The Importance of an Experienced Project Manager

John F. Gravel

When the going gets tough, leadership makes the difference between a win or fail.

It was October 9, 2012. The San Francisco Giants were deep in the hole, fighting the Cincinnati Reds and facing elimination in the National League Divisional Series. After a brief playoff run, two lost home games, including one sad blowout (9-0 for the reds), all signs pointed to the Giants heading home.

But not if outfielder Hunter Pence had anything to say about it. And apparently, he did, giving his team a locker room pep talk that would change the course for the Giants, as they went on to win not only that game, but the last three games against the Reds, and eventually winning the 2012 World Series.

Made in the USA

“Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.”- Vince Lombardi

Vince wasn’t wrong, leaders are made, or we could argue, born out of their experience. This is not a passive process, however. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, there are three fundamental truths to understanding how experience shapes leaders;

  • Experience matters, because leaders are made, not born.

The most valuable experiences push you out of your comfort zone, stretch your skills, and challenge your abilities.

  • Experience is variable, and not all experiences are the same.

Different experiences teach different things. The quality, quantity, and diversity of your experiences are important.

  • Experience is the past, present, and future at once.

You can relive past experiences, reflect on them, and discover new insights.

The most influential leaders will actively learn from every experience, set benchmarks from successes, and understand how they can do better after losses. They will fine-tune their soft skills and be strategic in their personal development as they traverse the rough terrain of the construction industry and manage from the most minute problems to giant disasters.

Project Management in the Infrastructure Industry

Project management is about leadership. In recent years, an increasing number of projects have experienced delays and cost blowouts. Now, maybe more than ever, delivering projects on time and on budget requires decades of experience.

Project managers require exceptional communication, influence, and leadership skills. They must implement management and control systems, manage a diverse group of operating and technical personnel and liaise with tact and diplomacy with consultants, contractors, as well as internal and external stakeholders.

Project managers provide expertise, direction, and leadership, overseeing safety, procurement, engineering, construction and commissioning, cost control,  and social and environmental concerns. They require an in-depth experience of all project stages, from concept to commissioning.  They must maintain an unrelenting focus on results and objectives, maintain transparency, and communicate priorities throughout every step, through every department and, ultimately, execute on the deliverables.

Much like playing at the Superbowl or the World Series, project management of this magnitude takes a myriad of skills that takes years to develop, a continuous want to achieve what others may deem impossible, and in this industry, the ability to foresee the unforeseeable.

Just as elected leaders earn their trademark end of term grey hairs, a project manager earns their stripes and increases their  value with every lesson learned, every grey hair sprouted, every year added to their resume. Experienced project managers are invaluable to any organization, and most notably, in one as complicated and challenging as our industry. But let’s not tell them we said so.

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