Construction Managers: The Unsung Heroes of our World

By Sevket Taskan, Senior Project Manager

I have been a lover of movies for as long as I can remember. Since Covid, I’ve been spending even more of my free time watching them. I’m always looking for films with construction manager heroes, but surprisingly, they aren’t so easy to find. Sure, there are plenty of documentaries about construction, but what about other genres? Rom-Coms? Thrillers? Indie films? It doesn’t make sense to me, because who better than a construction hero to carry the box office?

Finally, I found a film that’s an homage to the daily struggles of the construction manager:

Locke, directed by Steven Knight – 2013

Starring Tom Hardy

The entire film is shot from the confines of Construction Manager Ivan Locke’s car. On the eve of overseeing the biggest non-military concrete pour in European history, he needs to respond to a life-altering personal matter. During his real-time 80-minute car journey, he holds 36 phone calls with his employer, colleagues, and family members to resolve his personal and professional issues.

 

Here’s my highlight reel of the dialogue that spoke to me as a construction manager.

 

“You make one mistake…, and the whole world comes crashing down around you.”

Because of the nature of the construction, every activity is linked to multiple parties, activities, and resources. Being bound with the iron triangle, a construction manager has to consider all the linked components and manage the risks. Like a chess player, the construction manager must anticipate the effect of his or her decision in the short and the long run. He or she knows that a poor decision will affect the whole system, sooner or later.

 

“I am trying to do the right thing.”

All the great construction managers that I know share the same attitude toward their jobs. They are 100% dedicated to doing the right thing for their projects. The welfare of the project is a top priority in their lives. At critical junctures, the project can become the most important aspect of their lives. That includes putting the proper measures in place to ensure the safety of their team members, clients and visitors to the project site. Now more than ever, as construction managers lead projects during Covid, their focus on protecting everyone on the project site is critical.

 

“No matter what the situation is, you can make it work.”

Construction managers are great problem solvers. Working with an army of parties in an environment rife with uncertainties, they are driven to finish their projects, on time, on budget, and with the required quality. When things get tough everybody turns to the construction manager. An excellent construction manager can always be depended upon to provide well-thought-out solutions to the issues. The construction manager is never desperate. He or she is the stabilizing force of the project—focused on solving problems and maintaining momentum to deliver an excellent result.

 

Bethan: “Be quick!”

Ivan Locke: “Yes, but there are speed limits!”

This is another example that made me smile. Each project stakeholder has expectations and limitations. When expectations don’t factor in the limitations of other parties, you essentially have a speed bump in the project. When that happens, it is the construction manager who steps in to balance things out. Knowing when to hit the gas is fine, but you also have to be a good judge of when to slow down to accommodate those speed bumps. That’s how a great construction manager keeps things on track and running smoothly.

 

“…, don’t trust God when it comes to concrete.”

Most Construction Managers are strong believers in Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Because of that, they are always vigilant and prepared for the unexpected. They know from experience that the nature of construction work involves a certain amount of uncertainty in daily operations. Construction Managers, like movie heroes, proactively analyze the risks, and then get into action—taking full control to save the day.

 

“Stefan is a good man. He will fix the pit and check the others. All 12 pumps will work. The stop-go will run. The north, south, east, and west gates will all take their quarter of concrete. … That is how it can be. That is my prayer.”

This is the prayer of the Construction Manager. Only after managing risks, making required preparations, and taking appropriate action, will the Construction Manager ensure that everything goes according to plan.

 

“Do it for the piece of the sky we are stealing with our building. You do it for the air that will be displaced, and most of all, you do it for the concrete. Because it is as delicate as blood.”

The pride and joy of being a part of the creation of a monument that will outlive us can’t be compared to anything. It is like signing your name on earth for everyone to see. All the hardships you encounter along the way on a project are worth it when you are part of a team that creates an environment for the community that will endure.

When it comes to Construction Management I know that I am biased and not objective. But it does not change the fact that Construction Management requires superhuman skills sometimes. According to IMDb, “Locke” is classified as a psychological thriller, and it should be because construction management is thrilling. And having observed so many exceptional construction managers in my career, I know how heroic they really are.