You're young and you're keen but do you really have the right stuff to project manage in construction? Well, according to Stephen Tarr, the chances are you probably do.
Effective project management depends largely on effective organisation of people, especially on construction projects. Whether you are managing one construction operation or several projects, the same basic rules apply - the manager must organise and empower to get the most out the workforce.
When Balfour Beatty's Stephen Tarr won the ICE Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award in 1997, he was working as project director on the M25 junction 8 to 10 widening. Today he is operations director looking after five major projects including the M60 in Manchester and the A30 DBFO road scheme in Exeter.
'The main difference is in the management styles needed,' says Tarr. 'Being the number one player in a specific project requires a different approach to being responsible off-site. Appointing like-minded project directors then becomes vital.'
Tarr explains that the key project management task on a modern construction site is to deliver value to the customer. This, he adds, can only be achieved by involving all the players in the project from the start.
Once this is achieved, dealing with risk becomes much more straightforward - by building relationships and trust between all the parties in a contract. Managers can concentrate on managing rather than defending their position.
Good project management is also about minimising the number of reporting layers. For Tarr, this must extend through the construction team and down the supply chain so that all project team members feel part of the job.
'In the last five years the construction industry has started to learn from other industries and is now putting the theories into practice,' he says.
'And to a large extent such improvements are being thrust upon us by the market place.'
New blood coming into the industry is helping to drive this message home, says Tarr. His project management expertise was first kindled by a part-time MBA course in 1991.
'Just having an MBA is no instant passport to success,' warns Tarr. 'But it cannot do you any harm and, if nothing else, gives the ability to look at problems from a different way.'
He says that young engineers coming on to site have far greater natural enthusiasm for professional project management and a greater desire to learn. Young engineers should, he explains, look towards taking MBAs as part of their self development rather than as a platform for changing career paths or boosting their salaries.
'We need to professionalise the industry,' says Tarr. 'But engineers with sound business skills are very valuable and in any organisation if value increases, so should remuneration.' AO