What makes an exceptional project director?

3 min read

The construction industry has become a race for project teams to think smarter, faster and more efficient delivery, but just who is ultimately responsible for that team? Christian Moffatt, Mace’s Director of Recruitment, talks about what today’s exceptional project director looks like.

The widely reported skills shortage in the construction industry means that we now find ourselves working in one of the most competitive industries in the world. This means that the ability of a business to find and retain the best people is often as much what defines a winner in this sector as the projects they deliver.

For us at Mace one of the differences between a good and a truly great project lies in the strength of its project director. So if we want to deliver exceptional projects for our clients, and we do, we will need exceptional project directors and the ability to spot them when they come our way.

In my experience perhaps the most obvious attribute for a great project director is the ability to provide the necessary leadership and direction for their teams.

There may have been a time when this, coupled with expert knowledge of construction methods, was all that was required of a project director, but I am not speaking out of turn when I say that those times are long gone, now leaders must also adapt to changes in technology and society.

Technology may be the key to productivity, but I think it’s important to remember that leadership is what will actually drive it and harness its power for commercial success.

This responsibility coupled with the fact that teams in today’s construction industry can be divided between onsite and offsite, and even between continents, means that the pressure placed on project directors is unprecedented.

It has always been the case that successful project directors need exceptional communication skills to set the tone of the project, and then to encourage, engage and motivate their teams.

But the challenge for today’s project director is what happens to communication when your team is collaborating through entirely digital channels, or how to build trust with a team that only rarely meets face to face. In short I would say that an exceptional project director is one that can lead, communicate and motivate across geographic, technological and cultural barriers.

For every project team, and indeed the entire industry, it is a race against time to squeeze margins and speed delivery – with new technologies, modular design and new methods of prefabricated construction.

This is effectively redefining the traditional make-up of the construction team, and more specifically, the project director. Project directors no longer carry just the responsibility for the team and the entire project on their shoulder, but also the pressure to look constantly at how to drive greater value out of the way their teams work together and operate.

That means that a truly great project director is one that is receptive to innovations in technology, working practices and management.

When I look at the way teams interact, it becomes clear that project directors must also be mindful of the different make up of their team. The demands of the millennial generation create their own challenges with high turnover rates and an increased focus on career development.

Coming up behind them their successors will soon be entering the age for apprenticeships and will bring their own challenges. The best project directors are sensitive to the needs and expectations of these individuals in order to retain the best talent.

Some would say that a project director is only as strong as their team, so the selection of that team and how you treat them should be very high on the list of priorities.

I am definitely one of those people. For me, the exceptional project director builds a strong team and trusts them, sets clear expectations, ensures everyone understands their role and how their contribution fits into the bigger project picture, and then steps back to allow them to get on with it.

This article was originally published in Project Manager Today

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