The role of bid manager is often poorly understood, yet it is crucial to any organisation's success.
Bids are a high-stakes, ultra-competitive business, with no second prizes or chances. Because they are so critical to winning new work, as well as keeping existing contracts, bid managers are vital to a company's continuing existence, and to job security.
Bids are detailed, complex documents that often run to hundreds of pages, outlining how the candidate organisation would meet a contract's requirements. They cover a wide range of issues, from health and safety to customer care and staff issues, and are weighted for quality as well as price.
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The role and responsibilities of bid manager jobs vary between organisations. But, essentially, a bid manager is responsible for submitting a completed bid to an existing or prospective client, on time and within budget. They ensure that all the client's questions have been answered as fully as possible, and that the organisation has given itself the best possible chance of success.
Working under the direction of a bid director, the role involves leading all day-to-day aspects of an individual bid. Bid managers are involved in every aspect of the submission and have an excellent appreciation of what the client needs and how best to articulate how their organisation can provide that. They work closely with a core team while bringing in subject matter experts when required.
A bid manager is also the first point of contact for the client, and liaises with estimators who produce the price element of a bid. This is collated with the 'quality' submission, which is what bid managers generally work on.
Kevin Jones is bid manager with public services provider Amey, his employer for the last 20 years. A chartered engineer, he has worked on projects from highways and construction to sewage and water works. More recently he has focused on maintenance contracts.
He says: "I enjoy the variety most. You develop an excellent, rounded knowledge of what you are offering and work with a wide variety of people. I love building the team at the start of a project and seeing it through to the end. When the team wins a bid it's fantastic, but with unsuccessful bids, you take the lessons learnt and apply them to the next project.
"You should be willing to work your way up, be extremely organised and learn quickly."
Hours and environment
You are likely to be mainly office-based with some external client meetings and site visits which could involve overnight stays. Some projects may mean being away for longer.
Most of the time you will work a relatively standard week. But, as an important submission deadline approaches, you may be doing very long hours.
Skills and interests
The best bid managers are quick on their feet and assertive yet tactful in motivating other members of a bid team to produce a successful submission. Time management, efficiency, the ability to meet deadlines and work with minimal supervision are all important. So are leadership and team work – no one can produce a bid single-handedly.
You will have to cope with a substantial amount of responsibility, remain calm under sometimes severe pressure, and be able to read and interpret instructions carefully. Bid managers are also able to use their industry experience to understand complicated technical information.
Good bid managers listen to other people's views while having confidence in their own convictions and express their own opinions well. You need to deal with complex business relationships and manage multiple resources to deliver a strong, winning case to the prospective client.
Since you may give presentations to clients, you should also be an articulate, confident speaker. Strong written communication skills are equally essential.
The downturn has made the winning of new work and retention of existing contracts hugely important, so good bid managers will always be in demand.
"The public sector market is still relatively buoyant," Kevin Jones adds. "There are jobs around, but you need to show an employer what you are capable of quickly, and have strong knowledge of the areas you are bidding for."
There are two main routes into this role, either through project management and working your way up from a bid co-ordinator role, or by gaining practical industry experience.
You are likely to have worked in the construction industry for up to five years before being appointed bid manager on a project and you may have trained as a civil engineer or as a surveyor. Most bid managers are educated to degree level, often in construction, engineering or a related discipline.
It's customary to start by working on smaller bids before being given larger ones to manage.
Training and advancement
Many companies provide opportunities for training and continuous development, either in-house or from an external training provider. Many also have graduate training schemes.
High fliers who are successful at bid manager level can progress to become bid directors where they might be responsible for bidding for multi-million pound contracts, or for supervising more than one bid at once, and having ultimate say on them before submission.
It is possible to progress from bid director to senior management, such as a chief operating officer or chief executive.
Membership of a professional organisation such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) will help with career progression, and, of course, you should seize any training opportunities you are offered.
- Balfour Beatty