How to Become a Construction Project Manager
In a time when people are staying home, the roofs over their heads are more important than ever. Unlike many industries, the construction industry has remained robust amid the economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Construction consulting firm FMI projects that total engineering and construction spending will be flat for 2020 compared with 2019, but “flat” adds up to $1.3 trillion in new activity. Residential buildings will total $565 billion. Nonresidential buildings will add $502 billion, with another $264 billion for infrastructures, such as streets, power lines, and water supply.
In some respects, the pandemic boosted home building. Fewer families are selling their homes, creating a-strong demand for new construction. Combine that with low interest rates, and new home sales were up 40% year over year as of August 2020.
Of course, the virus created new challenges. Worldwide supply chains were interrupted due to the pandemic, so materials did not arrive on schedule if at all. Consumers may have trimmed budgets, requiring alterations in building plans. Construction, like any industry, must enforce new safety protocols based on their state mandates. As a result, some construction sites may have unexpectedly shut down in response to virus spikes.
With the extra potential for disruption, the job of a construction project manager is even more critical to ensure project efficiency. In addition to keeping work on schedule and within budget, a construction project manager must ensure an accurate translation of blueprints into concrete and steel, following the different requirements of contracts.
How to Become a Construction Project Manager
Becoming a construction project manager requires a wide variety of skills in leadership, analysis, construction management, technology, and communication. Because of the diverse background, the steps to become a construction project manager involve a mixture of classroom education, on-the-job experience, and professional certification.
Some construction managers do work their way into the field. Years of experience in construction specialties such as carpentry or masonry can eventually lead to a construction project management position. Internships and cooperative education programs can bridge the gap between being a worker and supervising contractors. However, for most people, a college degree offers the quickest and surest route into the profession, opening more opportunities with more and larger employers.
Step 1: Get a College Degree
The academic level required to become a construction project manager depends on the size of the projects.:
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the minimum expected education is typically a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, architecture, or engineering.
- As projects get increasingly complex, expertise in construction or engineering isn’t enough. Managers need a working knowledge of finance, accounting, supply chains, contracts, and insurance to manage different aspects of the job. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) can provide this background, as managing a large construction project, like an office tower or a mall, is similar to running a small company.
- Some MBA programs offer specific concentrations in construction project management, with specialized classes on supervising big projects using different management techniques and project management software.
Step 2: Work as an Assistant Construction Project Manager
Higher education is just the beginning. A new graduate is likely to initially serve as an assistant to a seasoned construction project manager. Over several months to several years, assistants acquire practical experience that complements classroom learning.
Step 3: Earn Professional Certifications
Some states require a license to work as a construction project manager. Unlike licenses for architects or engineers, the license doesn’t double as a professional credential.
Earned from two organizations, professional certifications help new managers rise in the field. The certifications assure employers that a manager is current on industry standards and best practices, along with ethics and codes of conduct.
Both certification organizations provide self-study courses, followed by exams. Each offers two levels—a basic one for new entrants to the profession and a higher one for those with more experience and knowledge.
- Construction Management Association of America (CMAA). The CMAA offers the Construction Manager-in-Training (CMIT), a basic certification for new graduates to those with six months of experience. The Certified Construction Manager (CCM), a higher credential, requires a minimum of two years of experience and two professional references.
- American Institute of Constructors (AIC). The AIC provides the Associate Constructor (AC) certification to applicants with at least a four-year degree or a combined four years of education and experience. After four years as an associate constructor, a manager can apply for the higher-level certification: Certified Professional Constructor (CPC).
Resources on Professional Certifications
The following professional certifications can help construction project managers further develop their skills and advance their careers.
- Pre-Qualification of Construction Managers—An Essential Ingredient for a Successful Project, Construction Marketing Association — Overview of various certifications and how they help meet state licensing requirements.
- Certification, Construction Management Association of America — How to become a certified construction manager.
- About Certification, American Institute of Constructors — How to become a certified professional constructor.
What Does a Construction Project Manager Do?
A construction project manager is a hybrid occupation with duties involving a mixture of construction and management skills. It requires equal facility in dealing with time, people, money, as well as materials and design. It calls upon different areas of expertise as a project moves from preplanning to completion. Here are some key aspects of what a construction project manager does.
Before the first dirt is turned, a construction project manager works with owners, architects, and engineers to create budgets for the overall project and its components. The manager will do a constructability review to create realistic work timetables to prioritize tasks and ensure that work is finished on schedule.
The process of building a structure has its own structure. A manager helps choose from among four common types of arrangements for delivering a finished project: Construction Management at Risk, Design-Bid-Build, Design-Build, and Multi-Prime. The differences can be complicated, involving various degrees of separation and responsibility among the owner, designer, and contractor. There may be a formal bidding process to choose contractors. In addition, the contractor may work from a finished design or the designer and contractor may work together to speed completion.
A construction project manager typically handles the bidding and hiring of contractors. Once a project is underway, the manager oversees contractors’ performances and ensures quality control. Another duty is tracking submittals: reports on materials that contractors plan to purchase. Architects and engineers must approve submittals before orders are placed and a manager can identify materials for early ordering to keep the project on schedule.
Construction project management isn’t a desk job. After construction begins, a manager will spend much time out of the office, attending job meetings, and reviewing the status of work on-site.
Running a construction site means being fluent in multiple vocabularies. A construction project manager may converse with an architect about technical details and then turn around and explain it clearly to a contractor. Ensure that workers understand details means fewer change orders and delays. When owners, designers, and contractors don’t understand one another, a manager can serve as the translator. In some situations, a manager serves as a diplomat and defuses potential conflicts among different parties.
A project rarely runs smoothly from beginning to end. If a subtask isn’t finished on schedule, it can set back the project completion date. Part of a manager’s job is responding to crises and making adjustments to bring tasks back on schedule and budget.
Municipalities and states have varying and, sometimes, overlapping laws and regulations governing construction. Overlooking any of them can lead to costly postponements. A construction project manager ensures the procurement of permits, standards met, and inspections conducted.
Construction might be finished, but the manager’s job isn’t. Closing out a project requires that a construction manager verify that mistakes identified on a punch list are corrected, the contractor fulfilled all contractual and legal requirements, and all costs are documented and paid. The project manager also must confirm that the owner has the necessary manuals to operate and maintain a new building’s systems, whether it’s a water heater in a home or an HVAC system in an office complex. A manager may even work with local governments to obtain certificates of occupancy.
Construction Project Manager Tools and Software
Supervising a complicated building project using spreadsheets and word processors can feel like a horse-and-buggy approach. Construction project managers use specialized software to manage both small and large projects maximize profits and produce higher-quality results for clients.
Different software packages that serve as construction project tools emphasize specific aspects of managing a project and present information in different formats. Some examples are as follows:
- Monday.com is a visually-oriented software program, using a timeline to organize and track tasks, outlining responsibilities, and due dates. The software speeds processes such as finding documents.
- Corecon is a cloud-based system that emphasizes financial elements such as estimating and bidding on a job, tracking expenses and orders, and analyzing expenses to maximize profitability.
- Smartsheet focuses on streamlining communication and documentation to increase project efficiency and minimize errors. Dashboards allow managers to see key metrics at a glance.
- ProjectManager.com offers a graphical user interface that simplifies project start-up and offers views on project progress in various ways. It integrates with other business apps such as Microsoft Office, Slack, and Google.
All these packages integrate a variety of uses into a single tool, with different emphases and areas of specialization. Consider some common functions of construction software.
The life cycle of a major project consists of many tasks with overlapping time frames. Construction project management tools keep track of them all. They set up schedules, manage time, and provide notifications when tasks are falling behind.
Details change daily on a construction site. A construction project manager uses software to watch over details as diverse as purchase orders, change orders, and punch lists—making sure that each one receives follow-up and none falls through the cracks. The software also can aid in tracking workers and crews and calculating the most effective schedules for deploying them on the job.
Construction projects generate a large array of documents. Correspondence, requests for information and proposals, purchase orders, and contracts are just a few. Construction projects also create reams of drawings and photographs. Having all of them in a central repository saves time when searching for specific items and reduces the risk of losing them.
Construction project management tools with financial modules offer the ability to compare budgets with actual money being spent and sound alarms for potential overruns. They can use past costs to create future budgets, make forecasts, and estimate bids for landing future projects. By tracking money, these software tools help a manager save money while making more of it.
Besides storing documents and financial records, a manager can extract information from them and analyze that data for valuable operational insights. Real-time data helps managers make decisions, while trends can emerge from reviewing long-term data. Reports such as Gantt charts allow a construction project manager to see at a glance where each element of a project stands.
Collaboration and Communication
Software systems make it easy for workers and teams to correspond, especially when separated by time and location. They also help personnel organize and retrieve correspondence, without the security vulnerabilities of email. When workers are collaborating on a document, the system can track the changes made by each person.
Construction sites can be hazardous. Accidents can disable workers, cause unanticipated delays, and lead to penalties. Some construction project management tools can help prevent such accidents. They include modules for assessing risk, ensuring that sites are meeting codes and regulations, and reporting incidents and their outcomes.
Shopping for Construction Project Management Tools and Software
When choosing a software system, project managers should consider several variables, depending on the project size and the manager’s needs.
- Will it be used online or off? Web-based software that stores user data in the cloud is well suited for smaller managers. For a monthly subscription fee, managers get access to more features and computing power than they could manage on a standalone office computer. A larger firm, however, might save money in the long run by buying a software package and running it on its private network.
- Does it support mobile devices? It’s handy for a construction manager to use a smartphone or tablet to access the software system at a construction site. Managers can input and retrieve information on the spot, rather than back at the office.
- Is it scalable? Can the construction project management system be scaled as a firm grows and starts to manage multiple projects?
- Is it trade specific? If a manager focuses on a particular type of construction, specialized software is ideal to manage it. For example, CoConstruct is oriented toward custom home builders and remodelers.
Resources on Specific Software
Construction project managers can choose from a wide range of software packages to ensure project success. Consider the following construction management software resources.
- Best Construction Management Software, G2 — Crowdsourced ratings of construction software in four categories.
- Best Construction Management Software & Tools for 2020, Project-Management.com — Capsule descriptions of five top construction software packages.
- Construction Management Software, Software Connect — Reviews and buyers guide for different needs.
Construction Project Manager Salary
Depending on the project types and location a construction project manager is often well compensated. The median annual wage of construction project managers as of May 2019 was $95,260, according to the BLS. That’s 140% higher than the median wage for all occupations.
That figure can increase depending on years of experience, certifications, and how much work a manager brings into a firm. The construction project manager salary for the highest 10%, the BLS reports, is more than $164,790.
The compensation research firm PayScale also spotlights the advantage of experience. It reports that the average construction project manager earns about $79,000 as of December 2020, while senior construction project managers earn about $112,000.
An even bigger variable is location. The BLS reports that of all U.S. states, New York offers the highest mean wage for construction project managers, at $147,410, followed by New Jersey and Delaware. The state with the lowest mean wage, Idaho, offers $79,800.
Construction Project Manager Job Outlook
The construction project manager’s job outlook fluctuates based on the ebb and flow of the economy. In a typical year, however, job growth is double that of the average occupation. The BLS projects that jobs for construction project managers will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029 to a total projected employment of 517,100.
To improve the prospects of landing or keeping a job, especially when the economy is weak, the BLS recommends the following on a construction project manager’s resume:
- A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering
- Work experience in construction
Advanced degrees and professional certifications also can provide a competitive edge over managers with fewer credentials.
Constructing the Future
For someone who enjoys the construction field, managing people, and working on different sites, the position of a construction project manager can be a rewarding, well-paying occupation. While requiring a multifaceted mixture of business skills, the job offers variety and challenge as no two projects or days are the same.
Above all, it provides the satisfaction of assisting in creating a product that’s large, visible, and lasting. Learn how Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration with concentrations in Construction Management and Project Management prepares graduates to help build America’s future. The two concentrations supplement general business courses with specific skills for construction project management, such as Techniques, Tools and Practices; Leadership and Teams; and Contracts and Insurance.
FMI’s North American Engineering and Construction Outlook: Third Quarter 2020 Report, FMI
COVID-19: What It Means for Engineering and Construction, PwC
New Home Sales Defy Gravity: Up 39.6% Year-Over-Year According To Meyers Research, Cision PRWeb
Demand for Houses Boosts Home Construction, Mansion Global
The Importance of Construction Project Management, Yahoo Finance
Construction Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Pre-Qualification of Construction Managers—An Essential Ingredient for a Successful Project, Construction Marketing Association
Certification, Construction Management Association of America
About Certification, American Institute of Constructors
Choosing a Project Delivery Method, Design Build Institute of America
Monday.com: One Platform, Better Teamwork, monday.com
Cloud Based Construction Software, Corecon
Dynamic Work & Collaboration Software, Smartsheet
ProjectManager.com: Project Management Software, ProjectManager.com
Three Big Benefits of Construction Project Management Software, Project Smart
How to Select the Best Construction Project Management Software for Your Business, Predictive Analytics Today
Best Construction Management Software & Tools for 2020, Project-Management.com
The Punch List: A Contractor Guide to Finish the Job & Get Paid, Levelset
Construction Management Closeout Procedures & Processes, Stonemark Construction
Average Construction Project Manager Salary, PayScale
Average Senior Project Manager, Construction, PayScale