This week I asked 21 Estimators from all over the world,

“What make’s a great estimator?”

From a variety of markets and differing levels of experience, this was the resulting answer:


“someone who has great construction knowledge, aligned with costs, be able to find the gaps, has a great relationship with sub-contractors, can build a cost from scratch…”



“One of the key skills though is knowing how to box, but as an estimator you don’t get to throw any punches, You do however need to be able to see openings, bob and weave, slip and be able to keep your guard up for the full match.”



“ Willingness to continuous learning 2. Ability to Visualize 3. Accurate 4. Consistent 5. Decisive“


“Strong measuring and analytical skills are required, ability to work under pressure, do lots of abortive work as you can never win every tender at the right price & the confidence to back yourself! “


“Good knowledge of the construction process, labour outputs, and material costs, a great estimator has the ability to identify both contractual and operational risks, and include sufficient sums in the submitted bid for the same.”


“1. Good risk management skills – particularly strong risk transfer avoidance and mitigation through awareness of the client/consultant/contract. 2. Good negotiator – 80% of an estimate is subbies these days, so working closely with them is vital to a solid bid. 3. Great safety awareness- safety on a project starts with the estimator’s allowances in the bid.”


“The best estimators understand design in the context of market trends / demand, and have solid relationships across subcontractors and clients.”


“1. On-site Experience 2. The cost of Plant, Labour & Materials 3. Understanding of the resources & time required to complete a task 4. Knowledge of Construction Contracts and 5. Ability to assess & value Risk & Opportunity…..and to make them a Great Estimator…Hard Working, Attention to detail and a Good Communicator!!”


“1. Understand materials and the market costs and what they sell for to avoid the cost plus mentality so you don’t 1. Price yourself out of the market and 2. Sell at a loss. 2. Understand labour and rates in general I was trained on first principle so I can pretty much build a rate from scratch. 3. Know your way around drawings and how to use a scale ruler or any other digital platforms like Bluebeam Revu. 4. Understand what your competition is always upto so you can compete with them in tenders 5. Be abit of a sales rep, customer service and account manager all in one (seeking and hunting new opportunities) 6. Put together a tender folder with drawings, pricing, subcontractors pricing etc etc 7. Basic/intermediate understanding of processes and what goes on in a task. Whether its onsite, inhouse etc etc. Example during fabrication can take 5 mins to pick up a plate with gantry crane and drop onto pallet. Or fabricating a jig can take 30mins to make but save you 20hrs. (Always think outside the box) 8. Intermediate/advanced user of MS excel and what not so putting together a quick payment claim form which offsets correctly.”


“My experience, is that a good estimator is a ‘Guru of Knowledge’ for each project …as in, by the time your estimator has finished measuring a project he will know more about that project, and how to build it than any engineer, and or the architect thats designed it. If he sets up his functional areas (design elements) correctly, he will not only know the price, but more importantly he will have the ‘value engineering’ answers to the ‘design-budget-build’ myths, truths and expectations on any commercial or domestic project …he is the most valuable asset any builder or architect can take into a meeting with a client.”


“I’m pretty new to the industry but from what I can gather, key attributes are: 1. Attention to detail 2. Ability to interpret drawings, specification, contract documents and tendering conditions. 3. Knowledge of the current market rates will be advantageous. 4. Great at analysing sub-contractor analysis 5. Time management is critical 6. Ability to work under pressure There’s quite a bit more but I reckon these are the most important attributes.”



“A good estimator needs to be commercially astute and the only way to gain this is by gaining experience. A good estimator should be able to look over drawings and see where would be a good place to make money and is not likely to be removed”



“To be a good estimator I would say you need the following skills / knowledge: 1. Know the materials required to build the complete assembly, not just taking the sf and throwing unit rates at it and understanding the market rates and supply constraints associated with them. 2.Have a solid understanding of the labour and working environment (new build, brownfield etc) as this is key to ensuring the adequate time to complete the construction is allowed for. 3. Identify the gaps in design to fill in the blanks needed by the project team to complete the full scope of works, apply practical thinking not just taking what is shown on the plans as everything needed. Along with the above communication is key providing the link between designer, project team, vendors and client. There are many other facets to the role of a great estimator the above points a staples and only scratch the surface of what goes into the role.”


“In my opinion, understanding the systems you are estimating speeds up the process and reduces risk. Because the designer might have left out a component and it gets overlooked. “


“Someone that consistently gets the jobs and keeps the margin. Someone that grows relationships and business scope”


“To my opinion following should be the key attributes of good estimators (building construction) – (1) Great attention to details. Should have an eye to capture key info while going through project documents (2) Building Material knowledge, should be quickly think about better/equal material where there is cost saving options available (3) Construction Method knowledge– to able to allow manpower, machinery & material efficiently (4) Mathematical aptitude – so as to quickly compare options & anticipation of saving or expense (5) industry knowledge – So as to have bit of anticipation & probability that against whom the competition is or is it worth to spend time on estimate (6) Good relations with Subbies & supplier so as to get special discounts or delivery expeditions for winning special projects (7) Good communicator – To transfer key information to the construction team so that they can target key activities without losing any time”


“An ability to use one’s comprehensive knowledge of construction to quickly and reliably produce indicative design phase estimates based on no more than preliminary design information, and to then work up and develop such estimates as design /working drawings are updated and further developed. Preliminary and final design phase estimates prepared by a gifted estimator on behalf of the Client should very closely match the final tender bid. All this means, of course, a gift for thinking outside the box. “


“I agree with the aforementioned attributes produces Competitive estimator. In addition, I’d like to share these attributes. I call it SSSR i.e Self-awareness, Social awareness, Self-management and Relationship Management. It’s a crazy world out there.”


“I think an estimator with a trade back ground is faster out of the gate, however an estimator with Virtual Design experience is a better communicator. The estimating and quantity surveying bar is moving quickly and a lot of old school traditional estimators could see early adopters gain the upper hand.”


“Double it and add 20%”




There is often a misconception that estimators are more introverted than the Project Managers out on site and thus are bad communicators. This is wrong.


If you are more introverted, it certainly doesn’t mean you have a lack of interpersonal skills or ability to negotiate and build rapport with subbies.


To be great at communicating , you don’t have to be the loudest in the room


From what I’ve read in the answers, the ability to communicate with colleagues, sub-contractors and stake holders in your own way is one of the vital components of becoming a great estimator.


Thank you to the following Estimators & Construction Professionals for participating :


  • Andy Thomson
  • Paul Johnson
  • Kapil Shah
  • Caroline Allard
  • Kristofer McNab
  • David Palmer
  • James Nash
  • Neelisha Budhia
  • David Mooreland
  • Andre Lenart
  • Gary Breakwell
  • Sang Nguyen
  • Matthew John Lowry
  • Mark McGill
  • John Joubert
  • Phillip Whitling
  • Jason Mills
  • Ranjit Gir
  • Paul Caldwell
  • Andrew D
  • Jun Lubido


This blog was written by Mick Donaghy

Managing Director of Franklin Smith Australia

National Cost & Pre Construction Recruitment Specialist

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