Adam Seiter is a third-generation employee who has put in over twenty years of hard work on Nabholz projects — he even taught our South Region President Jake Nabholz how to tie steel when Jake was putting in his time in the field. Adam has worked his way up from a laborer to a senior project manager and is now leading our first K-12 project in Tennessee. Over this time, he’s learned a lot and is passing down the 11 lessons that have stuck with him through the years.
The following stand out as the essential lessons I’ve learned so far in my career as a project manager. What do they all have in common? I learned each of these lessons the hard way, and most of these are lessons I have to continue to work towards EVERY SINGLE DAY.
- Be honest. Deal in the truth and speak from the truth. Even when people don’t like what you’re saying, they’ll respect where you’re coming from. This includes being honest and candid with yourself.
- Communicate in a productive and approachable manner. You’ll have to delegate, so set clear, defined standards and don’t allow them to become blurry. Follow up and hold your team accountable to these expectations; they will appreciate the clarity of the task and be more productive when they’re not trying to guess what you want. When I’ve had a problem with someone’s output, it’s usually because I didn’t give them enough direction in the first place.
- Take advantage of your team. You can’t know every single detail of the project, but you’re working with a group of people who collectively do. Lean on their knowledge and humble yourself to ask questions when you need help. If someone sees you, the project leader, asking questions and seeking input from others, it lets them know it’s okay to do the same.
- Take care of your team. As the project manager, the success of a project is squarely on your shoulders — and your responsiveness to RFIs, submittals, proposal requests, and all manner of documentation will greatly impact progress. You owe your team accurate and timely coordination to keep them productive.
- Conduct productive weekly progress meetings with your superintendent and team. Pick milestones on the schedule and steer towards them by creating short-term schedules that are attainable and agreeable to the group. Then, update and/or recreate them every week. Your weekly progress meetings and short-term schedule will drive the project.
- Continually push for progress on the project and actively anticipate problems. If there is a question on high center, drive the effort to get it answered. If it seems like no one is driving and the project is foundering, drive the effort to regroup. It doesn’t always have to be perfect either – most times a plan that is 80% correct and implemented today is better than the 100% correct plan implemented three weeks from now.
- Do the best you can with the information you’ve got, and if it’s not right, fail quickly and fail openly. You WILL make mistakes. When that happens, admit it, ask for help, lead the charge to get it corrected, and allow others to learn by being open about it. As the project manager, take the lick if the team makes a mistake — own your role as the leader, and lead the charge to get it fixed.
- A difficult conversation won’t get better with time. Whether it’s admitting a mistake, fixing a mistake, asking for help, or just dealing with a difficult situation or person — pick up the phone and start the conversation. Speak from a position of honesty and be candid. These conversations can greatly impact the progress on a project, not to mention your mental well-being. A big part of being productive is forcing the conversations that are often avoided.
- Return calls and follow through on everything. When you can be looked at as a reliable communicator, it builds your leadership capital. This is even more true if it’s an owner calling you with an issue. Our company has been awarded a lot of work because of the way we handle problems and warranty items. Use these situations as an opportunity to continue to show your value and integrity.
- Don’t be ugly. I tell my three-year-old daughter this all the time. You can be 100% in the right but when you reduce yourself to raising your voice, being mean, or losing your temper (or throwing food or toys, Lillian), you’re now in the wrong. Keep on the high road.
- Have fun and enjoy the ride! An owner has trusted you to be a partner in an important project and you’ll work with some very talented team members. Help out, cut up, and enjoy the process of building both projects and relationships. Some of the best friends I have are the people I work with every day, due in large part to me implementing all the above lessons.
Enjoyed this piece? Check out our other job-specific posts: 11 Ways to Be a More Effective Construction Superintendent, Management as a Superintendent: How to Lead the Job Site in a New Way, and Eight Ways To Be An Effective Project Engineer.