What is an Owner Rep?

Michael Noll

Some of the descriptions of what an owner representative is include: professional babysitter, the hammer for the nails, scapegoat, and all round pain in the ass. These are the more informal descriptions you hear on job sites, but while not the proper description, these identifiers allude to the multifaceted discipline of this small, specialized profession. A profession comprised of greatly varying people with very differing backgrounds and skill sets.

Formally, an owner rep is precisely that, a person directly representing the owner and their interests in the project. More broadly, it is someone who brings together, organizes, and leads a team, through some or all phases of a project. Often, the term project manager, or construction manager, and project architect are used interchangeably with owner rep, but they are not the same. It is easy for someone not intimately familiar with all the design and construction processes to not understand the difference. Owner representatives do a very broad range of skills and experience focused on a very specific process, whereas the job descriptions above are focused on one component of the project, not the overall process.

Properly forming and leading a team, to design and construct a building requires being able to understand and speak several “languages” and understand the various parties “objectives and priorities”, as well as their capabilities. Owners need you to understand their time and financial goals, constraints, and obligations. Contractors need you to understand how things actual get built and need information, the design team needs you to understand their design intent and preserve it, and special consultants needs to be properly integrated in the overall process. All of them need to be moved along with the schedule towards completion. This is no small task.

Owners want you to get it done on-time and on-budget, and for the most part the HOW is not something they care or think about much, this is the role of the owner rep. How do you get all these people and capacities focus on a single, specific goal? Tactically, there is a sequence of technical efforts that need to occur efficiently, but more importantly, and strategically, the people involved need to communicate and relate effectively. This cannot always happen in an amicable manner, but the owner rep must navigate these personalities and appeal to them to collaborate in various ways. Aside from knowing the technical processes, an owner reps must navigate dozens of relationships and get the best out of them. Again, no small task.

Ranging from an understanding of proformas, spreadsheets, and financing, combined with design experience tempered with technical construction abilities, an owner rep must do all this with the touch of a social psychologist. Acknowledging each party’s objectives and strengths, brings credibility, and with credibility trust, and with trust people will give you their best. When people feel listened to and understood, they will, more often than not, excel at what you ask of them. Channeling these energies into the project at hand will then give you the best project result possible. Owner reps are leaders of people with the resulting in a completed building.