Project Risk Management: Inspiration from Golden Gate Bridge

Storytelling and Project Risk Management

Joseph B. Strauss was the Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge. He led the construction of the Bridge, working with a team of engineers, architects, geologists, and other professionals.

The Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel, whose construction began in January 1933. Workers had to brave a long list of challenges – fast-running tides and storms, fog that reduced visibility to zero and blasting rock underwater to lay earthquake-proof foundations. These challenges meant workers at the site were exposed to high risk, including death. 

Joseph Strauss insisted on a rigid safety code, supported by the latest safety innovations (of those times). The accepted mortality rate in large-scale public projects at the time was ‘one casualty per every million dollars spent.’ Strauss was determined to assess every known risk and buck this number. 

“On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” he wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post. “To the annoyance of the daredevils who loved to stunt at the end of the cables, far out in space, we fired any man we caught stunting on the job.”

 Strauss made it mandatory to use hard hats – a first for a construction project to enforce this safety measure, with a threat of dismissal for any violation. The list of measures taken to mitigate risks was quite exhaustive and included: respiratory masks to prevent inhalation of lead-tainted paint fumes, glare-free goggles to ward off snow blindness and sunscreen to offer protection from the harsh sun, onsite field hospital staffed with doctors and nurses, a safety net suspended along the entire span of the bridge. 

No deaths occurred for the first 3 years and 8 months of the project. Although the safety net ultimately saved lives, eleven men did die during construction when a section of the scaffold fell through the safety net. Overall, the risk mitigation efforts showed up in the numbers.

How can you use this story?

The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge is a great story about Project Management, specifically Risk Management. Studies have shown that 70% of projects fail, and poor management of risks contributes majorly, apart from unclear project objectives, scope creep, and communication.

In the Golden Gate Bridge project, Strauss and his team took into consideration all possible risks involved and went as far as even forecasting the number of possible deaths.

Risk assessment is a crucial activity when initiating any project, as well as throughout the duration of the project. Involving various stakeholders in the risk assessment process is key to project success.

The Golden Gate Bridge opened to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937, and was hugely successful from a project management standpoint, having been completed under budget and ahead of schedule.

Project managers need not rush into delivery without completing a thorough risk assessment of their projects. Stories such as this help Project Managers navigate through any pushback from stakeholders to rush through the risk management process.

Interested in learning more about using storytelling in your work? Drop us a line.

About The Author
Vinod Krishna

Vinod Krishna is a brand storytelling trainer and consultant at DustyPaths.
He brings 3 decades of experience in leading people, projects, and businesses
to forge new paths in storytelling, communication and leadership development.
He is an avid barefoot runner, trekker, theater artist, and photographer.
Connect with him on LinkedIn

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