A day in the life of a project manager — Pt. 2

Mechanical contractor H. Kent Craig goes through a day in the life of a project manager.

The next day, I arrive on the jobsite early in the morning to find one of the storage trailers broken into. Checking the other trailers, especially the one used for storing copper (it has burglar bars welded to the front), not one of them shows any damage, but that's beside the point.

The things missing from the one compromised are a couple of extra Sawzalls, all the heavy-duty drills, some packs of silver solder and the small oxyacetylene torch rig — stuff that a couple of guys could easily hand carry and quickly dispose of at a pawnshop.

These tools are gone, and they will need to be replaced, which probably won't happen because all I hear from the home office all the time is how broke they are. Of course I’m still expected to maintain production with no excuses.

Summer dawn blankets the jobsite as my guys filter in for the day. The electricians, masons and rod-busting crews are accounted for and at work. The half-finished school shells look like some apocalyptic movie set as weld slag and sparks shower down from the second floor and crane arms swing steel high above into the morning sky.

I have to get my No. 1 crew to the middle school building to set sleeves, so we won’t be left behind and have the other crews do spot work, especially to finish up the roof drain leaders that they've been fussing about on the elementary building. Plumbing is plumbing, and I can't help it. Engineers still insist on poured-lead joints and extra-heavy cast iron pipe on all vertical drain risers.

My chief-cook, bottle-washer and overall superintendent, Earl, brings in one of my jobsite crew members. He has a freshly sliced hand. He doesn’t need an ambulance, but he is bleeding pretty bad and does need a doc-in-a-box. Not half an hour into the day and now this — great. My first thought is "shoot," but then it occurs to me that since he was the one I was going to let go soon anyways, this is the perfect opportunity to have him leave the job seamlessly.

I tell Earl to take him to the walk-in clinic. I will call the office to start his workman's comp, insurance paperwork and his termination stuff. I tell him that I was going to let him go today anyway, getting hurt had nothing to do with it (it didn't) and wish him the best of luck.

The morning drags on. It’s not even 10 a.m. and my straw boss Dougie walks into my office trailer to announce that he along with the entire crew are quitting — walking off the job — because of issues with his "real" job of captive breeding some of the rarest carnivores in the world has been hogging his time more and more. He hugs me saying, "Love you bro, but I can't handle the mess that's getting ready to happen, good luck!"

One by one my overmanned crew plods by the trailer, making sure I see them head out towards the assigned parking lot. Oh, well, I’ve been through worse.

During lunch with the GC's superintendent at Mario's Pizza up the road, Cliff hammers me about the mini-strike that just happened and how I will finish the job with no help. As he goes on and on, I just smile and pay attention to him for the time being since I always have a Plan B tucked away anyway. Well, usually.

I return from lunch to be greeted by a slightly tipsy James, acting as impromptu leader of a small mob of my still-but-barely-employed crewguys, also drunk, demanding raises and respect.

"You had no right at all to fire Bobby just because he cut his hand," says James. "We demand you re-hire him or we're all going to quit right now!"

"He wasn't fired for getting injured, he got injured this morning quite coincidentally to the fact I was going to fire him this afternoon," I tell James and the others. "And leaving the job in the middle of the day and coming back drunk is the surest way you'll never see raises or earn respect. I should fire all of you, but instead I'll pay you all regular wages for the rest of the day, you're all too drunk to be able to work safely this afternoon anyway, but anyone who doesn’t show up for work on time and sober in the morning might as well never show up here again, and I'll make sure your last checks are mailed to you. Got it?"

As a collective stare bears down on me, James turns in mock disgust to leave as quickly as his minions. Yeah, they'd be back, most of them at least.

I turn to go back inside the office trailer when a noisy ruckus mushrooms up from the far side of the back parking lot.

Walking quickly to see what all the ruckus is about, I meet Cliffy along the main dirt driveway, connecting the jobsite to the graveled lot, to find the mason crew cornering two guys no one has ever seen next to a van. A couple of the mason guys pulled stuff from the back of the van, including everything that was stolen from the storage trailer and some hand tools obviously taken from personal toolboxes in the early morning hours.

Mild-mannered Clifton mans up and steps up to the plate. He calls the police from his cell phone and calls the mob off of the thieves, putting himself directly between them and the hanging posse, so the thieves won’t wind up as part of the buildings' foundations.

Never let it be said that construction in general and project management is a boring occupation.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via email at [email protected].

Read "A day in the life of a project manager - Part 1"