Six principles for mastering the art of project management

Project managers reveal their secrets to success.

By Stephen McAdams, RMF Engineering, Baltimore July 24, 2017

Project managers who directly interact with clients and production teams are the linchpins to success. To leverage the most valuable assets, we decided to initiate a training program that would supplement industry seminars with specific project-management principles that have been instrumental in our most successful projects. To fully understand and define these principles, eight managers who deliver projects within schedule and budget and maintain long-term, happy client relationships were asked about the five most important practices for successful project management. The survey resulted in a wide range of responses that fit into one of six categories. 

The survey also helps to understand the approach to apply these practices on a daily basis. Below is a brief overview of each practice along with a few examples that could expand a manager’s skill set and value. 


The best project managers envision a project’s evolution from the start. There is no straight path to success, so anticipating the challenges early on can prevent major problems from occurring later. Though experience assists in developing the project vision, valuable research can be done to compensate for a lack of experience. Reviewing past projects, consulting with experienced managers, and reading case studies on similar projects all provide less experienced project managers with information to consult moving forward. Ultimately, project managers that envision the path to each project milestone and anticipate challenges before they occur will better position themselves for success. 


The managers believe time invested in preparation have the greatest return when it comes to future effort and costs. This philosophy is carried through each component of the project including progress meetings, field surveys, milestone submissions, and site visits. Careful preparation throughout a project helps avoid mistakes and ensures everyone is on the same page. 


Once the project plan is developed, it must be communicated to the client and production staff. The communication process is critical and never-ending. “Good” communication may be very subjective, but there are certain communication skills that usually prove to be extremely effective, such as responding to clients in a timely and effective manner, as previously mentioned, or considering the recipient when determining the method of communication. 


Everyone values a quality product, but the process should not be overlooked. The final product along with the process should be held to the highest standards. For every aspect of the project plan, successful project managers strive to achieve high quality throughout even the smallest items, such as client interactions, emails, and meeting minutes. 


One of the most detrimental things a project manager can do to a project is hide their own mistakes. Mistakes become more expensive when they go unresolved. Project managers who address issues in a timely manner and hold themselves accountable for finding a solution are always highly appreciated by clients. 


The most valuable project managers create a positive team culture for every project by taking an interest in the professional development of each team member, as well as in the client’s needs. In the consulting business, being able to develop young professionals into qualified managers and technical staff is an invaluable attribute that can propel careers. 

Strong project managers are the backbone of engineering firms. The training of teams in the fundamentals of project management and the six principles that lead to project success has supported the growth of the firm as well as the further development of our entire staff. 

Stephen McAdams is an associate at RMF Engineering. He leads RMF’s master-planning group, which specializes in developing strategies for utility systems, infrastructure growth, and energy. The team outlines the best strategies to implement when beginning a project to maximize investment, efficiencies, and sustainability. He has been with RMF for more than 20 years and is a member of the International District Energy Association.