The Changing Role of the Modern Project Manager
The construction industry in Nigeria has been among the fastest-growing in the world in recent years, with projects such as the multi-billion-dollar Eko Atlantic City and the US $6 billion Lagos Free Trade Zone Port at its fore.
In fact, the 2014 Deloitte African Construction Trends report put the country ahead of others in West Africa in major infrastructure construction projects undertaken in 2014, with the nation spending US $36.5 billion on them in that year. In addition, as major phases of the Abuja Capital City development plan come on board in the next few years, significant project- management challenges will be presented within this sector and elsewhere.
As projects in the sector continue to grow in scale and complexity, effective management becomes equally more significant. It is not surprising, then, that the task of project management is becoming increasingly more demanding. Nor is it surprising that there has been a noticeable increase in the demand for business leaders with excellent project-management skills and capabilities. Where in the past a project manager’s role was to ensure that projects were delivered on time and within budget, today’s project manager is required to possess a better understanding of the broader commercial issues affecting a project’s true success, as well as realise a project to completion.
Consequently, key stakeholders in the industry are redefining their expectations of project managers. They realise that they need competent and knowledgeable individuals who can handle the growing complexity of projects and their associated environments. What was once a management position that prioritised repetitive execution of tasks has transformed into one of strategic leadership. Demands are being placed on these professionals to manage tasks outside the traditional sphere of planning, procurement and execution. From navigating relationships with multiple stakeholders in diverse cultures to ensuring compliance with applicable government legislation and best practices, and conducting due diligence, the job description of a project manager is ever-changing to accommodate a wider scope of work. These additional responsibilities necessitate a particular set of skills for project managers if they are to succeed
in this multifaceted role.
Required skills for today’s project manager… Previously, clients viewed project managers more as task coordinators and less as leaders. They were expected to deploy their skills to ensure that tasks on pre-prepared checklists were concluded on time and to report those outcomes to stakeholders. They were rarely involved in concept design and risk management. However, today’s project manager no longer simply focuses on processes. The role has evolved to become much more proactive and consultative. Not only must project managers possess a strong understanding of the technical aspects of construction and excellent management skills; they must also be able to think and perform strategically and have the ability to comprehensively assess both internal and external environments with a view to ascertaining the need for and viability of projects before their implementation.
With project funding, ownership and construction in Nigeria being managed from different countries and continents, project managers must be able to work in partnership with (as well as coordinate the activities of) large and diverse groups of people from different countries, cultures and professions. They must also be adept at making sure that goals are achieved in line with projected timelines while constantly encouraging team members to complete tasks with a high degree of quality. In order to accomplish these tasks as well as strengthen relationships with key stakeholders, the ability to communicate effectively is vital for project managers. For instance, project funders expect project managers to drive projects forward and provide regular updates regarding important issues. Contractors, too, expect project managers to provide the day-to-day liaison with project funders to adjust plans to ensure projects remain on track, and to manage relationships to ensure that sponsors’ expectations are realised in a timely fashion.
Another important skill for the new breed of project managers is the ability to grasp the big picture towards empowering them to establish performance baselines, proactively manage projects to ensure timely delivery and ultimately supply the results needed to achieve business goals. Because project managers’ decisions affect overall cost, project quality and ultimately profitability, they must be able to envisage and deal with unforeseen contingencies that may affect processes at each stage of the project’s life cycle. Furthermore, modern project management thought acknowledges that the success of a project is not judged solely by successful execution and completion, but by the understanding of the client’s ultimate business objectives and the broader success of these.
Expanding skillsets through advanced education… It is therefore compulsory for today’s project managers to not only possess strong technical skills, but also be proficient in managing aspects that are beyond the scope of these technical areas in order to successfully accomplish project objectives. Because of this, industry professionals are recognising the need for advanced education to gain the critical skills and essential knowledge to advance in their careers.
The University of Roehampton, London Online’s MSc in Project Management, which is accredited by the Association for Project Managers in the UK, is designed to meet the presentday needs of professionals in this field. The programme builds core competencies and the essential knowledge and skills required to drive projects from concept to completion; hone their communication, people and planning skills; gain a deep understanding of the key prerequisites for successful project management; and help them strategise and see the big picture.
As the programme is fully online, students can benefit from a flexible programme that develops critical thinking while also providing professionals with the opportunity to engage with peers in similar roles across the globe to gain insights into modern project-management issues.
Given the recent changes to expectations, it is apparent that project managers are assuming a new status in construction as the demands of that industry continue to evolve. These changes are likely to strengthen and validate the evolving role of the project manager as a leader in construction.
Dr. Peter Atorough is a faculty member for the University of Roehampton, London Online project management programmes.