Project Manager

How To Be A Construction Project Manager

Construction managers are the leaders who manage contractors on a job site. Among their many tasks, they keep project activities updated, ensure the right people and resources are present to meet standards and deadlines, and lead and enforce all safety protocols on site. Their role is not a unidimensional type of role. Instead, they may help the end client with planning, creating budgets, and quality control, and sometimes, they may even roll their sleeves and help in the construction tasks. In an ever-evolving construction landscape, the employment of construction managers is projected to grow 5% year over year until 2032, a faster rate than the industry average.

What Does a Construction Project Manager Do

The construction project manager (CM) collaborates with and oversees all stakeholders in any construction project. This collaboration includes communication with the project owner or developer, the architect firm, general contractors, trade contractors, and subcontractors. They also help with the selection of the construction team, like the foremen, crews, and  subcontractors. Once everyone has been hired, the project manager manages the teams and makes the project a reality. Unlike other individuals or entities of the construction landscape that jump in and out providing services or labor to meet a particular stage of the project, CMs are in charge of directing and leading the project from the start to the finish line. 

Among the general duties of a construction project manager, the following stand out:

  • Organize workflows and build/keep the right team.
  • General recruitment and leadership.
  • Maintaining tasks and teams synchronized for timely completion.
  • Finish projects timely to avoid fines and build a reputation.
  • Estimate costs and reduce additional expenses to stay on budget.
  • Ensure resource distribution to prevent any shortages or delays.
  • Handle risks such as inaccurate planning or complex policies.

The exact role of a project manager will depend on the project. With some large projects, there could be multiple project managers. Each project manager could work for a different group on the project. For example, there could be a project manager with the electrical subcontractor and another from the HVAC subcontractor. In these instances, they will work under a project manager who will coordinate their efforts. The top construction manager is responsible for the overall project health and well-being, but it frees them up from more minor yet essential details.

project manager
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Things You Need to be a Construction Project Manager

While there is a typical path to becoming a construction project manager, companies may look for different things in a CM. Above all, most companies value extensive experience when hiring a project manager. While the role has some predetermined responsibilities, it also requires individuals to move quickly on their feet and solve for unknowns to ensure projects run on time. However, this also means that education and particular skills are usually desired when hiring a construction project manager in addition to a problem-solving attitude.

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More and more construction project managers have bachelor’s degrees when they enter the field. The standard degree for a project manager in construction is a degree in construction engineering, building science, or construction science. However, not every college offers this as a major. Oftentimes, individuals with degrees in engineering, architecture, mathematics, and others also become successful project managers. Ultimately, what matters is knowing about control and management, design, building codes and standards, construction methods and materials, and similar coursework. 

Only some colleges offer courses in construction management, which is why courses from a community college can be helpful. It ensures that you have classes that will help you be a better construction manager, but it also gives you a better understanding of the construction industry’s needs. For those who don’t want or can’t go to a four-year college, an associate’s degree in construction management from a 2-year college and work experience is also common in the industry and helps people gain project management skills while supervising smaller projects. However, before you decide where to study, you should remember that some companies may prioritize studies while others do not. Depending on your objectives, long-term life plan, and financial possibilities, the education path you choose may differ. Usually, a bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level education for this position (4-year college degree), including some work experience. However, it is also possible for people with extensive experience and associate degrees to become construction managers. 

project manager
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Training and Work Experience

As we already mentioned, construction experience and education are preferred. Some firms hire project manager assistants to gain experience, given the hands-on nature of the role. They are usually the ones enforcing the budget and the schedule to ensure everything is done correctly. If you want to become a construction project manager, you may want to start gaining experience in this role. 

Generally, a bachelor’s degree is recommended to become a senior project manager (on some occasions and for highly specialized activities, a master’s degree is preferred). A degree helps the hiring company determine how much knowledge they have in the industry. Experience, however, is also a must. In fact, candidates with extensive experience in the construction industry can also be considered for assistant project manager positions, which is basically an apprenticeship in project management.  

While the standard is usually that project managers have bachelor’s degrees, firms and companies work differently. A mix of experience with the right bachelor’s degree is almost always the winning combo.

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Certifications can Help

While many companies may not require a certification, it can set you apart from other candidates. Some organizations, like the American Institute of Contractors and the Construction Management Association of America, offer construction project management certificates.

The AIC has both the Associate Constructor and the Certified Professional Constructor certificates. These certifications denote a high level of skill and knowledge of management principles for the construction process.

The CMAA is a professional organization offering a Certified Construction Manager course for construction project managers. They require some experience before potential applicants can take the exam. However, it covers almost everything a construction manager could encounter.

Skills You Need as Construction Project Manager

As mentioned before, a construction project manager must have specific skills related to the construction nature of the project (technical skills) and a vast set of aptitudes to deal with multiple teams (soft skills). While technical skills are essential and help a CM understand and oversee quality, budgets, timing, etc., of the actual work that is happening, soft skills are equally important. Being able to lead enables construction managers to solve problems, motivate and align teams, keep the trains running on time, and ultimately turn projects into actual buildings. 

While the list of skills is massive, here are a couple of skills that separate great construction managers from the pack:

  • A clear understanding and executive capacity regarding construction methods and technologies.
  • Financial excellence to ensure budgeting works. 
  • Time management to be able to deliver all projects on time. 
  • Attention to detail to ensure quality control among multiple teams.
  • Enforcing safety regulations to ensure the general well-being of all teams.
  • Project management, in general, to be able to talk to leadership positions, management positions, and the crew. 
  • Software understanding to automate processes and ensure projects are flawless.
  • Being quick on your feet, solving all types of problems before they even happen
  • Command and leadership to ensure everyone acts harmoniously.
  • Excellent communication skills to translate high-level plans into microtasks.
  • Teamwork abilities to help multiple teams collaborate without friction
  • Negotiation skills to deal with unforeseen scenarios that may affect the construction system they are responsible for. 
  • Decision-making abilities to make the right calls at the right time. 
  • Adaptability and creativity to face the unknown. Each project has challenges no one can anticipate.

Apply for the Right Construction Project Management Jobs

The construction management field has multiple roles and opportunities for those with extensive experience and those just starting. Applying for the proper construction project management role for your profile becomes easy once you understand the requirements (education + skills + experience) and the unique advantages of your profile. If an education degree and experience are required, and you have them, do not feel intimidated and apply for the position. However, if you fall short in some of the requirements for a particular role, think outside the box and find complementary roles to help you get closer to your goal. 

Acquiring the right skills, experience, and education is required for most construction jobs. Chances are, you can work in at least one of these dimensions today. 

Remember that your professional journey is a marathon. Prepare for the job you want five years from now, and start working on it today.

Can You Become a Construction Project Manager Without Education or Experience?

While there is no consensus on what it takes to become a project manager, one thing is certain: the construction industry values hands-on experience more than most. There are multiple Reddit threads where you can learn how to become a project manager in the construction industry without a degree. However, an almost equal number of Quora entries (and Reddit threads) claim that degrees are compulsory for many companies. 

Usually, to become a CM, you require a bachelor’s degree, multiple years of experience, and a proven track record of leadership and problem-solving capacities. That means it’s a multi-layered effort that requires you to prepare for numerous years before becoming a construction manager. Start with whatever you can; if you want to go to school, prioritize that. If, on the other hand, you prefer to be more hands-on, start working and accumulating valuable experience and skills you can later add to your track record. 

In an industry where you are physically making things, experience is the most important factor. Do your best to work in the industry, learn more, and find someone to help you grow and lead you in the right direction. Sooner than you know, you will have the profile to become a CM.