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How to Become a Successful Project Manager of Fire Alarm System Installations

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Published On
Jul 6, 2022

What makes a successful project manager of a fire alarm system installation? In general, project managers are responsible for understanding the project goals and the team members’ capabilities. I have encountered too many projects where the team members are apprentices who have no knowledge of what is expected of them and do not understand anything about a fire alarm system.

A good project manager will ask the owner or architect as many questions as it takes to understand the fire alarm system’s operational goals. Once you understand the operational goals, you need to investigate NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, to determine how to meet them in a code-compliant manner. When you fully understand the project needs, be sure to choose an installation team who can competently perform the work. And you must manage your team with effective communication and efficient collaboration coaching, training and mentoring when necessary.

It is also your responsibility as the project manager to be aware of any potential project risks, such as unapproved equipment substitutions or non-code-compliant installation methods and know how to manage them.

It is also important to facilitate effective communication with the team members.

Liz Helbock, principal technical program manager at Intuit, notes that “priorities and project plans will change. Deadlines will be missed, and scope will increase.” This unfortunately is what happens on most projects. It will be your job to ensure you clearly and consistently communicate what your team members should accomplish. To do this effectively, you must fully understand the fire alarm system design and applicable code and local jurisdictional requirements. Additionally, you will need to be the interface between your team and the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

It will also be your job to put together a clear construction plan so that all concerned will be able to effectively measure the installation progress. If you have been in the fire alarm system installation business for any amount of time, you know that if the system does not pass the acceptance test with the AHJ present, then the building will not receive an occupancy permit. This means you must remain cognizant of how your team is performing and if their installation is progressing as planned.

You must work closely with the fire alarm system equipment supplier. You may be responsible for negotiating with the supplier to ensure the price will be reasonable and that it will meet the engineer’s specifications. That said, you need to understand the process of their equipment installation. Here again, you will need to be a good communicator by first asking the supplier if they have enough manufacturer-trained system programmers to ensure the project is finished on time. Ask the supplier if there are any issues in their supply chain that may delay the project, and how many projects the supplier has that have the same completion date as yours. The answer to these questions will determine the supplier’s ability to meet your project completion date.

You need to be aware that projects spin out of control because no one is managing expectations. It has been said that a failure to understand the process leads to chaos.

I have always worked to ensure there are no surprises for the clients or my team, and I work to avoid the chaos that can arise from a lack of good management. That is not to say there will be no issues to address. Every project will have challenges. Often the AHJ will visit a job site and discover that they misunderstood what the plans indicated or how the specifications called for a particular system operation. When this happens, they will initiate a new requirement and it will be up to you to know the impact of the new requirement or if the code really requires a change to your work. It is your responsibility to know the code because you may need to challenge the AHJ. That is why it is so important to communicate with everyone involved regularly and keep reporting on the project’s status. You need to leave every project meeting with a clear understanding of who is responsible for each action item developed in the meeting. Set clear expectations for the completion of action items, project tasks and milestones. Remember to keep your instructions simple and always offer a solution to every challenge.

A good project manager listens to everyone involved in the project and looks to ensure that the life safety system as designed and specified will be installed efficiently and correctly. Learn the art of good communications and strive to be a professional project manager.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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