Youre the captain, not the crew

RECENTLY A FRIEND of mine got fired from his new job as project manager because he was simply too dedicated, too loyal and too much of a company man. The saddest part about his firing was that he had been on the job as a PM less than six months, having spent more than 20 years working his way up through the ranks before finally getting his shot. The most ironic part of what went down was that he could

RECENTLY A FRIEND of mine got fired from his new job as project manager because he was simply too dedicated, too loyal and too much of a “company man.” The saddest part about his firing was that he had been on the job as a PM less than six months, having spent more than 20 years working his way up through the ranks before finally getting his shot. The most ironic part of what went down was that he could have prevented his own firing.

My friend, “Jake,” had spent his early years from the time he was 18 or so up until his late 20s in a union shop, making his way up the ladder from apprentice to foreman, until a non-union competitor about a 100 miles away offered him a chance for a larger guaranteed yearly salary if he’d come on board as a field superintendent.

There were challenges for him. Dealing with widely varying skill sets of mechanics and helpers placed in his charge was the most daunting. Dealing with an owner who really didn’t care about the quality of work and value of services rendered as long as the work passed inspection was another stick in his craw. And dealing with an immediate supervisor who routinely screwed him over on his timesheet, usually cheating him out of several hours per week, and who threatened his job if he ever complained didn’t help make for a comfortable work environment. Yet, because of his personal values, he stuck it out and persevered.

So it was no surprise to anyone when a few months ago after 10-plus years of slogging things out in the trenches and helping make the company tons of profits that he was promoted to project manager, getting his shot at PM’ing a relatively clean, new five-story office building job.

Jake couldn’t have been happier. All those years of butt-busting field work, running multiple crews on the same job while leading them by working harder than any of his guys under him, finally were recognized and rewarded by this shot at his first project management opportunity.

He resolved to be the best project manager his company had ever had. Just like when he was field superintendent, he would work harder, put in longer hours than anyone else. Trouble was, no one in the company gave Jake a single moment of guidance of what new skills he needed to learn, and didn’t do a very good job of communicating future expectations, other than “make us as much profit as you possibly can!”

On the job, he continued to act like a field superintendent, not a project manager. He still went to work in the same old company uniform he had worn for 20 years, still cussed worse than a sailor even in job meetings and, most flabbergasting to me, still put in eight hours or more a day actually doing field work as a working superintendent.

His bosses warned him repeatedly to quit doing actual fieldwork and start doing his job, which was to manage the assets, the dollars and the crews. He was afraid to listen. He was afraid that if he weren’t out there ram-rodding the job, the job wouldn’t get done on time. I pleaded with him that he had a field superintendent working under him whose responsibility it was now, who he could fire or replace if the guy wasn’t doing his job. It fell on deaf ears.

One, two and three critical ship dates for equipment were missed because he hadn’t made time to keep up with the needed purchase orders. Then one, two and three letters of non-compliance were written to his boss’s boss because he hadn’t done the needed paperwork for some change orders that the building’s owner had requested.

The straw that broke his back was when he went out, using his new authority as project manager, and bought some very expensive tools that he thought the job needed instead of working the schedule a little bit to use tools in existing inventory. He was fired the next day.

As project manager, you can’t do it all. You have people in your charge to get things done for you. Your job is to manage by working your brain, not your body.

As project manager, you can’t possibly know it all. It is your job to figure out whom to ask when you have a question. As project manager, you can’t be it all. All you can be is project manager, not project savior.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He may be reached by phone at 919/851-3985, or via e-mail at: [email protected]