Whether you’re evaluating the performance of your current Project Managers, or looking to hire a “Star Performer” for your construction team, how do you do it?  What are the key skills, competencies, and deliverables that you expect them to possess? How do you measure their performance and determine where they may need training or support?

Based on over 20 years of experience in Construction Project Management (performing, recruiting, managing and evaluating performance), and helping countless contractors as the nation's leading commercial construction consulting firm for mid-size contractors, we have found the following to be the essential skills that are common among the most successful Construction Project Managers. 

Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that truly great Project Managers perform all of the skills on this list with ease and grace. They don’t seem to struggle to manage and perform the tasks, navigate the relationships, and meet the schedules of their projects. They just seem to ‘get it all done’. I hope everyone has the opportunity to meet or work with someone like this, either as a manager, co-worker, or client.

Read More: Rewarding Project Managers 

1. Reading & Understanding Contracts

Possessing a basic understanding of contract language and law is fundamental to effective project management. The Contract is the ‘rulebook’ of the project and explains how the ‘game’ is to be played. All aspects of the project should be covered in the contract: Submittals, contract documents, scheduling, safety, delays, damages, billing, markups, etc. It is the PM’s responsibility to know and follow all the ‘rules’ of their project.


2. Reading & Understanding Plans and Specifications

The ability to read and understand construction documents is found in all successful project managers. At both the General and Subcontractor levels, they should be able to read and interpret the plans and specs of all trades, not just their own. Understanding how their work correlates to the overall project allows for knowledgeable project communication (see #9), and the ability to plan and sequence scopes of work for effective and efficient installation (see #5).


3. Creating A Project Cost Budget 

Successful Project Managers are charged with full profit and loss (P&L) responsibility for their projects.  Knowing how to take an estimate and convert it to a complete and accurate project budget is the first step in the process (see also #6, 8, 10).


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4. Creating A Schedule of Values & Billing Accurately

The structure of the Schedule of Values (SOV) is determined by the type of contract (see #1).  Cost Plus, Fixed Fee, GMP, Lump Sum, etc., they all have specific requirements for billing.  It is the PM’s responsibility to understand these requirements, build a SOV that satisfies them, and understand how to generate billings that, at a minimum, cover costs-to-date. 


5. Creating and Managing the Overall Project Schedule (OPS)

Successful Project Mangers know how to read plans (see #2), break down scopes of work into ‘work packages’, and sequence these packages into the OPS.  General Contractor or Subcontractor makes no difference; effective PM’s know how to sequence work for effective and efficient installations. Proactive project management means “solving problems before they become problems”. The ability to collect and disburse information, review upcoming plans, make effective adjustments, and communicate with the people on the project team helps to ensure project success. 


6. Creating Commitments (Purchase Orders & Subcontracts)

Every PM should know how to perform these basic tasks.  Much like understanding your own contract (#1), knowing how to read and write subcontracts is fundamental to successful project management.  Ensuring consistent Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) are carried through to avoid conflicts and gaps between your contract and your subcontractors is a basic risk-mitigation strategy. Further, creating commitments in the project accounting system is fundamental to updating the budget (#3) and accurately forecasting project financials (#10).


7. Build Effective Change Order Proposals

Rarely does a construction project go from start to finish without something changing in scope or schedule. Knowing how to identify these changes is only the start. Successful PM’s understand their contract and know if they can be compensated for the change (#1), and they understand how to capture and build an effective proposal so they can be compensated for the cost and/or time associated with the change.

Read More: Construction Change Orders 


8. Soft Skills & Communication

Construction is a complex process that is performed by people. In order for projects to be successful, effective communication and sequencing (#5) is required. Project Managers act as the communications link between many different stakeholders on the project team.  The ability to interact with field level tradesmen, Owners, Developers, GC’s, Architects & Engineers is a key skill of effective PMs.  At a deeper level, understanding the different priorities of each stakeholder, communicating, and managing to each one effectively can be the difference between a winning project, and a not-so-profitable one. 


9. Forecast Accurate Cost-To-Complete (CTC) Financials

As the guardian of the project’s financial success (#3, #4), is the PM’s responsibility to keep accurate project financials and adjust the forecast on a regular basis. This goes beyond basic reporting of cost vs. budget. This is the skill of ‘predicting the future’ and anticipating both cost savings and overages before they happen.  This can be the most challenging skill to acquire, as experience is often the best teacher.

Read More: Project Labor & Cost Management


10. Self-Motivated & Self-Managing

The ability to work independently, be self-motivated, and self-managing are crucial to becoming a star PM.  Project Managers are basically given the checkbook to their projects, and in turn directly affect the company’s financial performance.  It is critical that the Project Manager is capable of making quality decisions without excessive oversight. They are able to fairly resolve project disputes, proactively adjust the project schedule (#5), and keep communication channels open for the flow of information (#8).


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Adam Cooper

Ascent's founder and president, Adam Cooper has over three decades of experience in construction business ownership, sales & marketing, project management, construction technology, company operations and leadership.

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