Construction managers plan and direct the building of all sorts of structures including residential, commercial, infrastructure, and other construction projects. A construction manager could have a piece of a project or the entire thing. Typically, construction managers have a lot of construction experience to understand and manage the complex pieces of projects.
This career guide shows you the career of a construction manager and what it takes to become a successful construction manager.
Construction Manager Summary
- About 61 percent of construction managers are self-employed.
- Jobseekers who combine construction work experience with a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field should enjoy the best prospects.
- Certification, although not required, is increasingly important for construction managers.
Working As a Construction Manager
Construction managers plan, direct, coordinate, and budget a wide variety of construction projects, including the building of all types of residential, commercial, and industrial structures, roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants, and schools and hospitals. Construction managers may supervise an entire project or just part of one. They schedule and coordinate all design and construction processes, including the selection, hiring, and oversight of specialty trade contractors, such as carpentry, plumbing, or electrical, but they usually do not do any actual construction of the structure.
Construction managers are salaried or self-employed managers who oversee construction supervisors and personnel. They are often called project managers, constructors, construction superintendents, project engineers, construction supervisors, or general contractors. Construction managers may be owners or salaried employees of a construction management or contracting firm, or they may work under contract or as a salaried employee of the property owner, developer, or contracting firm managing the construction project.
These managers coordinate and supervise the construction process from the conceptual development stage through final construction, making sure that the project gets completed on time and within budget. They often work with owners, engineers, architects, and others who are involved in the process. Given the designs for buildings, roads, bridges, or other projects, construction managers supervise the planning, scheduling, and implementation of those designs.
Large construction projects, such as an office building or an industrial complex, are often too complicated for one person to manage. Accordingly, these projects are divided into various segments: site preparation, including clearing and excavation of the land, installing sewage systems, and landscaping and road construction; building construction, including laying foundations and erecting the structural framework, floors, walls, and roofs; and building systems, including protecting against fire and installing electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning, and heating systems. Construction managers may be in charge of one or several of these activities.
Construction managers determine the best way to get materials to the building site and the most cost-effective plan and schedule for completing the project. They divide all required construction site activities into logical steps, estimating and budgeting the time required to meet established deadlines. Doing this may require sophisticated scheduling and cost-estimating techniques using computers with specialized software.
Construction managers also manage the selection of general contractors and trade contractors to complete specific phases of the project—which could include everything from structural metalworking and plumbing, to painting, to installing electricity and carpeting. Construction managers determine the labor requirements of the project and, in some cases, supervise or monitor the hiring and dismissal of workers. They oversee the performance of all trade contractors and are responsible for ensuring that all work is completed on schedule.
Construction managers direct and monitor the progress of construction activities, occasionally through construction supervisors or other construction managers. They are responsible for obtaining all necessary permits and licenses and, depending upon the contractual arrangements, for directing or monitoring compliance with building and safety codes, other regulations, and requirements set by the project’s insurers. They also oversee the delivery and use of materials, tools, and equipment; worker safety and productivity; and the quality of the construction.
Work environment. Working out of a main office or out of a field office at the construction site, construction managers monitor the overall construction project. Decisions regarding daily construction activities generally are made at the jobsite. Managers might travel considerably when the construction site is not close to their main office or when they are responsible for activities at two or more sites. Management of overseas construction projects usually entails temporary residence in the country in which the project is being carried out.
Often on call 24 hours a day, construction managers deal with delays, such as the effects of bad weather, or emergencies at the jobsite. More than one-third worked a standard 40-hour week in 2008, and some construction projects continue around the clock. Construction managers may need to work this type of schedule for days or weeks to meet special project deadlines, especially if there are delays.
Although the work usually is not inherently dangerous, injuries can occur and construction managers must be careful while performing onsite services.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Employers increasingly are hiring construction managers with a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field, although it is also possible for construction workers to become construction managers after many years of experience. Construction managers must understand contracts, plans, specifications, and regulations. Certification, although not required, is increasingly important.
Education and training. For construction manager jobs, a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, building science, or civil engineering, plus work experience, is becoming the norm. However, years of experience, in addition to taking classes in the field or getting an associate’s degree, can substitute for a bachelor’s degree. Practical construction experience is very important for entering this occupation, whether earned through an internship, a cooperative education program, a job in the construction trades, or another job in the industry. Some people advance to construction management positions after having substantial experience as construction craftworkers—carpenters, masons, plumbers, or electricians, for example—or after having worked as construction supervisors or as owners of independent specialty contracting firms. However, as construction processes become increasingly complex, employers are placing more importance on specialized education after high school.
More than 100 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in construction science, building science, and construction engineering. These programs include courses in project control and development, site planning, design, construction methods, construction materials, value analysis, cost estimating, scheduling, contract administration, accounting, business and financial management, safety, building codes and standards, inspection procedures, engineering and architectural sciences, mathematics, statistics, and information technology. Graduates from 4-year degree programs usually are hired as assistants to project managers, field engineers, schedulers, or cost estimators. An increasing number of graduates in related fields—engineering or architecture, for example—also enter construction management, often after acquiring substantial experience on construction projects.
Several colleges and universities offer a master’s degree program in construction management or construction science. Master’s degree recipients, especially those with work experience in construction, typically become construction managers in very large construction or construction management companies. Often, individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field seek a master’s degree in construction management or construction science to work in the construction industry. Some construction managers obtain a master’s degree in business administration or finance to further their career prospects.
A number of 2-year colleges throughout the country offer construction management or construction technology programs. Many individuals also attend training and educational programs sponsored by industry associations, often in collaboration with postsecondary institutions.
Other qualifications. Construction managers should be flexible and work effectively in a fast-paced environment. They should be decisive and work well under pressure, particularly when faced with unexpected events or delays. The ability to manage several major activities at once, while analyzing and resolving specific problems, is essential, as is an understanding of engineering, architectural, and other construction drawings. Familiarity with computers and software programs for job costing, online collaboration, scheduling, and estimating also is important.
Good oral and written communication skills are important as well, as are leadership skills. Managers must be able to establish a good working relationship with many different people, including owners, other managers, designers, supervisors, and craftworkers. The ability to converse fluently in Spanish is increasingly becoming an asset, because Spanish is the first language of many workers in the construction industry.
Certification and advancement. There is a growing movement toward certification of construction managers. Although certification is not required to work in the construction industry, it can be valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience. Both the American Institute of Constructors and the Construction Management Association of America have established voluntary certification programs for construction managers. Requirements combine written examinations with verification of education and professional experience. The American Institute of Constructors awards the Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations to candidates who meet its requirements and pass the appropriate construction examinations. The Construction Management Association of America awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation to workers who have the required experience and who pass a technical examination. Applicants for this designation also must complete a self-study course that covers the professional role of a construction manager, legal issues, the allocation of risk, and other topics related to construction management.
Advancement opportunities for construction managers vary with the individual’s performance and the size and type of company for which the person works. Within large firms, managers may eventually become top-level managers or executives. Highly experienced individuals may become independent consultants; some serve as expert witnesses in court or as arbitrators in disputes. Those with the required capital may establish their own construction management services, specialty contracting, or general contracting firms.
Employment as a Construction Manager
Construction managers held 551,000 jobs in 2008. About 61 percent were self-employed, many as owners of general or specialty trade construction firms. Most salaried construction managers were employed in the construction industry—11 percent by specialty trade contractor businesses (for example, plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, and electrical contractors), 10 percent in nonresidential building construction, and 7 percent in residential building construction. Others were employed by architectural, engineering, and related services firms.
Faster than average employment growth is expected. Jobseekers who combine construction work experience with a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field should enjoy the best prospects.
Employment change. Employment of construction managers is projected to increase by 17 percent during the 2008–18 decade, faster than average for all occupations. Construction managers will be needed as the level and variety of construction activity expands, but at a slower rate than in the past. Modest population and business growth will result in new and renovated construction of residential dwellings, office buildings, retail outlets, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures that require construction managers. A growing emphasis on making buildings more energy efficient should create additional jobs for construction managers involved in retrofitting buildings. In addition, the need to replace portions of the Nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and water and sewer pipes, along with the need to increase energy supply lines, will further increase demand for construction managers.
The increasing complexity of construction projects requires specialized management-level personnel within the construction industry. Sophisticated technology; the proliferation of laws setting standards for buildings and construction materials, worker safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protection; and the potential for adverse litigation have complicated the construction process. In addition, advances in building materials, technology, and construction methods require continual learning and expertise.
Job prospects. Prospects should be best for people who have a bachelor’s or higher degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering, plus practical work experience in construction. A strong background in building technology is beneficial as well. Construction managers also will have many opportunities to start their own firms.
In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, many openings should result annually from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force for other reasons. A number of seasoned managers are expected to retire over the next decade, resulting in a number of job openings.
Employment of construction managers, like that of many other construction workers, is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy. On the one hand, workers in these trades may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, shortages of these workers may occur in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
Projections Data for Construction Managers
Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
|NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.
Earnings for Construction Managers
Wages of salaried construction managers and self-employed independent construction contractors vary with the size and nature of the construction project, its geographic location, and economic conditions. In addition to receiving typical benefits, many salaried construction managers earn bonuses and are allowed the use of company motor vehicles.
Median annual wages of salaried construction managers in May 2008 were $79,860. The middle 50 percent earned between $60,650 and $107,140. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $47,000, and the highest paid 10 percent earned more than $145,920. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of construction managers were as follows:
|Building equipment contractors
|Nonresidential building construction
|Other specialty trade contractors
|Foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors
|Residential building construction
The earnings of self-employed workers are not included in these numbers.
According to a July 2009 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, people with a bachelor’s degree in construction science or construction management received job offers averaging $53,199 a year.
Construction managers run complex construction projects.