James O'Donnell tells Eloise Seddon why he swapped quantity surveying for construction management and what frustrates him about his new career
What do you do?
I liaise between a project client and its contractors. Before work begins, I ensure that the contracts are set up, tender them and establish a team to run them. Once construction has started, I am responsible for ensuring that the contractors run to time and to schedule.

I am also in charge of the co-ordination and supervision of the contract teams and 20 office staff. At the moment, I'm working on a £5m-a-year scheme for Lambeth council. For this, there will be about 50 full-time contractor operatives and subcontractors to look after.

Describe a typical day
No two days are ever the same. A large chunk of my time is spent on client liaison, meetings to discuss contract performance, contractual issues and progress reviews, as well as presentations to new clients. I also have to work with contract managers, ensuring that they are running to plan and to the agreed standards.

You used to work as a quantity surveyor. Why did you change?
Pure quantity surveying – adding up bricks – is pretty boring. I wanted to diversify into construction management because it entails more variety and responsibility. Now I am involved in all aspects of the contract; I no longer feel like a small cog in a huge machine.

Is it living up to your expectations?
It's very satisfying to see a project through from start to finish. Also, I get a real buzz from being able to solve problems quickly and getting positive feedback from the end users.

What frustrates you about the job?
Not being able to understand what the employees and client want to achieve. It's very difficult to instil the notion of partnering and best value into my contract staff, who are used to the traditional, more confrontational methods of communication. They find it hard to understand and adapt to clients' needs and there can be quite a lot of distrust.

Do you ever lose your cool at work?
Not really. I don't like to lose it in front of staff, as it's not very professional, so I drive around the block playing loud music instead.

How do you switch off?
I find it difficult, especially as I don't often get home before 7pm. When I have time, I go swimming, work out at the gym, watch films or football.

Do you take all your holiday allowance?
No. I don't even consider how much is owed to me. Out of 25 days, I take less than 18 and this is spent generally on two weeks abroad. Last year, I went to the south of France.


Age 40
Current job Managing director (building services) of Environmental Property Services Maintenance
Employment history Quantity surveyor at Trinicks, 1979-1984; quantity surveyor for Enfield council, 1984-1987; working with Linbrook & Sons, 1988-1994; divisional manager for contractor Loweth, 1995-1999; EPS, 1999+
Qualifications BSc in quantity surveying from Greenwich University
Salary £55,000 basic
Lives Higham Park, north-east London
Drives Mercedes-Benz E class saloon
Family Three children