A day in the life of a Contracts Manager

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1st Sep General
Simon Pallent, Adlington Retirement Living
What are the main responsibilities of your role?

I work across three or four building sites at any given time, acting as the team leader for the site managers and their teams. Each site manager deals with the day-to-day running of their site and if they’re struggling with anything, I’m their first port of call. I travel from site to site, checking the health and safety standards, the quality of the build, and make sure we’re running to programme. The contracts manager is the link between the site teams and head office.

Another aspect is supporting the land and planning teams before work on site begins. We review drawings together, discuss specification details, look at any restrictions in the area and assess the feasibility of the plans.

At the moment we have three live sites and two that are coming up to start. I usually spend one day a week at HQ and four days out visiting sites, although that can vary if there are meetings to attend. I aim to visit every site once a week and then speak to each site manager daily, to ensure they’ve got no major issues, plus TEAMs video meetings to talk through progress or hold a pre-start session with contractors. It’s a really diverse role.

What attracted you to this area of expertise?

Originally I trained to be a chef. To be honest, I didn’t like the split shifts and one day, whilst standing on the balcony of the hotel I worked at in the Lake District, I just decided it wasn’t the right career for me.

I resigned in that minute, crossed the road and got a job with a local building company. They were an in-house division for Thistle Hotels and I made my way up to general foreman within six months and then applied to be a trainee construction manager with Bovis Construction, where I worked for over five years.

After that, I joined another developer for 18 months and then set up my own company for a while, doing extensions and project managing new builds. I had been doing that for around two years when Gladman Homes, the construction company for Adlington Retirement living, approached me to do some holiday cover for them. I came for two weeks and stayed ever since.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The management side of the role is the most enjoyable. I’m encouraged to manage sites directly, but am also part of a large team. That was the reason that I’d set up my own business previously. My former employer had been run by shareholders and profit was more important than quality and customer satisfaction. It’s completely different here – you’re allowed to put your stamp on a build and make sure that the quality is right.

I also enjoy being able to pass on my experience and knowledge to the rest of the team. In this role, I’m much more involved with the inhouse architects and the structural engineers, and I share knowledge of how we do things on site. Working for a developer that actually constructs the schemes enables the construction team to have a bigger input.

What sort of suggestions do you make when you’re working with the architects and structural engineers?

It can be things like fixing steel or how we do temporary bracings. Sometimes  they don’t see the problems where sequences overlap, such as masonry can clash with the steel structure so they might be planning to put a brace in to hold a column. I’ll explain that it won’t work in that position because it’s going right across the foundation where we’re going to build the supporting wall.

Things like cladding rails, how we fix them to the external of our buildings. Very recently I worked with the structural engineer and the architects to design rails using pressed steel instead of a traditional timber batten.

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

Health and safety has to be a priority for me. There’s nothing more important than everybody going home safe at the end of every day. We don’t want anybody coming to work and putting themselves at risk.

Quality and progress are also priorities. I check that everybody is reaching the standards that we expect and that we’re sticking to a programme of 18 month to two year build cycles.

I also support the site teams with a variety of day-to-day issues. That could be anything from subcontractors not performing, to not being able to achieve target dates for the programme, material shortages, details on the drawings not working and having to liaise with the designers or the structural teams, any neighbour issues. We want to have a good relationship with our neighbours and don’t want to upset anybody. In those situations I try to step in and see what I can do to help.

And how do you overcome those challenges?

Most problems on site can be solved by talking the issue through with somebody face to face and drawing on my experience of the job. I’ve been in the industry for 24 years and been a site manager for 19 of them. This is my 15th year with Gladman Homes and I’ve been building Adlington Retirement Living communities for the last 12 years.

We have a weekly health and safety inspection, so when I’m out on site visits, I check that everybody is wearing all the correct PPE and following all the guidelines. I also check that we’re doing everything that we said we would do for them as a company – providing welfare, providing access, if we’re providing any equipment that they need to do a job. Just making sure that we’ve got everything in place for that.

As a company in 2016 we introduced a plot board system which shows the different stages of our apartment installation, from first fix right through to plastering, and we have a quality checklist for every stage. Once the sub contractor has completed their work sequence they sign the plot board located outside an apartment, then our site teams will go in and snag the apartment using our quality control checklist. We complete the sheet, sign it and then we’ll sign the plot board off for the next stage of works to start. We are very strict with the process and when the next installation can start.

The day-to-day running and planning is left to the site team but they do have a programme which has got key dates on it and I check progress on site to make sure that we’re buying and placing the orders with subcontractors and materials so that there are no delays. We have a monthly progress meeting with the project managers, the architects, the planners, the buyers and a weekly site progress meeting as well.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

The site manager usually stays on site for the first six weeks after the completion of the building to ensure that the handover goes smoothly. When I was a site manager I enjoyed the satisfaction of finishing the building and seeing the Homeowners move in. It’s a good feeling, knowing that we’ve delivered a quality product.

It’s always enjoyable to go back and visit some of the developments that I’ve been involved in and some of the Homeowners even remember me and invite me in for a cup of coffee. You make friends with them because the quality’s there and they haven’t got any issues.

I actually did a “bake off” with one of the Homeowners at The Bridges in Macclesfield. She and her husband used to go out and play bowls every day. We were talking about installing a petanque court at the time and got chatting. It came up that I baked and she said she baked too and one of the marketing team suggested a bake off.

I enjoy seeing the quality of the lifestyle that our Homeowners have and the freedom they enjoy. They still have their own front door but they’ve got companionship, lovely gardens, they can sit and enjoy. They continue their lives but they can do that in a community and they’ve got help and support, if they need it. It’s really nice to see that. I wish something like that had been available for my grandparents.

We build a really good product. Our corridors are wide, the apartments are really spacious and the spec inside them is really good, the storage is fantastic. We try to think of everything to make that transition as easy as possible for people.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career, and how have you made use of it?

I suppose my answer to that would be that I’m still learning. I learn something new every day. Listening to people and seeing if you can adapt some of their ideas is really important. We don’t always know best.

Man management is another area that I’ve learned a lot about through my career. When I was younger, I had some really bad managers above me and I would like to think that I’m not like them. I’m an open book so if anybody has something that they want to talk to me about, they can come and speak to me. I don’t want to distance myself so I’m not approachable. Good people management goes a long way in our industry. If you look after your team, they will give you 110%. If you treat them just as staff and don’t have a personal touch, you’ll get 85%.