project engineer vs project manager

Project Engineer vs Project Manager – Similarities and Differences

Businesses are made up of teams doing projects and trying to realize a common goal, and whether you’re a solo contractor or part of a larger organization, we all know that a team functions at its best when everyone knows and understands their role. Teams need role-players, unique individuals with diverse skillsets and perspectives that can be combined to get better results. In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between a Project Engineer and a Project Manager – the two roles function differently and with different responsibilities, but are mission-critical to the success of any major construction and engineering project.

What is a Project Engineer?

A project engineer can normally be found in the field – often at the construction site itself, taking a hands-on approach to engineering tasks that crop up. The role of a project engineer is to drive projects to completion through a hands-on approach by reacting quickly to issues, providing on-site training, directly managing front-line workers, innovating solutions and liaising with project managers and company executives to secure any resources that are necessary to push a project forward.

Project engineers may be given direct control over the human resources involved in a project, creating and planning schedules, and forecasting the need for engineering resources, as well as conducting quality control over the work done by the technical team. A successful project engineer works closely with other organizational managers to facilitate the success of the project and the technical workers that he/she manages.

What is a Project Manager?

A project manager is normally found in an office – although they may appear on the construction site, at least occasionally. Some project managers are in charge of facilitating more than one project at a time, and resultantly, find themselves unavailable to be on site at a given project much of the time. Project managers are less involved in the management of people and more involved in the management of the project itself – budgets, resource procurement, keeping the project on schedule and ensuring that progress is aligned with the goals of the business on a continuing basis.

Project managers may be responsible for hiring the construction crew, foremen and other professionals to execute the project, estimating project costs, preparing contracts and obtaining the required permits for work that is being done.

Conflicting or Complementary – How do the two roles work together?

Project engineers and project managers are both necessary for projects because of the differing perspectives they bring. For example, suppose a new plant is constructed in a unique location by a large construction firm. The facility is built on time, and budgetary requirements are satisfied, but afterward the target benefits from the new plant are not achieved due to cultural barriers and poor commercial planning that extend the ramp-up time for the new facility to start earning money for the business.

In a case like this, the project engineering aspect was carried out successfully, but the project management was executed poorly because the benefit of the project was not realized in an acceptable time frame. Based on this example, we can see that both roles are necessary. Project managers implement a project to achieve a business objective and are primarily concerned with the viability and success of a project from a business standpoint.

Simultaneously, a project engineer is concerned about the project from an engineering perspective. The project engineer wants to schedule, mobilize and motivate technical staff to deliver the best product in the shortest time possible within budgetary constraints, which is mainly an engineering task.

The differences in focus between the two roles are critical. Without a project engineer, the project manager would have to be on site all the time, solving technical problems and directly managing staff while handling the business side of the project separately. Instead, the project manager can able to focus on being a facilitator so that the project engineer can drive results from an engineering standpoint.

A project manager is almost like an absentee business owner who hires an on-site manager to take care of daily operations but still watches from behind the scenes to make sure that the business stays profitable while the on-site manager is responsible for daily operations. The on-site manager makes sure that the business is functioning optimally, while the business owner is more focused on high-level facilitation and ensuring that business objectives are met.

With a good project engineer and a poor project manager, work can be completed on time and within budget, but there is a significant risk that the result may not achieve the desired business results. In the opposite situation, the project might succeed from a business standpoint, but it is very difficult to have excellent quality work done without an on-site project engineer providing oversight and technical problem-solving.

Key Takeaways

Although these two roles are very different, they work in tandem to provide a high standard of results to clients in the construction industry. Project engineers ensure the quality and timeliness of construction deliverables while project managers oversee the entire project and ensure that it meets the business objectives that it was designed to satisfy. Project engineers and managers can benefit from working closely together, evaluating problems through diverse lenses and establishing best-fit solutions that consider both the engineering and business aspects of the project.

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