AS IN LIFE, everything associated with project management is either an asset or a liability. Every human, material or financial resource that can or will be used in the project management process is either going to hurt or help you. There are but a handful of absolute “laws” of project management, but this is definitely one of them.
Within the seeming absolutism of what I’m describing as a black-and-white world, there’s a lot of gray.
Something can be both an asset and a liability simultaneously, such as enthusiasm. Something can be both an asset and a liability depending upon how it’s used, such as having almost too many labor hours in the budget (yeah, right, that actually happens!). Something can be an asset early on in the job and become a liability later, such as your boss’s too-close personal attention to the job.
Some things are always a downright liability regardless of circumstance, such as not being allocated the correct amount of labor, material or money. Some things are always an asset regardless of circumstance, such as your own professional experience, knowledge and demeanor.
Some things can be an asset one moment and then turn right around without warning and bite you hard, such as a close personal relationship with the architect or engineer that sits across the conference table from you at meetings.
Some things can be seemingly a needless, burdensome liability, such as a contract-mandated job-wide safety plan that in the end, without any intervention on your part, becomes an asset to you because when the certificate of occupancy is issued the required safety plan has saved you money.
As project manager, your duty and responsibility is to take the time to assess if each detail of the job is an asset or liability. As project managers, what separates us from the wannabes is that we get paid for our skill in taking care of these details, not glossing over or ignoring them.
Sometimes, some things will be forced down our throats as a condition of being assigned a job, such as employing the boss’s crazy, lazy uncle or using equipment that should be sold as scrap because of safety concerns. In those cases, we take the time to talk with the crazy uncle and figure out where he might actually be of some use to us, where he’d like to work on the job and for what he has at least some talent. We spend what little discretionary budget we have to make the worn-out equipment at least OSHA-compliant, and then hope it lasts until the end of the job.
Sometimes, we’re given wonderful options, such as being able to pick our own crews from the pool of talent that is employed by the company. Sometimes we’re given a 30-day “honeymoon” from the start of the job when our company is a little freer with money and people. In those cases, stay smart, be judicious, but go for it!
In every case, at every moment, we need to consciously ask ourselves, “Is this person, thing or financial asset making us money and, if not, what can I do about it?”
We live in a harsh world where owners and CMs are turning you and everything in your company into a commodity. So, if some thing or person isn’t a real-time, right-now or in the near-future asset, it’s a definite liability. You, as project manager, can’t afford to have it within your aegis. If it’s a liability, you need to get rid of it or at least neutralize it where it can’t cost you money.
When you deal with people assets, it’s our human nature to want to be liked by all, even if trying to be nice to “your guys” is detrimental to the financial health of the company. You don’t need to have the mentality of a “captain of a lifeboat on the open seas” to be a successful project manager, but you do need to have the courage and will to make necessary hard decisions.
True leadership is about enabling the best of your people, to where their potential assets become real and their potential liabilities become transparent. True leadership is about taking what material and financial assets you have and leveraging the hell out of them, making them “force multipliers.”
Only by developing your sense of perception about what is an asset or liability can you truly become a project management leader.
H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/851-9550 or via e-mail at [email protected].