Pushing Contractors Without Harming Relationships

Pushing Contractors Without Harming Relationships

Construction project managers (PMs) like me are responsible for tracking all the large and small details related to the job (or jobs) we’re overseeing. We’re the bridge between the owner and the people who design, engineer and build the projects. It’s up to us to make sure that the work is done well, buildings are completed on time and established budgets are honored.

For the past seven years, I’ve been serving as VPCS PM on the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) efforts made possible by Measure I, passed by voters in 2010. The $210 million bond funds are helping BUSD add new classrooms and science labs to the high school campus and make structural and safety improvements to school sites throughout the district.

Whether a PM is keeping watch over the construction of a single structure or the implementation of a multi-million-dollar bond program, the general responsibilities remain the same: complete the project in a manner that exceeds owner expectations and serves occupant needs. Accomplishing those end goals requires constant interaction between the PM and the general contractor during the construction phase, whatever the scale of the project.

Given the scope of the BUSD program, there are a variety of contractors distributed throughout the district working on different elements of the work. And I monitor their progress – and the progress of all of their subcontractors – on a daily basis. Sometimes even on an hourly basis!

It can be tricky to find the right balance when it comes to all of these interactions. I need to be communicative but not oppressive; persistent but not naggy; friendly but not unprofessional. Plus, it’s important that I tailor my methods of communication according to individual preferences. While some contractors are happy to engage in text or email exchanges, others are more comfortable giving me updates by phone or in person. I’ve made it a habit to kick off any new engagement by asking team members how they’d like to receive all the project-related information that will be coming their way – and how they’d like to keep me in the loop with their own reports. It’s amazing how grateful people are to be given the choice; this simple act also helps establish a two-way system of trust within the working relationship.

One of the many things I enjoy about working for VPCS is that we’re known for building long-lasting one-on-one relationships with clients and contractors alike. (Mark Van Pelt even wrote a blog piece on the business case for pursuing personal connections with professional colleagues.) I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. There are a million obvious reasons to keep things positive with the people we work with every day, including the likelihood that we’ll work with many of the same people multiple times over the course of our careers. Still, a PM’s job sometimes requires giving contractors or their subcontractors a bit of a push … maybe even a firm one. Keeping schedules on track or paperwork in order or quality standards on par occasionally means that the professional relationship must take precedence over any personal one that also exists. But this “pushiness” is always in service to our common goal: delivering an excellent completed project.

I know I’m doing my job well when I’m applying an appropriate amount of pressure on contractors – enough to honor my obligation to my client but not so much that it places my relationship with my fellow tradespeople at risk. Because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: professional satisfaction and the option of grabbing a cold beer together after work every so often to celebrate our shared accomplishment. I’ll always push for that.

By Chris Moreno