What Is a Construction Manager?
Construction management is a specialized form of project management. Construction management controls the planning, design, and construction phases of a project. The Construction manager must oversee and ensure completion of every step from the beginning ( pre-design concepts) to the final punch-out or closing of the project. Construction management is a professional service for the benefit of property owners, developers, public entities, and government agencies.
In summary, a construction manager oversees a building or other construction project by organizing a staff to coordinate personnel supplies, scheduling, progress, and completion. Construction managers often begin their involvement by working with the client/owner and tailoring the plans, designs, and specifications for maximum efficiency and benefit. The construction manager must keep the owner informed and provide information on costs and budgets.
Business Career Paths
Steps to Take to Achieve This Career
Construction manager occupations have developed over recent years from primarily on the job training into one that usually requires formal education. In its early forms, a construction manager was an experienced construction employee that began to learn the elements of site control, organizing work crews, and accounting for progress against a plan. Using apprenticeship, construction employees learned construction management from an experienced CM while working at his or her direction.
Today, construction employers and corporations prefer college trained construction management professionals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. They select applicants with major fields of study like civil engineering, construction science, construction management, or construction technology.
Step 1: Earn Your Degree
Step 2: Get Practical Experience
Step 3: Get Certifications
Step 4: Career Advancement
Step 1: Earn Your Degree
Today construction managers work on a wide range of projects. Construction managers can take on home renovations or complex office building projects. Requiring a college degree in construction management, construction science, or some related field is the overall trend among clients and employers.
Internships are essential parts of construction management education. Hands-on experience helps the construction management graduate transition to the responsibilities of working on a job site. Construction management graduates must be familiar with industry trends and technological innovations. These include machines used in construction and advances in materials science that help design and build sustainable and green structures.
Step 2: Get Practical Experience
In older times, construction managers learned on the job; they usually spent years as construction supervisors then moved up. They used to learn construction management under the direct guidance of an experienced construction or project manager. Clients and employers today still regard experience as a key element when selecting a construction manager.
Today, construction managers usually have college training; they need experience and internships are an excellent option. A construction management graduate might have to work in the field for four to five years before gaining enough experience to earn certifications successfully. Experience means getting enough construction work training to take on clients and projects.
Step 3: Get Certifications
There is no national licensing program for construction managers. Some may be civil engineers and meet state licensing requirements for that occupation. Construction managers can get certifications that will reflect their education, experience, and commitment to the profession. Certifications may sometimes seem to have more importance than they do in practice, and much depends on the requirements and the respect given by the construction industry. Two leading professional certifications that carry influence with employers and the business community are the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) Certificate and the American Institute of Constructors (AIC) Certificate.
The CMAA and AIC certifications require an extensive review of education, experience, and training. The CMAA certificate is the Certified Construction Manager credential. Applicants must pass an exam after submitting four-years of college work, a bachelor’s degree, and four years of direct experience. Those with no bachelor’s degree must show eight years of experience including four years as a CM.
Step 4: Career Advancement
A certified construction manager must maintain continuing education to stay in good standing with the certificate authority. Maintaining certification is key to future success. Construction management careers can grow in several ways. For many CMs, they will work with a construction or engineering firm and move up a ladder as they gain exposures and experience. They can rise from roles as an assistant to an experienced or senior construction manager. The time spent working with a mentor is a valuable experience. This apprenticeship style training puts the young construction manager in real-world situations.
When working within an organization, many Construction managers return to school and complete a master’s degree. For other managers, the way to success will be through entrepreneurship and contract work as a construction manager. A high percentage of construction managers operate as independent businesses.
What Does a Construction Manager Do?
A construction manager represents the owner’s interest and power in a construction project. The CM provides expertise and knowledge of all of the important parts of a construction project and tracks progress. The construction manager can anticipate problems, work to prevent them, and reduce the impact of those that might occur.
In a typical construction activity, there are three parts: the owner, the architect, and the general contractor.
To be more specific, here are some possible job duties of a business administrator:
- First, the owner or the representative of a company that starts the project and provides the funds. Often the owner acts on behalf of a larger organization or expects to market a property to the public such as a condominium tower.
- The Architect and design function creates a detailed plan for the project
- General Contractor is the company that bids or negotiates for the project and will develop and carry out the day-to-day construction including bonding, insurance, engaging suppliers, and subcontractors.
The owner has the legal power through contracts to control the entire project. Every other party involved works for the owner. Most owners do not have the knowledge and ability to oversee a complicated project, and they hire a construction manager to perform all tasks from the beginning to the end of the project. The construction manager can establish an office at the site of the project and use this as a base of operations to review the information and conduct regular inspections of activity and progress.
Skills to Acquire
Communications skills including listening are essential for successful construction managers. The primary point of contact is with the owners and/or the owner’s representatives. Construction managers must present information in clear and relatable terms. They must often simplify complex matters for understanding by persons with little or no technical knowledge.
Business Management skills are essential for construction managers. The essence of the service is to represent the owner’s interest in a smooth planning, design, and construction process. The factors include contracts, bonds, insurance, scheduling, logistics, and timely performance. Business management, business law, contract, and labor relations are areas of focus for the construction manager.
Customer Relations skills are a vital part of the construction manager's daily routine. The essence of the CM role involves communicating on a highly detailed level with the client/owner. The CM may also represent the owner in contacts with the public and must make every effort to create goodwill and promote the owner's position.
Time Management is critical to construction management. Timing and sequences can determine project success or failure. Construction management involves labor, subcontractor relationships, specialty contractors, and a general contractor. The sequences involve suppliers, deliveries, and many other essential steps. Time management includes keeping the management schedule and construction schedule on course.
Technical Engineering Architectural skills help construction managers absorb technical information and communicate with the architect and design professionals involved in the project. The tasks include working with diagrams, blueprints, and AutoCAD-type software.
The direct path to becoming a construction manager is through formal education at the bachelor’s degree level or higher. Construction managers can use internships and early employment to gain experience. With formal education and experience, CMs can get certifications from voluntary certification agencies that have weight and influence in the industry. The alternative paths can help those that do not have a bachelor’s degree.
An associate degree can help create an entry level opportunity with a construction company. The applicant can use the Associate of Science or Arts degree to combine with increasing levels of job responsibility to become a Construction Management trainee. Construction Management trainees can qualify for certification if they have four or more years of experience as construction managers.
With no college degrees, applicants can enter the construction field in any classification and take courses aimed at developing site supervision. With some construction experience, workers can learn to be site-level supervisors responsible for small crews and specific assignments. After some time in site-level supervision, applicants may be able to qualify for a construction management training program. At any point in the process, applicants can initiate formal education and the college credits in specific areas can help advance their efforts to gain more job responsibilities and supervisory roles.
Construction Manager Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Construction managers can work in a number of environments and fulfill important roles in successful construction projects. These include public agencies like housing authorities, government entities that must procure construction services on the open market, and a wide range of private sector opportunities. Many construction managers work for themselves as independent businesses.
Large corporations with multiple locations employ construction managers that can oversee one or more development projects. These companies are often called chains or big box companies and they use a business model of multiple brick and mortar locations. They must grow by building new locations and remain profitable by keeping existing locations in excellent condition including modernization.
Real Estate Development Companies develop commercial real estate, such as shopping centers and medical care facilities. Construction managers work closely with owners and oversee the work of all other partners and providers on the construction project.
Federal Employment for Construction managers comes when the federal government is the project owner and funder. Federal agencies, such as the General Services Administration, regularly employ construction managers to oversee planned and existing civilian construction projects.
Independent businesses are also an option for construction managers. Their role lends itself to contracting since they form relationships with owners for the purpose of designing and building some type of building or structure. As independent businesses, construction managers can add staff or operate as a consultant. Construction management is a specialized type of project management, and owners may seek to select a consultant or independent business based upon their track record, experience, and special qualifications. Many construction managers develop a line of business such as railroad infrastructure, airports, or commercial warehouses.
Potential Career Paths
The duties of a construction manager run from the inception of a project idea to the final check before completion. The construction manager performs the owner’s role in making sure that every part of the project works together as needed. Ultimately, the owner is responsible for the outcome of the project and the construction manager reviews and provides complete oversight. The construction management role combines skills and knowledge from the below-described related fields.
Architects and Design Architects develop plans and create designs for houses, buildings, commercial facilities, and other types of structures. They create detailed plans that must meet safety codes and other regulations for sound structures.
Civil Engineers apply principles of science, mathematics, design, and engineering to ensure the structural integrity of buildings and other structures. Civil engineers must consider the materials in use and the tolerances for load, heat, and cold. These days they must also consider the green benefits of the construction.
Architectural and Engineering Managers work in construction and engineering companies to oversee the processes of design and planning. These highly trained professionals apply principles of design and engineering to create appealing interior and exterior spaces and structurally sound buildings and many types of civil infrastructure.
Cost Estimators have the key responsibility of setting a budget and planning framework for the costs of a construction project. Cost estimation must consider many impacts beyond the present-day prices and availability of personnel, services, and materials. They must also anticipate changes in the markets.
Landscape Architects primarily work on the footprint of a building or structure and the way it connects to an immediate environment and a larger area or ecosystem. With a growing demand for sustainable structures and conservation, landscape architects take advantage of the natural settings to promote green construction practices.
Job Titles and Salaries
|Construction Project Manager||$58,900||$72,700||$83,000|
|Senior Project Manager||$82,600||$99,300||$115,200|
|Project Engineer Construction||$58,900||$71,400||$87,600|
**Salary info provided by PayScale
Construction management is a lucrative, challenging, and exciting field. The average salary range is nearly $100,000 per year with a range from $95,000 to approximately $120,000 depending on location. As business owners, construction managers can set a course as an independent business including collaborations and ventures with other construction managers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the growth in the construction manager occupation classification at about 11% over the decade ending in 2026. The estimate represents an increase in the number of jobs at about 44,000. With rising demand and higher levels of competition, salaries are likely to increase as are employer demands for extensive experience and relevant academic credentials. With higher competition, construction managers may use specializations or specific types of experience to improve their marketing and appeals to owners.
Among the drivers for increased demand are population growth, commercial real estate investment, and the increased attention paid to green and sustainable construction. Socially conscious owners wish to see their properties reflect their values concerning the impact on the local ecosystem and greater environment.
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Advancing from Here
Construction management is a specialized part of the broader field of project management. Construction managers work closely with owners and oversee the work of architects, designers, engineers, and general contractors. Construction management applies principles of management and organization to the special environment of construction projects.
The construction management career offers projects and opportunities that vary in size, intensity, and type of construction. New technology impacts the construction industry through innovation, computerization, materials science, and research on environmental impacts. The challenges of green construction and sustainable practices also affect the roles of construction managers.
Many construction managers work for private and public employers. Construction management self-employment is a long-term option for certified managers. Particularly for managers with advanced degrees or unique specializations, self-employment as independent businesses may offer a pathway to long-term success and further business growth.
In construction-based organizations, construction managers can rise to top executive positions including senior levels of construction manager positions. Senior construction managers make strong candidates for organization-level leadership positions due to their experience and knowledge of construction, human resources, contracting, and customer relations.