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Ted Aadland, Aadland Evans Constructors Inc., Portland, Oregon, USA

When problems crop up, Ted Aadland likes to talk to his employees about how his father used to manage projects. That way, he can share advice—without pointing fingers. “It's a way to deflect the criticism and still get my point across,” says Mr. Aadland, CEO of Aadland Evans Constructors Inc. Core to his management philosophy is offering project leaders guidance and trusting them to get the job done, rather than micro-managing them.

Mr. Aadland began his career as a bridge contractor at Hensel Phelps Construction Co., and by his mid-20s he was managing large projects for the company. “They gave me the opportunity and the tools to prove what I could do and they believed in me,” he says.

That experience shaped his leadership style. And now, 40 years later, he tries to offer that same support to his project managers, giving them the chance to make critical project decisions and supporting them through the outcomes.

How would you describe your company's approach to project management?

Our project managers are the key people on every project and we expect them to totally understand everything about the project. We also rely on them to lead the team and to build a strong relationship with the owner.

What are the primary benefits you've seen from project management?

First off, a successful project is one you make a profit on. But it's also a project that leaves the owner feeling like they received good value. Our project managers work closely with owners to understand their needs and their priorities. And that's different on every project.

A successful project is one you make a profit on. But it's also a project that leaves the owner feeling like they received a good value.

Sometimes, safety or environmental issues are more important than when they pour the concrete.

The project manager also has to be open and honest with the owner, even when problems arise. We have a wind farm project going right now where two subcontractors are constantly at each other. Instead of pulling each subcontractor aside to talk it out, our project manager is meeting with both of them, along with the owner, to address the issues. Bringing the owner into these meetings ensures there's no miscommunication and that he knows exactly what the situation is and what the plans are to resolve it.

What's unique about your company's project management philosophy?

We give our people the license to make decisions. I don't want people coming to me for every decision that needs to be made, but I do want them to be able to look me in the eye and tell me why they made the decisions they did. Even if they make mistakes—and we all make mistakes—if they can offer a solution, we can move beyond it.

We don't beat people up around here. We solve problems. That's how I treat my project managers and that's how I expect my project managers to treat their teams.

Are there aspects of your project management you're trying to improve?

I believe very strongly in the value of continuing education for project managers. It's good for the company and shows your team that you care enough about them to invest in their education. My team always comes back from training opportunities refreshed and ready to apply what they've learned. But we don't always make as much time for it as we should.

How has the economy affected your approach to project management?

When the economy weakens, competition gets tougher and everyone has to tighten their belts. It's a matter of getting everyone on the team to find small ways to do a better job and we do that by going back to project management basics. We focus on pre-planning, we address things we may have gotten lax on during more comfortable times and we stick to good communication strategies.

The key is never having to go back and do things over. I make sure my people understand that speeding things up by cutting quality doesn't help. What helps is doing it right the first time. PM

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