What makes a good Principal Designer?

What makes a good Principal Designer Safety Forward

The level of a Principal Designer’s skills, knowledge and expertise should be proportionate to the complexity of the project, and the range and nature of the risks involved. So what makes a good Principal Designer?

To this end, they must be able to prove that they have appropriate principal designer competence and expertise in this area. The client must define within their procurement process, and prior to making any appointment, that the principal designer – be it an individual or an organisation – has the required skills, knowledge and experience necessary to undertake the role. And the individual or organisation in question must also be able to demonstrate same.

To prove it is capable of carrying out the PD role, an organisation must be able to demonstrate:

  • Ability to develop a PD team and understand and address gaps in competence;
  • Effective and proactive stakeholder engagement, team-building and team-working skills;
  • Proactive knowledge-sharing and continuous improvement;
  • Access to suitable organisational expertise in health and safety and engineering;
  • Commitment to training and lifelong learning;
  • Management team has had health and safety training to understand CDM 2015; and
  • Processes for ensuring health and safety is planned and managed throughout the project.

An individual must have technical knowledge of the construction industry relevant to the project in the following domains:

Engineering and design

  • Technical and relevant sector knowledge
  • Ability to undertake multidisciplinary design reviews, including large, complex projects, where applicable
  • Chartered membership of a relevant institution

Health & Safety

  • An understanding of how H&S is managed through the design process, as well as whole-life health and safety through design and construction
  • Demonstrate knowledge and experience of construction health and safety risks
  • Membership of a relevant institution


  • Good working knowledge and experience of CDM Regulations
  • Demonstrate management and coordination skills required of a principal designer
  • Confidence to challenge designs

The Principal Designer’s appointment should include any design work that continues into the construction phase, and any design issues needing modification that arise during. A  Principal Designer should be in place for as long as there is a need for them, but where a principal designer appointment finishes before the end of the project, they must brief the Principal Contractor fully on matters relevant to any subsequent construction work, and should also pass the health and safety file on to them. This ensures that standards are maintained throughout the handover to the end of the project.

The importance of a Principal Designer’s role cannot be underestimated and the skills that make a good Principal Designer should never be omitted from a development project. Like all aspects of health and safety legislation, it is intended to ensure that everyone involved in construction stays safe during the course of their work.

At Safety Forward we are SMAS approved and the standard and competence of our team has been audited and verified at the highest level. For further advice on Principal Designers, please contact us here.

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