Responsibilities of a Project Manager – One for Your “Don’ts” File

I have a “don’ts file.” It’s a folder on my computer that contains digital photos of construction detail failures and poor construction detail executions. All of these things that I write about in this post would belong in there, if photographing them were a possibility… 

Instead of just blowing off steam about bad project management things I’ve seen, I’m trying to be constructive here, and give advice.

When you’re the architecture firm’s Project Manager on a project, don’t make your consultants beg for sets of as-issued bid documents or permit documents or progress sets. Especially if you’re not actually sending hard copies, and are only issuing PDFs, issue them to your team right away. Issue complete sets of exactly what was issued to the Owner or Bidders. Your team needs them for coordination and reference.

When you’re the Project Manager, don’t assume that everyone else will review those documents after you give them to them, and will fix any problems and do all the required coordination among themselves without being prompted or without even saying anything to you. YOUR job is to COORDINATE the work of all the rest of the team. YOU are the point person that all communication among all other team members is supposed to flow through. AIA documents indicate this1, and even the International Building Code requires this2. I, personally, as the specifications consultant, always review the set after it’s been issued, to see what coordination items I need to be involved in, but not all your consultants will always do this. YOU need to review their documents and make sure the work of everyone is coordinated.

When the Owner has a technical guide, or a design and construction standards document, that the design team is supposed to follow, don’t assume that the spec writer is the only person who is supposed to be familiar with the information in that document. More than almost anyone else, the Project Manager needs to be familiar with the Owner’s guide document. Everyone on the team needs to refer to the Owner’s guide, just as everyone on the team needs to refer to the governing codes, before getting very far on any part of the project.

I know, I know, I’m always writing about how great product reps are, and how they’re the people with the most technical knowledge about their products, but you’re the person with the most knowledge about YOUR PROJECT. So, when you’re working with a product rep, and the product rep writes a spec section for you, don’t just pass it on to your spec writer without reviewing it first. Your product rep may have written that spec section with your project in mind, in which case you would just have to review it to make sure it’s meshing with your design intent and your drawings.  But your product rep might NOT have written it with your project in mind… in which case you need to talk to the rep before your spec writer gets into that section and asks you a bunch of questions such as “Did you change the design of … since the last issue?” “Does our project still have … in it or did you get rid of that?” “Did you give the product rep my spec section from the last issue when you sent him your drawings, or did he start the spec section from scratch, without knowing any of the answers to the questions I already asked you?”

If the Owner adds scope to your project, don’t try to fit it all in to the old schedule – get a schedule extension, or don’t add the new scope. If the Owner adds scope to your project AFTER THE PROJECT HAS ALREADY GONE OUT TO BID, get an extension for the bidders, as well as for yourself.

During the last week before construction documents go out to bid, don’t come up with new products to add to the project at the last minute, and try to sell the Owner on these new things, and get the design team working on incorporating them into the documents, only to have the Owner finally, definitively, say that, no, they really don’t want it in their project. Because now you’ve wasted all your precious document coordination time on adding something new, just to delete it right before issuing…

Don’t just forward every email to your team without reading the emails first and deciding whether 1. they’re correct, 2. they’re applicable, 3. the people you’re sending them to need them.

Don’t assume that just because the Owner is providing and issuing the Procurement and Contracting Requirements, including the General Conditions, nobody else needs to see them or to know what they are. Your spec writer needs them in order to properly prepare Division 01, and you ought to be interested in them, too… They spell out an awful lot of your responsibilities, and the General Conditions of the Contract for Construction are usually part of YOUR firm’s contract, too, since they’re usually incorporated into YOUR agreement with the Owner, by reference.

When you’re the Project Manager, don’t assume that your boss coordinated all the agreements between you and all your consultants, and made sure that between your team and the Owner’s direct consultants, everything that needs to be covered is covered. It might not be, and you’re the person most likely to identify the gaps. Ask your boss for copies of all your firm’s agreements with consultants, and with the Owner, so you know what everyone’s supposed to be doing. And, if the Owner has separate consultants doing part of the design work, or separate contractors doing part of the construction work, don’t assume that the Owner is properly coordinating everything that needs to be coordinated. Unless there’s a Construction-Manager-as-Advisor involved, the Owner probably ISN’T properly coordinating everything.

Sometimes your spec writer might sound bossy when making suggestions. To some people (or from some people) these suggestions might sound like orders. They’re not. You’re in charge. Your spec writer is just another consultant, even if the spec writer is an architect, too. Don’t think that just because the spec writer is giving you professional opinions about what you may want to do in certain situations, that we’re trying to manage your projects for you. We’re not. It’s just that we see more projects than you do, and we look at your drawings in a different way than you do. You should listen to your spec writer, but don’t forget, you’re the manager of your consultants (within the scope of our agreements, that is).

And no, I didn’t make any of this up.

We all have to start somewhere, and we all make mistakes. But architecture firms need to provide better mentoring for project managers.


  1. The AIA C401 Standard Form of Agreement between Architect and Consultant says “Except as authorized by the Architect, all communications between the Consultant and the Owner, Contractor or other consultants for the Project shall be forwarded through the Architect.  The Architect shall be the administrator of the professional services for the Project, and shall facilitate the exchange of information among the Owner, Consultant and other consultants as necessary for the coordination of This Portion of the Project.”  The AIA B201 Standard Form of Architect’s Services says “The Architect shall coordinate its services with those services provided by the Owner and the Owner’s consultants.”  The AIA A201 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction says “…the Owner and Contractor shall endeavor to communicate with each other through the Architect about matters arising out of or relating to the Contract. Communications by and with the Architect’s consultants shall be through the Architect.”
  2. The International Building Code 2009, in Chapter One, Section 107.3.4 says “the building official shall be authorized to require the owner to engage and designate on the building permit application a registered design professional who shall act as the registered design professional in responsible charge. If the circumstances require, the owner shall designate a substitute registered design professional in responsible charge who shall perform the duties required of the original registered design professional in responsible charge. The building official shall be notified in writing by the owner if the registered design professional in responsible charge is changed or is unable to continue to perform the duties. The registered design professional in responsible charge shall be responsible for reviewing and coordinating submittal documents prepared by others, including phased and deferred submittal items, for compatibility with the design of the building.”  That registered “design professional in responsible charge” is someone from YOUR OFFICE.  Maybe even you.  Your office is supposed to review and coordinate the documents of everyone on the team before submitting to the building department.

7 thoughts on “Responsibilities of a Project Manager – One for Your “Don’ts” File

  1. Thanks, Liz. Very timely. The associates and senior associates of our firm met yesterday and mentoring new PM’s came up. I plan to forward a link to this blog to the associates and senior asssociates!

    • Marvin, thank you so much for your feedback! I’m so pleased that you are passing this on to your colleagues!

      One other thing that can help project managers is the CSI CDT exam. Studying for the CDT exam gave me a better understanding of what my responsibilities had been as a project manager. (In hindsight. Oops.) I was already a licensed architect when I took the CDT, and had pretty much Construction Contract Administration experience, and I learned A LOT when I took the CDT.

      I took the exam thinking it was the first step to becoming a spec writer, and it was, but I was surprised at how little I learned about writing specs and how much I learned about project management.

      If the project managers whose actions I mentioned in this post had taken the CDT, maybe some of those things wouldn’t have happened. Some of the other things could have been prevented with good mentoring, or good examples in the office to follow. And the rest may have been prevented with experience – architects have to learn through experience. But if the experience can be tempered with good mentoring, that will be better for the architecture firms.

      • Funny, I was a licensed architect when I earned by CDT as well!

        Thanks for the additional thoughts. I’ll cetainly use them to help raise the value of CDT in my firm and our chapter!

  2. Liz,

    Great post! Like Marvin, I plan to pass this on to others in our firm. Where you say, “Your spec writer is just another consultant, even if the spec writer is an architect, too” I’d like to add that this applies even when the spec writer is in the same firm. And of course as in-house specifiers, a lot of times it’s up to us to get that message to the project managers or it doesn’t happen.

  3. Liz:
    I am sure you know how timely your messages are! If not, then know it! We have an immediate need for this type of direction for all of our staff (and us owners,also)!
    Thanks for the insights, I too will be circulating this site to our office for serious consideration.

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