Seeking inspiration from the Golden Gate Bridge for project risk management
The Golden gate bridge in San Francisco is a great project. Its construction teaches us a lot of lessons about project risk management.
Celia Icard
16 November 2016


The Golden gate bridge in San Francisco is a great project. It is also a testament of American ingenuity and resilience because it was built in difficult times during the great depression from 1933 to 1937!

Initially the Golden gate bridge was built to improve the flow of traffic in the city of San Francisco. Today it has surpassed its initial objective and is not only a symbol of American ingenuity and engineering but has also become a historical landmark and an icon of American culture.  It has been declared as one of the wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In the early 1920s a feasibility study recommended the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The local authorities estimated that its construction would cost 100 million dollars, an astronomical sum and impractical to raise at that time.  But an ambitious young engineer, Joseph Strauss, stepped up to the task and offered to build the bridge for less. To reduce the costs Strauss made use of the suspension bridge design, thanks to recent advances in metallurgy. He was such a brilliant civil engineer that he designed over 400 bridges and put forward a proposal to build a bridge linking Siberia (Russia) and Alaska in his research thesis.


Its construction teaches us a lot of lessons about project management in general and project risk management in particular. For example, Joseph Strauss, who later became the chief engineer, spent three years teaching his first design. He then assembled a team of engineers to create the final design. Strauss expected that three dozen workers would die during the construction. But only 11 deaths occurred. Under his leadership it was mandatory to use hard hats. This was a first for a construction project. Other safety tools were used such as safety belts, tie off lines and respirators for burning pain fumes. Workers were required to wear leather gloves, sun googles and put sun-block lotions. A field hospital at the south end staffed full time medical personnel. A huge and expensive safety net was suspended below the bridge which saved 19 lives. And there were no deaths for the first 3 years and 8 months of the project.

This is a great example of good preparation and project risk management which is an essential ingredient in project management. Strauss and his team took into consideration the dangers involved and went as far as forecasting the number of possible deaths. Preparing and managing the risks involved help master the threats involves, minimize dangers, and ensures the smooth running of a project. In short, risk management allows your team to manage any future uncertainty and tackle head-on unexpected turn of events by avoiding entering into a firefighting mode in case of unexpected dangers. Note that project risk management is a continuous process of identifying potential issues in advance, communicating about them, analyzing them for threats and opportunities and finally implementing a right response to handle them.  Thus ensuring the success of your project.

The building of the Golden gate bridge also teaches us that providing the right tools to your team members makes sure that the human resources in your projects are safe, motivated and moving forward to the completion of your project! It is very important to take good care of your team members because they are the movers and shakers of your projects.