgets
  • Remember that the best-prepared plans are worthless unless they are implemented

The first thing that a project manager should develop is a project organizational chart that clearly shows the appropriate communication channels and project authority between people working on the project. Clear and consistent communication is of the highest priority in project management. Organized work leads to accomplishments and a sense of pride in the work accomplished. Unorganized work leads to rework. Rework leads to errors, low productivity, and ultimately, frustrated team members.


  • Organize the project around the work to be accomplished
  • Develop a work breakdown structure that divides the project into definable and measurable units of work
  • Establish a project organization chart for each project to show who does what
  • Define clearly the authority and responsibility for all project team members

Project staffing is next in line of importance when it comes to project management. It’s your people that make things happen. Most individuals will agree that people are your greatest resources on any project as they are the ones that create ideas, solve problems, produce designs, operate equipment, and install equipment that produce your final product. Because each project is unique, the project manager must understand the full extent of the work to be accomplished by each discipline so that he /she can identify the persons best suited to perform those tasks.


  • Define clearly the work to be performed, and work with appropriate department managers in selecting team members
  • Provide an effective orientation (project goals and objectives) for team members at the beginning of the project
  • Explain clearly to team members what is expected of them and how their work fits into the total project
  • Solicit each team member’s input to clearly define and agree upon scope, budget, and schedule

The project manager must direct the overall project and serve as an effective leader in coordinating all aspects of the project. This requires a close working relationship between the project manager and the project staff to build an effective working team. Because most project team members are assigned (loaned) to the project from their discipline (home) departments, the project manager must foster the development, knowledge, and communication among staff members to develop a unified project vision and knowledge base to ensure project success.

The project manager must be a good communicator with the ability to work with people at all levels of authority. He or she must also be able to effectively delegate authority and responsibility to others and concentrate on fostering communication between the various disciplines. By doing so, the project manager leads the effort to meet project objectives without becoming overly entrenched in details or minutia of the project.


  • Serve as an effective leader in coordinating all important aspects of the project
  • Show interest and enthusiasm in the project with a “can do” attitude
  • Be available to the project staff, get problems out in the open, and work out problems in a cooperative manner
  • Analyze and investigate problems early so solutions can be found at the earliest possible date
  • Obtain the resources needed by the project team to accomplish their work to complete the project
  • Recognize the importance of team members, compliment them for good work, guide them in correcting mistakes, and build an effective team

Project control is a high priority of management and involves a cooperative effort of the entire project team. It is important for the project manager to establish a control system that will anticipate and report deviations on a timely basis, so corrective action can be initiated before more serious problems actually occur. An effective project control system must address all parts of the project: quality, work accomplished, budget, schedule and scope changes.


  • Maintain a record of planned and actual work accomplished to measure project performance
  • Maintain a current milestone chart that displays planned and achieved milestones
  • Maintain a monthly project cost chart that displays planned expenditures and actual expenditures
  • Keep records of meetings, telephone conversations, and agreements
  • Keep everyone informed, ensuring that no one gets any “surprises,” and have solutions or proposed solutions to problems

Successful project management of a major, complex design and construction program requires a fundamental and comprehensive construction knowledge that includes proficiency in project planning, development, design, scheduling, cost management, codes and regulations, contract law, and exceptional communication and interpersonal skills. These professional skills are necessary for effective and successful project leadership and will improve the performance of the team, as a whole.

The best projects are conceived, designed, and constructed by groups that share a similar vision, goals, and ideals for the project. The design team includes owners, architects, engineers, consultants, and, in design-build projects, contractors. Hiring an effective project manager is fundamental to developing an effective team for one’s project. The selected project manager should not only have the necessary experience and expertise required by the project, but the ability build and coordinate a team that can make the owner’s vision a reality.

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