How to Let Go & Look to the Future
Renew your focus on leadership to lock in more long-term victories

Building is the reason you got into this business and although it’s in your blood, the time eventually comes when you must delegate operations and the task of building to your project managers. But despite the change in role, many construction business owners still manage a portfolio of work. And what’s the harm? It’s just one account, maybe a key account, or maybe just the small projects. Maybe you don’t have anyone else, and this is a matter of the need for you to run projects more than it is the want to run projects. 

But whatever your reason for managing a project, the best thing to do is to stop. Do not proceed with the madness any longer. You might argue that working on projects keeps you engaged and plugged in to the business. Or maybe you have another excuse or reason to manage projects in addition to running the company. But regardless of the rationale, a growing organization needs a leader who is focused on leading the business instead of managing day-to-day operations. 

Projects are a full-time job, assuming they have zero issues or challenges. But with all the normal encumbrances that come with even the most basic projects, being a project manager is often equal to two full-time jobs. 


The Full-time Job Focus

The first question that must be asked is, “Do you like being a project manager or do you need to be a project manager?” This is more than a philosophical question, but one that may also help shape the direction of your business. If the answer is “need,” you are in a much better place. Yes, the market is strained to find strong and competent managers, but, ultimately, finding a replacement for your current stopgap measure is a short-term problem. Continue to make a full-court press on hiring new talent and extricate yourself from the day-to-day work.

On the other hand, if the answer is that you “like” running projects — and you are, in fact, good at this job — you may be perfectly aligned to keep doing the amount of business you are currently doing. Put another way, if your business entails running one to three projects a year and your sphere of control is manageable, then you can keep on keeping on. However, the tipping point for many leaders comes with the strong desire to grow revenue. And herein lies the paradox of being involved in project minutia, while also running a larger enterprise aimed toward growth.

“But what will I do with all my time?” is a common refrain when leaders are told to lead the business instead of working on projects. Projects are tangible. There is something to be said about saying, “I built that structure.” It’s much harder to say that you helped grow a project manager, built a business process, or set a vision for your company. For most business leaders, setting direction, motivating teams, developing talent and thinking strategically are massive undertakings that require an inordinate amount of time. 

It is simply a different type of activity; one that many individuals are not prepared for. For instance, it can be a daunting task to completely shift how you spend your time and energy, especially if you were the scrappy entrepreneur who toiled on projects day and night to build your business. The most important element to understand is that leading a successful business is different from running projects, but not in the way that most people think. 

Running a business and running a project both require activities like budgeting, planning and controlling. But leading a business requires an elevated level of thinking. Consider the captain of a large ship. Does the captain spend their time down in the engine room, or do they trust their engineering team to fuel the engine while they captain from the helm to avoid the icebergs?

Offering Empowerment

One of the best litmus tests to see if you are leading the business or simply managing projects is to ask your clients. Ask your client base who they primarily deal with on a day-to-day basis. If other presidents and CEOs are polled and your name appears, that is acceptable. On the other hand, if the superintendents and project managers of your customers are polled and your name is at the top of the list, you may have a situation. Here are a few important questions to ponder:

  • Are you on this list because you are running most of the work?
  • Are you too available to the customers’ operations teams? Do they run to you to solve problems and bypass your project manager entirely?
  • Are your people empowered to make company decisions, or are you the nexus for all decision-making?

By no means is this a suggestion to create bedlam and have your teams run wild without control or oversight. But it’s important to realize that your customers will quickly identify the path of least resistance. Think of the car purchase scenario — how often does the salesperson have to run to the boss to get approval? Now imagine that you are that customer. Are you enabling behavior that ultimately inhibits your organization’s ability to get out of its own way?

If you’ve managed to elevate yourself out of project minutia, but your executive team has not, assess whether you have senior project managers who run only the largest projects, or if you have project executives who run accounts, niches or business units. It may sound like semantics, but many organizations think they have the latter, when they actually have a group of people who run big projects without looking at the bigger picture.

If you are trying to grow a business unit and its growth appears stagnant, you might just have a senior project manager running it. Are your people capable of running a business unit or simply running projects? Keep in mind, organizations need both managers and leaders to thrive, so this is not an indictment on project managers or granular thinking. However, business leaders must confront the truth on what is impeding growth — even if it is themselves.