Ask a project manager what his or her biggest problem is and typically the answer will be time to complete all of their required tasks. A true full-charge project manager has primary responsibility for a project’s scope of services (to be provided by the design firm), meeting a design schedule, and staying within the project’s design budget.

This challenge is particularly acute for firms with multiple smaller projects such as those found in many civil engineering firms, and firms with large complex projects generating a high number of design change orders such as is common on health care projects. It is a truism that small projects require nearly as much project management attention as do large ones.

Unfortunately, project managers can quickly become overwhelmed by the high volume of emails, letters, telephone conversations, meetings, reports, and dealing with many other time-consuming activities. As a result, some vital project steps may not be taken, are given little attention, or are poorly completed. The consequences can be severe as budgets are missed, technical mistakes are made, effective communication is lacking, and many other detrimental results may occur.

While most project managers are aware of these issues, they often lack effective solutions. While they know they should address these issues, they often have no one to assist them. When it is suggested that they delegate some of their workload, they often indicate they have no one to delegate to.

A solution

Project administrators are typically not technically trained, but have a reasonable understanding of project needs and the design and construction process. These individuals support the efforts of full-charge project managers by relieving them of some of the administrative burdens of projects. Most project administrators work with multiple managers unless one has a particularly heavy workload. Some suggested activities for project administrators include:

• Change order management — It is essential to carefully monitor a project’s scope of services. Where the project manager has any question as to the inclusion of an activity in the basic scope, he or she should generate a design change order. This necessitates establishing a separate record for time and expense charges in the firm’s database system. It also requires informing those individuals working on the project regarding the existence of the change order to allow them to properly complete timesheets and for accounting to properly record project expenses. A wide variety of outside individuals and firms also need to be informed of changes, including consultants, clients, suppliers, etc., so they can keep their own records properly segregated. Preparation of the change order record and its distribution can be assisted by the project administrator.

• Distribution of information and materials — Ensuring proper distribution of project information to all team members can be time consuming and is often incompletely handled. The project administrator should be of assistance in this process.

• Invoicing and accounts receivables — Project managers should be deeply involved in project invoicing. They should have the final say as to when a project or change order is invoiced. A proper system should require the accounting office to prepare a draft invoice for a project manager’s review and approval. It should be a responsibility of the project administrator to track these invoices and assist the project manager in their review. Information on outstanding receivables should be directed to the administrator, who can alert the project manager as to their status.

• Scheduling and recordkeeping — The project administrator needs to assist in scheduling for a project manager, including both internal and external meetings and similar activities. Some firms also require the project administrator to be responsible for recordkeeping, such as meeting minutes.

This list is a brief overview of the vital role of the project administrator. These individuals can be of great assistance to a harried project manager and they should be carefully selected and trained.

Howard Birnberg is executive director of the Association for Project Managers. He may be reached at 312-664-2300 or

Howard Birnberg