Leaders use heart to get teams to follow the beat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2008, 12:00am

A project manager in the civil engineering construction industry is like a drummer on a dragon boat, according to Alice Chow, director of Arup, Hong Kong.

'You have the people paddling in the middle and you have the person at the end who steers,' she said. Like a helmsman, the client steers the project in the overall direction in which they want it to go and the project manager produces the beat to which the members of the team must work.

That was what it took to be a good project manager - co-ordination, heart and bringing everyone onto the same page, said the winner of the Project Manager of the Year Award in the inaugural RFP (Real Estate, Facilities and Project Managers) Outstanding Individual Awards recognising professionals for their contributions to the built environment in Asia.

Leading the project management group in East Asia, covering the mainland, Hong Kong, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, India, the Philippines and Taiwan, she has been in charge of construction projects specialising in project management of mammoth building and infrastructure contracts controlled by tight deadlines and budget, while she also trains project managers.

She said being a good project manager did not just mean constructing buildings. The job should be done wholeheartedly while adhering to timelines, ensuring quality and working well in a team.

'From past experience I found you need to bring your heart. You don't just use your brain to think, you use your heart to be considerate and people will appreciate more and be more co-operative,' she said.

Being able to have all parties on the same page is no easy accomplishment but it is crucial to the role. 'Often clients know what they want, but don't know how to reach this requirement, so we have to explain it in detail,' she said.

Using language as another analogy, she explained that different people working on the same project could have their own dialects. For instance, an engineer and an architect could be speaking their own version of English.

'So a [good] project manager needs to bridge the gap and make a common language that everyone can understand,' she said. 'That's a very important part of the job.'

Ms Chow has a wealth of experience. Projects under her belt include Beijing Capital International Airport, Hactl SuperTerminal One and the HSBC Data Centre in Tseung Kwan O. Her most memorable experience was the San Miguel Brewery in Yuen Long - a project that gave her the first real taste of management because she did it right from the beginning, throughout the design, and then throughout the construction period, said Ms Chow.

She said the position offered plenty of opportunities, but it was up to the person to transcend and become a great project manager.