Construction needs to change trajectory to hit net zero targets. Effective project management can play a vital role, says Adam Boddison 

Prof Adam Boddison APM

Professor Adam Boddison

We can all agree that saving the world from extensive environmental damage is the responsibility of every person in every sector. With countless strategies proposed, all addressing important aspects of climate change, I think we can all also agree that now is the time to act.

Alongside our common mission, we are universally connected by a lesser-known golden thread: project management. With a GVA of £156.5bn and spanning virtually every sector, it is a driving force behind long-lasting, positive change.

Fundamentally, project management will play a key role in making ambitious net-zero strategies a reality.

Its specific importance to construction has been highlighted in two recent government plans – the net zero strategy: build back greener, and the heat and buildings strategy. 

A project manager’s mindset and leadership skills can influence, empower and motivate team members

Mastering this important process can be challenging, particularly when it applies to the strategy for ESG. Fortunately, there are research-backed steps that specifiers and contractors can take to increase their chances of project success. 

Interpersonal skills are a crucial ingredient for better project outcomes, although they often play second-fiddle to the process and materials-based solutions that are offered. As highlighted by the latest APM research, a project manager’s mindset and leadership skills can influence, empower and motivate team members, leading to improved team-building, problem-solving and client satisfaction.

While some people are naturally gifted with soft skills, they can require longer-term investment to ensure that all team members are equipped to an adequate level. The government recognises this and, as part of its green strategy, is looking at reforming the UK skills system to support employers and workers in their roles towards delivering net zero.

Effective knowledge management can significantly improve productivity and project performance

A joined-up approach is key. With so many innovative and sustainable projects underway globally, effective knowledge management can significantly improve productivity and project performance. 

Already implemented in some government departments, firms that do not have a specific knowledge management role are missing an opportunity. Individuals in such roles can move between projects to facilitate the cross-pollination of  knowledge, saving organisations time and other valuable resource.

Clearly, construction needs to change trajectory, and skills diversity will help it to do so by introducing a full spectrum of perspectives to support much-needed evolution. Firms will benefit especially from prioritising the need for different educational backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities as well as socio-economic backgrounds.

Diverse perspectives can also increase the potential for conflict, so leaders need to be prepared to manage disputes and bring the best out of their teams. Excellent softs skills, again, are essential.

Time is of the essence. As we look beyond COP26, UK construction needs to shift focus from planning to action and bear one important thing in mind: strategies don’t deliver projects. People do.

Professor Adam Boddison is chief executive at the Association for Project Management