What is a Construction Manager?

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from early development to completion.

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What does a Construction Manager do?

Construction managers, also called general contractors or project managers, typically do the following:

  • Prepare and negotiate cost estimates, budgets, and work timetables
  • Select appropriate construction methods and strategies
  • Interpret and explain contracts and technical information to workers and other professionals
  • Report on work progress and budget matters to clients
  • Collaborate with architects, engineers, and other construction and building specialists
  • Instruct and supervise construction personnel and activities onsite
  • Respond to work delays and other problems and emergencies
  • Select, hire, and instruct laborers and subcontractors
  • Comply with legal requirements, building and safety codes, and other regulations.

Construction managers coordinate and supervise a wide variety of projects, including the building of all types of residential, commercial, and industrial structures, roads, bridges, powerplants, schools, and hospitals. They oversee specialized contractors and other personnel. They schedule and coordinate all design and construction processes to ensure a productive and safe work environment. They also make sure jobs are completed on time and on budget with the right amount of tools, equipment, and materials. Many managers also are responsible for obtaining necessary permits and licenses. They are often responsible for multiple projects at a time.

Construction managers work closely with other building specialists, such as architects, engineers, and a variety of trade workers, such as stonemasons, electricians, and carpenters. Projects may require specialists in everything from structural metalworking and painting, to landscaping, building roads, installing carpets, and excavating sites. Depending on the project, construction managers also may interact with lawyers and local government officials. For example, when working on city-owned property or municipal buildings, managers sometimes confer with city council members to ensure that all regulations are met. For projects too large to be managed by one person, such as office buildings and industrial complexes, a construction manager would only be in charge of one part of the project. Each construction manager would oversee a specific construction phase and choose subcontractors to complete it.

Construction managers may need to collaborate and coordinate with other construction managers who are responsible for different aspects of the project. To maximize efficiency and productivity, construction managers often use specialized cost-estimating and planning software to effectively budget the time and money required to complete specific projects. Many managers also use software to determine the best way to get materials to the building site.

What does it take to be a Construction Manager?

Employers increasingly prefer candidates with both work experience and a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field such as construction science, construction management, architecture or engineering. However, some construction managers may qualify with a high school diploma and by working many years in a construction trade. Certification, although not required, is becoming increasingly important.

More than 100 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in construction science, building science, or construction engineering. These programs include courses in project control and management, design, construction methods and materials, cost estimation, building codes and standards, and contract administration. Courses in mathematics and statistics are also relevant. An associate’s degree combined with work experience may be enough for some positions. A number of two-year colleges offer construction management or construction technology programs. In addition, those with a high school diploma and years of relevant work experience will be able to work as construction managers, though they will do so primarily as self-employed general contractors.

Practical construction experience is important when entering the occupation because it reduces the need for initial on-the-job training. Internships, cooperative education programs, and long-term jobs in the industry provide that experience. Some construction managers become qualified solely through extensive construction experience, spending many years in carpentry, masonry, or general subcontracting. New construction managers are generally hired as assistants to experienced managers before beginning independent work. Work as an assistant can last from several weeks to several months, depending on the firm.

Most managers plan a project strategy and must identify and solve unexpected issues and delays. They choose personnel and subcontractors for specific tasks. Often, these decisions must be made quickly to meet deadlines. Self-employed construction managers generate their own business opportunities and must be proactive to find new clients. They often market their services, bid on jobs, and learn how to work on a wide variety of projects.

Construction managers address budget matters and coordinate and supervise workers. Choosing competent staff and employees, as well as establishing good working relationships with them, is critical. Managers also must delegate tasks to workers, subcontractors, and other lower level managers effectively. Managers must give clear orders, explain complex information to workers and clients, and discuss technical details with other building specialists. Self-employed construction managers must get their own projects, so the need to sell their services to potential clients is critical.

Managers must know construction methods and technologies, and be able to interpret contracts and technical drawings. Construction managers must meet deadlines. They ensure that construction phases are completed on time so that the next phase can begin. For instance, constructing a building foundation cannot begin until the land excavation is completed. They must write proposals, plans, and budgets clearly for clients and others involved in the building process.

What is the workplace of a Construction Manager like?

Many construction managers work from a main office, but most work out of a field office at the construction site where they monitor the project and make daily decisions about construction activities. For those who manage multiple projects, frequent travel may be common.

How much does a Construction Manager earn?

The median annual wage of construction managers was $83,860 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less) The lowest 10% earned less than $50,240, and the highest 10 % earned more than $150,250.

Salaried construction managers also may earn bonuses and overtime pay. About two-thirds of construction managers are self-employed. Their earnings are highly dependent on the amount of business they generate.

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