What’s the critical difference between being a quantity surveyor, a project manager in construction, or a commercial manager in infrastructure? Richard Graham FRICS, leader of our new distance learning course in Infrastructure Commercial Management, outlines how students will learn a new set of skills that augment their existing construction-based capabilities.

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Qualified quantity surveyors (QS) have already proven that they possess the core skills for developing a rewarding career in construction.

They may wonder, however, what it takes to become a successful commercial manager in the infrastructure sector.

A good QS will already have a flair for understanding the measurement of cost and value, with the necessary combination of analytical skills and market knowledge. But to take the step toward infrastructure commercial management, that set of core skills has to be broadened significantly, with the addition of further building blocks of competency.

Broad and complex

The infrastructure sector is both broad and complex. It encompasses multiple different types of assets and their owners as client bodies, using all sorts of different delivery models and supply chains. Major projects are usually 10 years or more in gestation; they take three years or more to build and cover periods of at least 30 years if contracts include operation of the asset.

Where a QS will be skilled at measuring and valuing construction projects, the commercial manager will manage budgets and control costs, collaboratively, in liaison with multiple stakeholders and against a backdrop of varying degrees of risk and uncertainty.

To gauge the scene further, take a look at the work that’s been coming out from the Infrastructure Client Group (ICG) on behalf of the Treasury’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA).

The UK Government has set out an ambitious pipeline of over £500 billion of infrastructure improvements, to be funded with a roughly 60/40 split between private and public funding. Supporting development of the pipeline, the IPA has acted on the realisation that this workload, and many of its projects, are very large and unprecedented undertakings.

The ICG is an influential body of industry clients (Network Rail, Thames Tideway, Heathrow Airport and Anglian Water, to name a few). Tasked by the IPA, the ICG has established a Project Initiation Routemap. The aim is to aid clients’ efforts to assess and shore up their projects at early stages — to get them on firm footings for success as they move towards delivery phases.

Hitherto — and acknowledged by the ICG — too many projects have suffered problems early on. For that reason, the Routemap sets out ways that checks can be carried out to measure the capabilities of clients' delivery teams as major projects get started. It includes advice on how to enhance capability under the headings of governance, execution strategy, procurement and risk management. While the Routemap is primarily aimed at clients and project sponsors, those headings are key issues for commercial managers in infrastructure.

The role of the commercial manager is multi-faceted, touching all parts of the supply chain. In a world where defining and driving valuable outcomes is central to success, commercial management is increasingly important as a discipline for delivering value in infrastructure.

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