We speak to site-based design manager, Nicola Tomkins, to understand how she works with architects and construction teams to deliver fit out projects.

What made you choose a career in construction?

I started my career in interior architecture, as I always wanted to work in design. Although I really liked the creative process as a designer, I also found a lot of satisfaction from seeing projects literally grow from the drawing through to completion.

I love the process in construction — finding solutions to problems and resolving them in a creative way.

Okay, so what does a design manager do?

Fundamentally, the role of a design manager is sleeves rolled up on site supporting the whole team to deliver the project. It’s much more than that for me.

I feel my role is pivotal to the construction face of a project. I have an interaction with the designers, a relationship with the project managers and client team whilst supporting my own construction team. It’s a multifaceted enabling and coordinating role.

What do you do on site to enhance the delivery of an office fit out?

At the preconstruction procurement phase, I help scope the packages and plug any gaps by working closely with the commercial team to build a robust procurement package and ascertain interfaces between different packages and subcontractors. Potential issues are identified and de-risked at an early stage to try to mitigate issues on site during construction.

Who do you work with?

For the architects and designers, I become an additional resource — their onsite eyes and ears. I support them with guidance and advice and maintain the integrity of the design by relaying it to the construction team and subcontractors. I bring together the lead designer, the services designers, structural engineers, and specialist designers to ensure a coordinated scheme is prepared and ready to build to.

With the construction team on site, I have to plug in the information they need and support them where necessary, discussing sequencing, buildability and quality. Our construction teams know how to build a great quality project, but not necessarily how to make it elegant. My principle is to ‘build what’s right, not what’s easy’.

What's the best part about your job?

I like the creativity of getting stuck in. Designing the site set up and having an early involvement in that side of the project is really rewarding and where I can add value. A well thought-through set up can mean better facilities for people on site. Thinking about branding, the location of the site deliberately rather than just ticking boxes can make a big difference to the comfort of the workforce, strength of the brand and image we portray.

What’s the best thing about working for Overbury?

One of the things I love about Overbury is our desire to do something better than everyone else. We want to stand out and be recognised for our commitment to the best we can, and clients and consultants see that too.

What does it take to be a great design manager?

The ability to build relationships and adapt, chameleon-like, your approach in a very short space of time is definitely a skill a design manager needs. You need to be able to instil confidence in the consultants, so they know where you’re coming from and trust you.

It’s not just about populating a schedule, organising meetings and having a chat, it’s the emotional intelligence of consciously building relationships. Sometimes it works but everyone is different so it’s always good to take the time to read them and adopt the relevant approach.

I care about people, so I make a conscious effort to speak to everyone from the security team to the site secretary and the delivery driver. I like making that contribution to a relationship and then using it to bring everyone together as a team.