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December 1, 2020

What is construction management?

Construction manager working on paperwork

Construction management provides a professional service for effectively managing a build’s function, schedule, scope, cost, safety, and quality.

Whether they’re overseeing a small home renovation or a large commercial project—like an office building, road, or hospital—a construction manager’s top priority is serving the project owner’s interests for a successful build. This means managing the build’s architect, engineer, general contractor, and tradesmen and regularly checking in with the project owner to ensure everything is being done on time, on budget, and as specified. Thus, a good college education and excellent project and people management skills are required.

Construction managers (CMs) are important because they keep construction projects moving forward and costs under control. They also help to ensure construction project worksites are free of safety hazards—protecting both the workers from injuries and the owner from litigation. And, just as important, they make sure that all of the parties involved work together in relative harmony.

So what is the CM’s role in relation to builds large and small? Let’s dive deeper into what is construction management and review a construction manager job description.

Construction management vs. project management.

There are many similarities between construction management and project management. CMs and PMs are both responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the completion of projects for an organization while ensuring these jobs are done on time, on budget, and within scope.

Where these roles differ is in what type of projects they manage. Project managers direct projects in their entirety, often supervising CMs, whereas construction managers oversee only the construction portion of the projects.

Here are more details on the key differences between CMs and PMs:

Construction managers only supervise construction. Essentially, they’re a project manager with a specific, construction-oriented focus. They use their expertise in building trades—carpentry, plumbing, electrical, general construction, etc.—to oversee day-to-day operations from pre-construction through completion. CMs also manage construction site personnel, subcontractors, run estimates, and ensure all resources are readily available and properly allocated.

Project managers oversee all aspects of a real estate or construction-related project. This includes the initial planning, site analysis and selection, design, procurement, construction, and the physical move into the new facility. The project’s overall budget and schedule are of top concern for PMs, and they work closely with the owner and other project leaders to ensure all goals are precisely met. While they can also work with estimates, they are more likely to gather estimates from contractors instead of being the one determining the fit.

Construction project managers have more authority. Since they oversee more than just the construction process, project managers have a greater responsibility than construction managers. They typically supervise CMs, working together to finish construction in a timely, cost-effective manner. However, on the job site, the CM is the boss.

Note: For large construction projects that are too big to be managed by one person (like industrial complexes), a senior construction manager oversees other lower-tier CMs that run different phases of the project—such as the foundation, HVAC, or plumbing. 

Other day-to-day activities of all construction managers include:

  • Hiring subcontractors and coordinating their activities.

  • Collaborating with other construction specialists including engineers and architects.

  • Preparing budgets, cost estimates, and work timetables.

  • Resolving job site problems, delays, and emergencies.

  • Complying with legal mandates, building regulations, and safety codes.

  • Explaining trade information and contracts to other professionals.

  • Reporting construction progress, timelines, and budget adherence to PMs and owners.

How do I become a construction manager?

As construction projects and processes become more complex, employers are placing more importance on advanced degrees in their construction manager job descriptions. This is why many CMs today have been students at college—earning a bachelor’s of science degree in business management, construction science, architecture, or engineering. A construction management degree can also be a good option for students. These degrees typically cover:

  • Project design, control, and management

  • Cost estimation, budgeting, and contract administration

  • Construction processes, codes, and materials

  • Leadership and administration

  • Statistics and mathematics

A lot of these specializations can be learned or honed on the job instead of while you're a student at school. Typically, new construction managers are hired in assistant roles working with seasoned managers for up to two years. Continuing as a student and earning a master of science degree and professional certifications can expedite this progression. Three of the most popular certifications are:

  • Associate Constructor (AC)—This entry-level certification is perfect for upskilling recent graduates of four-year management programs or those transitioning into construction management from other industries.

  • Certified Construction Manager (CCM)—On average, CCMs earn 10% more than CMs without these credentials. Applicants must already have experience working as a construction manager and pass a test covering CM roles, risk management, and legal compliance.

  • Certified Professional Constructor (CPC)—This advanced certification is for established CMs with several years of project oversight seeking to advance their careers. Employers recognize CPCs as professionals with verified skills and experience that deliver results.

HR manager leading presentation

Hard skills.

Depending on your state, you may need a license to work as a construction manager. You can check with your state licensing board for more information. Other hard skills that you’ll need for success include:

  • Agile software

  • MS Office

  • Data analysis

  • Performance metrics

  • Program management—scheduling and task estimation

  • Budgeting and cost analysis

  • Contract management and procurement

  • Risk management

Soft skills.

Construction managers work with a variety of people and oversee numerous activities. Thus, it’s important to have excellent analytical, business, and customer service skills.

Analytical skills. CMs develop project strategies, resolve issues and delays, and handle any unforeseen problems along the way. They also use cost-estimating and planning software to forecast project time, cost, and material expenditures.

Business skills. Choosing a competent team and building strong relationships with them is critical to a construction manager’s success. Construction managers also need exceptional administration skills and an affinity for numbers.

Customer service skills. Whether it’s dealing with their PMs, project owners, inspectors, or government officials—even the public at large—CMs must have superb people skills to foster positive and productive relationships.

Other common traits of effective construction managers are:

  • Decision-making

  • Leadership

  • Communication (written and verbal)

  • Time management

  • Collaboration

Construction manager job outlook.

At 8% growth over the next 10 years, employment for construction managers is expected to rise much faster than all other U.S. occupations. This is because there will be ongoing demand for building new residences, retail outlets, office buildings, schools, and hospitals as our population and economy continue to grow. There will also be the need to maintain and update our nation’s infrastructure, including its sewer systems, bridges, and roads.

Another area of growth is retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, which will create new jobs for construction managers in large commercial applications. And since building technologies and construction processes are becoming more complex, they require more skilled and specialized construction management personnel to lead them. This is why the job opportunities are so positive for current and prospective construction managers—especially those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree and industry certifications.

In addition to a fantastic job outlook, construction managers have great flexibility with respect to their work environment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that:

  • 38% are self-employed.

  • 17% are specialty contractors.

  • 16% work in nonresidential construction.

  • 10% work in residential construction.

  • 8% work in heavy and civil engineering construction.

Most of your time will be spent in the field at construction sites or field offices, and you’ll typically work 40 hours per week. But you may need to work longer or be on call to handle deadlines, delays, or emergencies.

How much does a construction manager make?

Construction managers are paid well for their specialized skills and broad administration and project management abilities. In fact, U.S. News ranked the profession #1 on its Best Construction Jobs list.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for CMs is $95,260, which is nearly $5,000 above other managerial positions. The highest 10% of construction managers earn $164,790, while the lowest 10% earn $56,140. So your education, certifications, and on-the-job experience will definitely play a factor in how you’re compensated.

If you love construction, enjoy working with people, and want to move into a high-paying, high-growth position, becoming a construction manager is a perfect choice. And don’t let your education stand in your way. WGU offers numerous accredited business degrees online. So you can keep your current job while working towards your future as a leader in construction management.

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