Project Controls Professionals

Unlike engineers who typically study engineering or banking professionals who study finance, project control professionals are a group of individuals who come from a diverse background. In my career I have worked with engineering, business, finance, economics and political science college graduates. I have also worked with individuals who had no college degree having worked their way up through the trades such as pipe fitters or electricians.

While this diverse background makes the field an interesting place to work I have found many common traits among project controls professionals I look to as mentors and experts in the field. The following list is my personal list of what I believe to be the top traits in successful project controls professionals.

The ability to balance logic and creativity is important to be a well-rounded project controls professional. Along with being organized and structured, practicing a more human approach when dealing with team members, stakeholders, contractor and other professionals is ideal. People are more likely to be more productive when they are happy and know that they are on a team with the common goal ahead. So we’ve updated this post to include 8 traits that are important to succeed as a project controls professional.

1. Sound analytic skills: Whether you like it or not project controls is fundamentally metrics analysis; or said in another way, taking a large amount of data and analyzing it to produce valuable indicators of project health and performance. If you are not analytically savvy you will find it difficult to add value in any type of project control organizations.

Development tip: If you are currently weak in analysis take some time to find someone that can help you get up to par. This does not have to be a senior member of the team but anyone you can identify that has strong analytic skills.

2. Strong written & verbal communication: One of the main functions of a project controls organization is to communicate the project through the use of progress reports, emails and even meeting notes. A project controls professional needs to be able to clearly articulate the big three questions in a written format on a regular basis;

  • “Where is the project?”
  • “Where is the project going?”
  • “What are the issues & what is being done about it?”

Controls professionals are also involved in facilitating meetings and speaking to colleagues of different trades who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Being able to verbally communicate issues, concerns or input requirements is a must to be able to effectively perform the job role.

Development TipIf you think you have some room for improvement in written communication, try reading more (especially these great blogs) or writing a blog about something you are passionate about. Also volunteer to take on weekly or monthly progress reports on your project. The more you read and write the better you will become. If you need some help with verbal communication try volunteering to meet new people or join a social club. The more interactions you have with different types of people the better your verbal communication skills will become.

3. Effective presentation skills: Analyzing the data is great but if you have desires to move up the ranks you will have to give a presentation more than a few times. Organizing the data, your thoughts and delivering a lasting presentation is what sets the greats apart from the average. If your presentation is not delivering the message, issue or concern that sparks an actionable change, you have missed your objective.

Development Tip: If you need help overcoming stage fright or perfecting your skills, try organizing a learning event on a subject you know well. I have found that I’m much more confident presenting topics when I know a subject better than my audience.

4. Know a little about a lot: Dealing with all groups in a project organizational structure is a must to be successful at project controls. From pulling together staffing plans, verifying man hour charging or integrating an interdisciplinary schedule, a strong project controls professional will need to know a little bit about a lot to be able to ask the right questions and challenge others.

Development Tip: Challenge yourself to talk to new people in different trades and ask them about their job. If you are nervous speaking with a senior member of the team, try asking someone in your peer group. You will be surprised how much you can learn.  

5. Adaptable: Projects are all about dealing with change. If there was no change then there would be no need for a project management organization. Being adaptable, being able to change direction without skipping a beat and planning for potential impacts make effective individuals a success at the profession. This trait is really universal for any profession.

Development Tip: If you are still working your way up the ranks, try becoming adaptable in your current work process. Think about your work product and what changes you have had to make in the past and what could potentially impact it in the future. If changes occur, you are ready and can adapt to the situation. I know there are many other traits that could have been included on this list.

6. Empathy: We are all human and at times our work does get influenced by the hardships of our private lives no matter how hard we try to separate the two. When working with other people being empathetic goes a long way and can help keep the project on track and productive.

Development Tip: Show that you care and express compassion with empathetic gestures like offering that person some time to gather his/her thoughts or give that person a chance to find his/her own workarounds. Having some type of understanding would help to not only get the project back on track but also to show that your team is important, and each person is not just a cog in the wheel.

7. Problem Solving: When working in a team problem solving is important. Two or more heads are better than one. Being able to know when to reach out to other experts or consultants is an efficient way to get the tasks done rather than being at a stand still trying to do everything yourself. You’re a part of a team for a reason so knowing how to play off you and your teams’ expertise is helpful.

Development Tip: No one has the solution to every problem, but having a good relationship with your team, internally and externally will help generate a collective solution which in turn will help the execution of the project move forward. Being more open professionally with your team, have coffee breaks, little chit chats and get to know the people you work with.

8. Leadership: As a project controls professional, eventually you’ll get placed in a leadership position and being able to handle yourself professionally and respectfully is important. Whether you like to work in your own or with others, you will be the person who sets the tone for the goals that your team is tasked with and having not only a clear vision of the project but also the ability to collaborate effectively with your team is crucial.

Development Tip: Develop discipline is essential to be an effective leader. How do you prove that you can lead a team? Be disciplined with time management, meet your deadlines and be on time when meeting with others. If you have problems with this, take small steps by applying discipline in your personal life and then work on applying it in the professional setting. Being positive, open-minded and solution oriented can also go along way.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published September 2014 but has been updated and revamped. The update includes 8 traits instead of the original 5 traits.


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