What Is a Construction Project Manager?

Buildings are going up everywhere. Buildings as simple as a house (which isn’t so simple) or a warehouse, to a hotel/conference complex on the Las Vegas strip, or a new power generating dam. Someone plans all these pieces of work. That’s the construction project manager.

The construction project manager is the planner and coordinator of activities within a construction project. Like other projects, the construction pm manages the project through the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling and closing stages of the project. It’s a central position, and essential for the smooth communication of all workers, contractors, sub-contractors and related companies.

While this may sound like any other project manager, like in the information technology field or marketing field, it has its unique aspects and necessary specific knowledge.

What Is the Role of a Construction Project Manager?

Much of the construction world is buried in regulation. It’s necessary to pass all local, state or province, and national building codes, employment laws and best practices. This means that the construction project manager will have to be aware of what laws are in effect, and how to follow them to ensure that the building project is safe, in code and not too expensive.

Once a licensed architect or civil engineer signs off on a design, it’s usual for different construction companies to bid on the project. The construction project manager may get involved here to help understand the requirements and create a winning bid. The bid includes the plan for completing the work, including a schedule and a list of workers and sub-contracts (for specialty items, like commercial doors or plumbing, for example). With it comes a contract price, broken down to show how it will all be spent.

Usually several companies bid on a contract, but only one is chosen. Once the bid is accepted, it’s the construction project manager that pulls together the right workers and sub-contractors to get the job done, according to the plan. As the work goes on, variances to the plan will crop up, and it’s the construction project manager that has to manage these changes. If, for example, commercial doors are going to be delayed for a week, then extra security for the site may need to be laid on, due to the fact that the doors can’t be locked!

Like other project managers, the iron triangle of scope, budget and time still apply. In many ways, this is more evident in construction projects than other projects. Delays in supplies mean people sit idle, and that can be a lot of money. Running low on budget means that features may need to be cut from a project, such as decorative treatments, or even as drastic as delaying or canceling some of the construction that was planned.

What Does It Take To Become a Construction Project Manager?

Much like in other project management realms, many places require project managers to have a Bachelor’s degree and some form of certification or experience (usually five years or more). Some will take experience as assistants as counting towards this requirement, but others won’t. Each place, I’ve found, is different. The job description should lay out exactly what they’re looking for, but don’t be afraid to apply regardless of whether you meet the requirements. There are times where your unique experience and education combination may be good for what they’re looking for.

Many construction project managers start in the construction industry as something else. They work in the management office, as an intern or assistant, and move up into the project manager position. Very few get a general degree, pass the PMP exam, and then go looking for construction project management work. That’s rather common in other industries, but not in construction.

What Does a Construction Project Manager Make In Salary?

The variance of pay for a construction project manager is high. You can find positions from $60K to $120K per year in most major metropolitan centers. Some very senior project managers in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, New York, London, or Hong Kong can demand much more than this.

But trust me, they earn that pay. The reason for the higher pay rates is usually due to the complexity of the projects. Building codes and labor complexities in Toronto or Chicago are such that more expertise is required, and experience in dealing with these sorts of issues is worth quite a bit to those paying the bills. If it avoids even some delays or avoids expensive mistakes, then the initial higher cost will be more than worth it.

For a new construction manager, expect to be closer to the lower end of the pay scale to start. Likewise, the complexity of the projects you will be managing should not be as high. You will build experience, and begin to bid, win and work more complex jobs as your career progresses. No one starts at the top – not even the boss’s kid! No company can afford poor decisions on a construction job.

Can You Be a Remote Construction Project Manager?

I would have thought that this was a solid no. There’s no way to be a construction project manager without going to the site and managing the work. I’m completely wrong about this.

Lower complexity construction projects can use remote construction project managers. For example, a company that specializes in putting up U-Store-It garage-like storage unit facilities, all the same, can use a remote construction project manager. The materials are always the same (usually proven out after the first one is built) and the headaches and issues identified and mitigated during the first build. After that, being remote could actually work well.

It still means that you have to pay attention to the details of the project. You still have to maintain the work to the cost, schedule and scope as intended. None of that changes. And you now have the added complexity of having to trust the information sent to you, and get it in a timely manner. On-site construction project managers can at least go hunt down what they need to know if they’re on time, on budget and on scope. The remote project manager will have to dig a little harder to get this information.

Is Being a Construction Project Manager Right For You?

The easy answer is to say that only you will know the answer here. But it’s more nuanced than that. You have to have some construction blood in your veins. This has to be interesting to you. In IT project management, it’s not uncommon to move from industry to industry (like from IT PM work in the Insurance industry, to IT PM work in the aerospace industry, to …!) That’s not really the same in the construction project management world.

Construction project managers tend to get good at one specialty in the world of construction and stay there. The different specialties include:

  • Residential home building and renovation
  • Heavy industrial construction
  • Commercial and institutional construction
  • Engineering construction

If you’re in the industry long enough, you may indeed move over to a different field, but you’ll lose seniority, as you know less about that specialty, and will have to get up to speed. The more specialized the work, the more likely that you’ll stay in that specialty for your career.

Related Questions

Is being a project manager stressful?

Yes, being a project manager is stressful. You’re the point person for the work being done, and you’re the one communicating to senior stakeholders and management. So if there’s bad news, you are the one to communicate it. If there’s good news, you credit the team with it. Tracking progress of tasks and creating a holistic view of the project can be stressful, too. No one likes to disclose bad news, but you need ask the hard questions to get to the truth. This too can be stressful.

What are the five stages of project management?

The Project Management Institute asserts that the five stages of project management are Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. Each is done in sequence, although it’s likely that the Executing and Monitoring and Controlling stages overlap and run concurrently. These stages apply to projects as small as building a bookshelf and as large as building the pyramids.

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