A project manager is responsible for ensuring that the project outcome fulfills the brief provided by the client. Poorly managed projects are likely to waste time and resources, exceeding the designated budget and time frame. Therefore, good project managers are involved in the day-to-day operations of the project to ensure that it stays on track. The primary concerns of a project manager are the scope, budget, scheduling, resources, and quality control — even in the context of large construction and engineering projects involving large numbers of employees, subcontractors, and resources. The fields of construction and engineering often present unique challenges. For example, a construction project may face uncertainties due to the weather-dependent nature of the work and the reliance on many suppliers to provide the necessary resources. Therefore, engineering and construction managers need specific technical, practical, and organizational skills that may differ for projects in other fields.

Project management represents a great opportunity for engineers to advance their careers. If you are an engineer looking to make this jump, it is always beneficial to have extra training to enable you to respond to the challenges you may face as a manager. For example, check out the University of Ottawa’s online master’s degree in Engineering Management. This online course is designed to equip aspiring managers with the skills necessary to thrive in a leadership role. Applying management techniques to the world of engineering, this industry-oriented course covers topics such as finance, decision-making, risk management, leadership skills, and analytics.

There is no such thing as an ‘ideal’ project manager — everyone has their own preferred style of leadership depending on their experience and personality. Furthermore, different projects require different types of management, depending on the industry, scale, and other specific features of the task. However, a clear pattern would emerge if you were to compile a list of the key skills of hundreds of good construction and engineering managers. This article discusses five key skills and attributes that good managers use to lead successful projects.

1. Effective leadership skills

good project manager

The outcome of a project largely depends on the motivation and dedication of the people who work on it. Therefore, it is in the interest of any project manager to take an active role in ensuring a positive work ethic among all members of staff; people tend to produce their best work when they feel happy, safe and valued.

A good project manager is committed to basic values such as honesty, integrity, and accountability. By demonstrating these attributes, managers can earn the trust and respect of other workers and create an atmosphere where these values prevail. Setting a good example is an important role for a project manager, as this will positively affect the entire working culture of the project. This is especially beneficial to larger engineering and construction projects, where departmental leaders will look up to their project manager as a role model for their own leadership roles.

As well as exemplifying these personal attributes, successful project managers show respect and trust in their staff by delegating responsibility. Choosing the right person or team for each task is essential, and the project manager should try to get to know the workers and their strengths, qualifications, and areas of weakness first. Furthermore, project managers encourage independence, creativity, and motivation in their workforce by delegating responsibility. Allowing people to have a degree of autonomy over their work means that they become personally invested in their tasks and are more likely to show commitment and solve problems effectively.

However, project managers should be careful to retain overall responsibility for the project and avoid relying on delegates without checking on them. Even while delegating work, good project managers show that they are accountable for the outcome of the project – they are not just there to ‘oversee’ and should not pass the blame to other workers if the project fails.

Most of the leadership skills involved in engineering and construction are applicable to all types of project management. However, given that engineering and construction projects often deal with large amounts of resources, suppliers, and subcontractors, a lot of negotiation is required, so project managers need exceptional interpersonal skills and leadership qualities.

2. A mission-focused mind

To be successful, the project outcomes need to fit within the time, budget, scope, and quality criteria outlined in the contract — these reflect the wishes of the client. To ensure that these criteria are not neglected, project managers need to ensure that the mission of the project is at the heart of all operations, avoiding distraction and delay. As well as just making plans, project managers need to have a clear vision; they need to be able to envisage the successful completion of the project and to have a strong idea of exactly what needs to be done, by whom, and when, to make the vision a reality.

After all, project management is all about balancing day-to-day issues and the ‘big picture’ — being able to guide operations daily while keeping sight of the overall goal. In practical terms, this means setting smaller goals that contribute to the mission to keep everyone on track. Creating a roadmap also enables all team members to work towards and celebrate milestones while maintaining an awareness of the overall progress.

Another benefit of the mission-led approach is that it allows for the easy incorporation of subcontractors who might only be involved in one stage of the construction or engineering project because it ensures their awareness of the end goal of the project so that they can tailor their work accordingly. Take the construction of a new building, for example, where a team of electrical engineers might only contribute to installing lighting and ventilation systems. It is crucial that their brief and work correspond exactly to the requirements of the overall project, and it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure this.

3. Technical knowledge

good project manager

As valuable as soft skills are, successful project managers should also possess the sufficient technical knowledge to lead their teams. Managers need to be independent enough to use their initiative, making decisions guided by experts but founded on their solid grounding in the field. After all, the responsibility for the consequences of the project manager’s decisions sits on the shoulders of the project manager themselves, so they must have confidence in their own judgment. Weak project managers follow the guidance of others blindly when making important decisions and then attempt to shift the blame when the outcomes of these decisions are not as intended.

Another reason technical knowledge is an imperative attribute of a project manager is that it enables clear and detailed communication between the manager and their team. Managers unfamiliar with the specific jargon, procedures, and equipment used by team members are ill-equipped to advise these workers and may struggle to offer appropriate solutions for any issues. This is a two-way process; team members respect the authority of a project manager more if they feel that their manager understands their work and can offer useful advice.

This does not mean that project managers need an encyclopedic knowledge of the technical side of every aspect of the project — the scope of most projects is much too large for this to be possible. Instead, it means that project managers should have a solid foundation and experience in engineering and construction and, most importantly, a conscientious and curious mind to familiarize themselves with each aspect of the project. Good project managers ask a lot of questions and can understand the responses.

4. Excellent coordination skills

One of the most exciting aspects of project management is the varied day-to-day interactions and roles; project managers guide the large numbers of people, companies, and suppliers that contribute to the project. However, the beauty of the job can also present one of its greatest challenges: managing the schedule, budget, and day-to-day work of these contributors. The success of the project, especially its timely completion, depends on the ability of the project manager to coordinate all these moving parts. Streamlining communication methods and ensuring that people and resources are available when needed are the key solutions here.

Good project managers have perfected the art of holding useful and time-efficient meetings. These meetings should facilitate open communication between leaders and representatives of various aspects of the project — such as electricians, accountants, and heating engineers — to ensure that schedules and targets are acceptable to all parties. However, meetings should be kept brief and focused. Having too many meetings or allowing them to drag on for hours, wastes precious time and risks causing delay to the project.

Project managers should be technologically adept when using videoconferencing and file-sharing software to streamline communications. There is also a wide range of organization aid software designed especially for project managers, which is also worth investigating. Another useful tool for project managers is a Kanban board — a method developed by Toyota, a Japanese automotive manufacturing company. Meaning ‘billboard’ in Japanese, a Kanban system allows managers to monitor the progress of a project by arranging tasks into categories according to whether they have been completed, are in progress, or have yet to begin. With tasks written on cards and organized into different areas of the board depending on their completion status, Kanban boards create a visual representation of the project — highlighting any backlog of tasks and showing which areas have been completed. This allows the project manager to monitor the project, using one single diagram.

5. Risk management proficiency

good project manager

Good project managers do not just rely on a single plan to complete the project. In fact, successful project managers have a plan B and maybe even a plan C and D. This is because no matter how good a plan may look on paper, things rarely go exactly as planned. Projects are often buffeted by a range of external forces, such as changing client wishes, adverse weather conditions, administrative delays, accidents, and the fluctuating cost of materials and resources. Project managers should be as proactive as possible in foreseeing these challenges and should instill flexibility in the planning process to allow margins for error and accommodate unforeseen challenges.

Risk assessments are not just for health and safety regulators; they can be useful tools for managers to highlight different kinds of risks and prioritize them based on their severity and likelihood. This means that backup plans can be prepared in advance to reduce stress and panic in the event of a predictable setback.

To make a risk assessment that is as comprehensive as possible, project managers can communicate with the leaders of each team of workers and ask them to highlight the main risks and threats associated with that team’s work. For example, a bricklaying team relies on the timely delivery of bricks to begin their work promptly. Thus, the late delivery of bricks would be a threat factor here. To respond to this, the project manager could check in with the brick supplier to ensure that any issues with the delivery are communicated as quickly as possible. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis is a useful technique for analyzing risk. It highlights areas of success as well as areas of risk and shows where efforts to reduce risk have been effective.


Being a project manager can be very demanding, with important decisions and a broad set of responsibilities. However, when equipped with the right skills and expertise, project management can be a highly fulfilling and rewarding career. Good project management can also benefit the ethos of employees throughout the project, making the workplace an organized, communicative, and positive place to be.

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