You’ve heard the question a thousand times. Whether it’s at your spouse’s company Christmas party, a networking dinner, or even your own family, the next question after introducing yourself is quite often, “So what do you do for work?”
For the most part, these types of questions demand brief answers. “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a doctor.” “I’m an estimator.” And while “What do you do?” is a common question, it can often be a loaded one as well. Think about it – for example, let’s take the teacher. Is it really enough to say that a teacher is just “one who teaches?” If you dive deeper, it’s easy to see that in reality, they’re so much more: they’re stand-up comedians, IT support, impromptu referees, professional shoulders to cry on. Our jobs often encompass a whole realm of responsibilities and roles that can’t be easily summed up in a pithy one-word answer.
Which leads us to the most important question: what, then, is an estimator, besides “one who estimates”? Well, let’s take a look.
#1: A risk-calculator.
First and foremost, an estimator is the person trying to figure out exactly how much money a project is going to need so that the general contractor can decide if they have the resources to tackle said project and keep it within the budget that the estimator projects. That means an estimator needs to account for as many variables as possible in order to minimize the inherent risk of building something that is still primarily just an idea.
#2. A negotiator.
Creating the best and most accurate estimates means that an estimator is going to have to work with lots of different people. She’ll have questions that need answers – answers that require ASAP urgency, answers that require chasing down four or five equally unresponsive, intractable people. It means explaining to a project owner where the quantities are coming from for a portion of their project or asking a sub for specfic data. As much as estimators are often stereotyped as introverted number-crunchers, in reality, they need just as many soft skills in order to obtain all of those important numbers.
#3. An inventor.
Estimators invent something new every day: a new process, a new shortcut, sometimes even new technology. In the world of preconstruction, there’s never enough time in the day to tackle all the challenges estimators face, especially for offices that are still moving from an analog world into the digital realm. That requires a lot of quick thinking and innovation on the estimator’s part. And when it comes time for companies to embrace new preconstruction tools, it’s usually estimators who are at the forefront of this change, because they’re often the ones who see the need for it most.
So the next time you have a chance to really explain what an estimator does, make sure the person asking understands that you’re not a human calculator. Your role encompasses innovation, negotiation, and ultimately, the work that you accomplish creates the foundation for a successful project.