When I first started my career in the construction industry I had no idea what a construction project manager was or did. School doesn’t always do a great job of educating you on what careers exist in the wider world and this was one of those examples. So what exactly is a construction project manager and what do they do on a project?
I found the answer to that through experience and hard work. A construction project manager is someone who is responsible for the execution of a construction project. They manage the trades, financials, schedule, quality and administration. Construction project managers are are at the center of every construction project.
What Does a Construction Project Manager Do?
Above I provided a bit of a synopsis of what a construction project manager does on a project but let’s dig into more detail. They are ultimately the person that is responsible for a construction project or part of one. Typical responsibilities on any given project can include:
- Project Document Administration – managing all submittals, RFIs and documents on the project.
- Financials – managing the overall costs as well as contingencies, changes, forecasting, contractor billings etc.
- Schedule – managing the overall schedule including preparation, updating and dealing with issues.
- Coordination – coordinating and managing trades and designers during the project.
- Startup and Closeout – managing the startup and closeout process of a construction project.
The above list is of course just a high level list. A construction project manager performs many of the essential tasks of running a construction project.
People Are Center To The Role
One of the primary duties of a project manager in construction is managing people. Every day I go into work, and while a portion of what I do involves managing financials and construction details, a significant part of what I do involves dealing with people.
There are many different ways your day will involve dealing with people. The first and most frequent will be managing other people within companies that aren’t your own. Our industry relies on multiple companies working together to achieve a common goal. Those companies are made up of different people.
As the project manager it is your job to manage those people. Regular phone calls, meetings or discussions will allow you to set goals for the project. There will also be many difficult conversations that need to be had – as a project manager it’s your job to present these to the individuals required.
Outside of external project participants it’s very likely as a construction project manager you will have an internal team. This may involve having direct reports, but it will also be your job to manage the goals and objectives of that internal project team.
The Path To Becoming A Project Manager in Construction
As I noted above, the path to becoming a construction project manager wasn’t clear and for many it’s an unknown option as many career councillors won’t recommend it. Careers such as a doctor, an electrician and a scientist are all well defined. Construction project managers are able to enter the industry through a variety of means that have changed over the years. SO how doe one become a construction project manager?
There are many different ways to become a construction project manager, the first and most common is through schooling. Another way to become one is to work in a trade and show interest in management, if you demonstrate that you are effective and able to learn many trades will promote from within.
A third and final way to become a project manager is to transfer in from another or similar career. Many architects or engineers make the jump after being in the industry for a number of years. One of the keys to being good at this career is knowing how projects are run. By getting experience within the industry you’re better able to understand the nuances of a project.
What Does A Construction Project Manager Make?
The big question – how much money can I make in a job? The answer should always be more! I’m only kidding of course but it is an important question and one that will vary greatly depending upon your region and responsibility.
Because I work in Toronto I am going to use this geographical area as an example, but I do know that throughout Canada these numbers vary by 15-20% in all major city centres.
Total Compensation Of A Construction Project Manager By Years Experience
0-5 Years Experience
5-10 Years Experience
8+ Years Experience
Total compensation for the role can be made up of a number of thing, these include your base salary, a stock options or share offering, regular bonuses, flexible hours, medical and personal benefits, travel and vehicle allowances and many more.
As with most careers, your compensation is indicative of your time in the industry, competency and responsibilities. Over time your package will grow and you may be promoted beyond the role of just a project manager.
How To Grow As A Project Manager?
Once you’re in the role it’s important to grow as a project manager. I’ve been a project manager for 12 years now and in that time I’ve progressed from a junior level to a senior project manager, none of that could have been done without constant learning. So how can you grow and progress as a project manager?
There are a few ways to grow and progress as a project manager, these are the most effective that I’ve found:
- Networking and Relationships – through your project work meet new people, build relationships. These relationships will teach you new things and provide you with a network of people you can rely on.
- Read Books On Project Management – there are plenty of Construction Project Management Books available on amazon or through our own Construction Repository. Maybe even consider downloading our free construction e-book.
- Take A Course – one of the easiest ways to grow quickly under the guidance of a professional who knows what they are doing.
- Industry Events – industry events such as trade shows and speaking series are a great way to learn about new products and technology.
- Project Experience – new and challenging projects will allow you to diversify as a project manager.
There are so many ways to grow as a project manager and this is by no means a complete list. The important thing to remember is that you should always keep challenging yourself and learning new things.
Essential Skills For Project Managers
Through industry experience I’ve learned that some skills are more valuable than others as a project manager. While many careers focus on things like mathematics and knowing the periodic table construction focuses on some of the soft skills.
The most notable areas for project managers to develop their soft skills in are negotiating, presentations and leading meetings. Every transaction you have with an owner, subcontractor or architect will be a form of a negotiating. Becoming approachable and apathetic to the other side is important.
Areas that project managers should focus on include estimating, scheduling, technical knowledge (building envelope, finishes, mechanical and electrical systems, etc) and software such as excel and microsoft excel. Quality management is another area that needs to be focused on as a project manager.
Tools For Construction Project Managers
There are many tools available for construction project managers to manage a variety of tasks. The below are some of the best tools I’ve found for a construction project manager:
- Note Taking and Keeping – Microsoft OneNote
- Team Management – Kanban Tool
- Scheduling – Primavera P6
- Tablet – Ipad Pro (for drawings)
- Laptop – Microsoft Surface
Note Taking and Keeping
I’m a huge proponent of tools such as Microsoft OneNote or Evernote to keep your notes. The best part about these tools is that even if you prefer writing you can always scan your documents into the app once you’re done and it will use OCR technology to scan your notes and make them searchable.
Prior to the last two projects I typically ran my team with internal team meetings. That changed when a colleague recommended Kanban Boards. Tools such as Kanban Tool and Trello allow you to manage your teams through collaboration. These tools can replace your meeting minutes and streamline meetings.
All of my projects are scheduled through Primavera. This is really the best solution for large project scheduling in construction.
I’ve already posted previously about the use of new technology in construction but there are many great tools that make your job as a project manager better. I personally prefer using an Ipad for reviewing drawings, when you utilize it with Bluebeam or Good Reader it makes life simple.
For day to day computer use I prefer the Microsoft Surface. As a laptop it is light weight and offers all of the power you’ll need for some of the more demanding applications.
Lastly for file sharing I lean on two or three different programs but Box and Microsoft Onedrive are my personal favourites.
Outlook For Construction Project Managers
Construction is one of the busiest sectors in the modern day economy. When the economy of a country starts to slow down, governments typical invest heavily in the construction sector to help boost jobs. For this primary reason the career outlook for construction project managers is very strong.
In cities such as New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Toronto, Sydney construction forms more than just a small portion of the economic engine and becoming a project manager can mean you are able to live a lifestyle only lawyers and doctors typically get to enjoy.
I have been a project manager now for more than ten years, and in that time I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible and inspirational people. Becoming a project manager means you get to change more than just the city skyline but peoples lives.
Are you a construction project manager or do you want to become one? Let us know in the comments below.