In this guide:
- What do you want out of being a construction project manager?
- What makes construction project management different from other project management jobs?
- What roles does a construction project manager fill?
- What opportunities does being a construction project manager offer?
- What challenges does the role bring?
- What impact does your building industry sector have on being a project manager?
- What do you need to bring to the table to succeed in construction project management?
- What are the best first steps to take to become a project manager?
Every building site needs a strong leader calling the shots. No matter how long you’ve worked in the industry, you’ll no doubt know that the bulk of projects are delivered on-time and on-budget when a construction project manager is on-site.
Construction project management is essential to the success of the modern-day building industry and those who enter the professional are valued for their ability to rally teams and push deadlines
But you probably already know all of this and have likely found this construction project management guide because you’re feeling ready to start on the pathway to becoming a project manager in your own right.
After all, there are lots of reasons why builders choose to make the transition and become construction project managers.
Perhaps you own a construction business that has grown to a size that demands more of your expertise in an administrative capacity? Or you’re relatively new to the profession and seeking further growth opportunities? Maybe you are a veteran builder looking to upscale your operations and start offering clients a full in-house project management service?
Whatever your reasons, the first step to becoming a project manager that your employees respect and your clients rely on is understanding that like all good things, it takes time and effort.
Luckily for you, we’ve done all the research and in this comprehensive construction project management guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to get off to a great start.
But before we dive in and answer your
construction project management questions,
it’s worth asking yourself the all-important question…
What do you want out of being a construction
Setting clear goals pushes us to achieve more and work at our absolute best.
Without a strong motivation to become the most capable construction project manager you can be, you could find your performance dropping and your team left without the leader they need to thrive.
Before starting on the path to becoming a great project manager, think carefully about your aspirations and try to build your learning around these goals wherever possible. This way you will always be excited to reach the next stage of your journey.
The clearer your motivations are, the broader your horizons become as you begin to achieve your goals.
But what makes construction
project management different from other project management jobs?
The key difference that sets construction project management apart is that construction work itself has a clearly defined mission that must eventually be completed.
Simply put, when the build is finished, so too is the project.
This is an interesting difference and has a huge impact on how project managers operate in the construction industry.
For starters, where project managers in other areas need to narrow their focus to account for a potentially endless timeframe, professionals in the construction industry must do exactly the opposite.
Having a broad scope perspective is the aim of the game as it allows you to fully encompass the huge number of different factors that demand your attention every day.
As an example, consider the last site you worked on.
At any given moment, the project lead could have been carefully balancing:
- Weather Conditions
- Client Concerns
- Worksite Safety
Without even mentioning that even when all these different factors are being managed appropriately, there’s always room for a completely unforeseen new issue to arise.
Seeing everything that goes on throughout a build and always having a solution to any potential problem lets you make decisions quickly and effectively.
This is why it’s important to see construction project managers as not just leaders, but professional problem solvers.
A broad outlook also helps successful project managers work in the field with a variety of different professionals, something that is vital to ensuring the quality of each project you deliver is maintained.
Why is this so vital you ask?
As every new construction project manager soon finds out, builders and tradespeople sometimes have very different needs and requirements that must be met for them to work effectively.
Not to mention that construction project management is split between the different fields of the building industry such as residential, commercial, civil, and industrial and this can affect the scope of your work as a project manager greatly as well (but more on this later).
What role does a construction
project manager fill?
Leading on from the previous question, the role of a construction project manager covers three main points with each being linked in some way to the other two.
1. People management
Contrary to popular belief, being a great people manager doesn’t just mean having good people skills (although we do touch on effective people skills later on in this guide). Managing a workforce requires attention to detail and the ability to understand how different professionals each contribute to completing a project.
For context, think about how many different parties need to work together to complete even a small residential home. There are builders, plumbers, concreters, electricians, carpenters, plasterers and so many others, each with specific demands.
These needs must be met for your employees to work happily on-site and most importantly beside one and other. Workplace conflicts are a fact of life and issues will eventually arise no matter how well you manage your workers. What you need to do is meet them head-on and keep your team operating as a cohesive unit.
Without proper people management skills, you’ll find that worksite efficiency will quickly begin to deteriorate and put the entire project in jeopardy.
This is why a skilled construction project manager sees every side of a problem and misses nothing, while also making compromises that everyone can agree on.
2. Resource management
Like the old saying goes ‘on time and on budget’. Resource management is essential to every project, which makes it a crucial skill for every construction project manager to possess.
It’s best to start by thinking of anything tangible (including employees and their labour) as a resource. Materials are a resource, skills are a resource, machinery and assets are a resource, you get the idea.
Where good people management is all about creating compromise when you arrive at an issue, good resource management is about trying to make sure these issues never arise in the first place.
A good resource manager knows his or her project back to front and can tell you the specifics of any given step of a project and how each resource helps the project run like clockwork.
Don’t settle with just being a project manager,
instead be a people leader that employees look to for guidance and inspiration.
A skill like this doesn’t just develop overnight, it takes diligence and a willingness to monitor, track and benchmark everything you can to ensure success.
3. Task management
A project can seem from the outside to be a huge confusing mess of steps, stages and milestones. A good task manager is someone who can make sense of this chaos and arrive on–site able to instantly identify what’s going on and what needs to happen next.
If you haven’t guessed already, task management takes elements of both people and resource management and then maps them against the list of steps that must be progressed through to finish a build. In the field of construction project management, this is what’s called a task-minded method, but many aspiring managers find that adopting this into their work can be difficult.
Our suggestion is to stick to a set pattern and follow it until you feel confident in developing an individual way of operating. An example system is as follows:
With a process like this at your disposal,
you’re already on the right track to successful task management.
What opportunities does being a
construction project manager offer?
Be the boss
Owning your own business is great, but without the skills necessary to run a project from top to bottom, your client may ask that control is given to someone with a bit more management experience. As a project manager, you’ll have the credibility needed to take control of a build and be the one making the big decisions.
Possessing project management skills also opens up more opportunities to work to your design rather than following someone else’s, something that many in the industry come to value as their professional reputation grows.
Bid on bigger (and more profitable) job/contracts
Constantly being on the lookout for ways to upscale your operations is a large part of what it takes to remain successful in the construction industry. Everyone wants to grow and take on bigger challenges and as a project manager, you’ll be able to tackle larger builds and bid on more profitable contracts with your enhanced skillset. This is without even mentioning that an all-in-one service makes your business much more appealing to government bodies offering tenders or contract work.
Move from a physical role to an administrative position
Let’s face it, we’re not getting any younger and it’s unlikely that anyone relishes the idea of staying on the tools into their 50s or 60s.
By taking on the role of project manager you’ll still be able to work right alongside your employees, but in a role that doesn’t require nearly as much physical labour.
Provide a better quality of service to clients
Like we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the more comprehensive your service the more likely customers will be to work with you.
Nothing says professional like offering an in-house project management service, as it ensures that the one running the show already knows the business they’re working with inside and out.
Expand your professional skillset
Some builders naturally begin to feel a bit bored with their work after decades spent in the building sector.
Still on-site, but with far less heavy lifting involved
(at least physically).
Moving on to become a construction project manager gives you the chance to look at your industry from a different angle and take on a fresh perspective. You’ll see things in ways you never have before and consider situations, tasks and even problems in a completely new light. Not to mention that with an enhanced skillset comes new opportunities to demand more money for your work!
What are the unique challenges
of construction project management?
Effective communication is everything in project management. Without adequate skills, you’ll quickly feel like you’re talking to a brick wall rather than getting your point across.
For those unfamiliar with what multi-level communication is, consider this everyday scenario.
You arrive on site and find that the cladding for the structure your team is building hasn’t arrived on time.
First, you need to call a meeting to address your team and work out what they can be doing today instead of fitting the cladding. Next, you need to contact the supplier to find out why your cladding didn’t arrive and reach an agreement on delivery within a timeframe you can both work with. Then, you need to make the dreaded call to the client to let them know about the delay and how you’ve handled it, while also assuring them that it won’t set the deadline back (hopefully).
One issue, three different parties that each need to be communicated with effectively to reach an outcome that ensures work continues as usual.
This is without even mentioning that frequently as a project manager you’ll find yourself acting as the go-between for different parties, making it even more crucial that what you communicate is heard and understood clearly.
Every construction professional knows the murmur that goes around a site when the client arrives looking displeased. As a construction project manager, you’ll be the one they seek out first and you’d better be ready to make changes on the fly.
Some clients are more prone to wanting alterations to their build than others, but a great project manager is one who can simultaneously accommodate changes while being firm on where the limit is.
This leads back into communication skills, with how you discuss change and compromise being greatly affected by how good you are at putting your thoughts forward in an agreeable way.
Preventing cost blowouts is just part of the job in construction project management. Unforeseen issues will arise, and delays will happen, it’s just a fact of life in the building industry.
The challenge here is how to meet these setbacks while keeping the cost of a project as close to the budget as possible.
With a good team at your back and some experience under your belt, you’ll find managing a project budget becomes easier and easier with time, but early on in your career, it pays to always keep a close eye on expenditure.
No construction project management guide would be complete without a mention of health and safety management.
Keeping everyone safe and secure on-site is a huge priority for construction project managers and you always need to be on the ball when handling risk assessment.
Plans, rules and regulations are all well and good, but the real challenge as a project manager is ensuring that the systems you put in place are properly enforced and followed by everyone.
This is known as a ‘culture of safety’ and building one within your company is vital to ensuring employees react appropriately to potentially unsafe workplace conditions.
What impact does your building
industry sector have on being a project manager?
What exactly defines a segment of the building industry is something that many construction professionals have very different ideas about.
But for the sake of brevity, we’ll split this section into four main industry segments and discuss what is needed to operate effectively as a project manager within each.
1. Residential Construction
Construction project management within the residential sector is defined by a couple of core components.
The first is that ever-present factor we keep bringing up, people skills (check out the section below for an example of why people skills are also important for running a team). When building residential housing you’ll more often than not be dealing directly with clients whose entire livelihood is at stake in a build. You are quite literally constructing the place they intend to call home for potentially the rest of their lives. This makes being able to converse with, inspire and sometimes even placate clients an essential skill for any project manager working in residential construction to possess.
The second factor to consider is attention to detail. Ask any residential project manager and they’ll no doubt have enough stories about last-minute redesigns, rebuilds and home adjustments to fill a book. A residential customer will look over every detail and constantly be comparing it to their new homeowner’s dream. They won’t miss anything, so you as their project manager need to make sure you deliver exactly what you said you would.
2. Commercial Construction
In the business of building businesses, construction project management professionals focus on deadlines above all else. Whether it’s building a new office space or a state-of-the-art restaurant, every extra day spent building is a day less the client has to open and start recouping their losses.
This doesn’t mean that time constraints and deadlines aren’t part of every project manager’s job. But within the commercial construction industry, the pressure placed on you by a ticking clock is far more present in every interaction you have with both your employees and your clients.
3. Civil Construction
When working with infrastructure such as water, utilities or transport, a construction project management professional will frequently find themselves spread across both the public and private sectors. Because of this, the important distinction between civil and other industry sectors is the increased likelihood of having to deal with a multi-level management system.
This means you may need to accept the fact that although you are in charge of ground operations, you’ll most likely be reporting to an individual or body with the power to make your decisions for you.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as infrastructure and other civil projects come with a huge amount of accountability. Having the burden of this responsibility shifted off your shoulders is, in fact, a boon that many project managers value greatly.
4. Industrial Construction
If you work in industrial construction, then you probably don’t have to be told that you’re in the big leagues. What defines this building sector for project managers is the sheer size and scale of the projects they manage. Where the scope of a residential or commercial build is usually fairly easy to define, an industrial project can be anywhere from large to absolutely massive.
Project managers working in this sphere need to be prepared to take on, plan, manage and deliver huge projects built by hundreds if not thousands of individual employees, all within a set timeframe and budget.
This makes scalability your key concern and whether or not your business can accommodate the size and scale of a project is vital to know before you accept any work and sign a contract.
What do you need to bring to the table
to become a great construction project manager?
Throughout this guide so far, we’ve already covered many of the qualities that make a great project manager. In this section, we’ll cover each in more detail and discuss what makes them so relevant for project managers working in the construction industry.
If you feel like you currently lack one or more of these skills, don’t be disheartened. Everything we’ve covered is something you can develop with hard work and dedication.
Remember, no project manager has ever jumped right into the role as an expert, so give yourself time to grow into the position and develop your skills at a pace that suits you.
Speak to any project manager about their work and you’ll quickly wonder whether or not they could more accurately be called ‘people managers’.
Earlier in this article, we raised the idea of simultaneously managing employees, suppliers, and a client at once and in all honesty, this was a fairly tame example of what you can expect.
In a real-life scenario, you may be expected to work with potentially dozens of different groups of people throughout a project. This means the better your people skills are, the easier it will be to keep everyone on track.
The topic of leadership could fill another article similar to the size of this one by itself. We don’t have to tell you then that every project manager, regardless of the industry they work in, must be a strong leader who people want to follow.
In the construction industry, you’ll be dealing daily with people who need a strong leader giving them a clear goal to work towards. To achieve this, you need the power to rally people to your cause and keep them working at their best until the job is done.
Without good leadership, a project manager can expect low employee morale, high staff turnover and an overall reduction in productivity which of course means unhappy clients and more work for you.
The more developed your people skills become,
the easier it is to get everyone on board
and working at their best.
Things won’t always go right in a project management role, especially in the construction industry. Murphey’s law will prevail and regardless of whether the problem is big or small, you need to show grit and a willingness to succeed regardless of what new disaster has been placed in front of you.
A good construction project manager never gives up and is willing to explore any avenue to get the job delivered on time and budget.
A quality-minded attitude
Near enough is never good enough in the field of construction project management. Your job is to deliver builds that are exact in both design and budget, which means your work ethos should never be one that even considers cutting corners.
Letting standards slip for just a second can set a bad precedent for those working under you. This leads to a lower quality of construction and can also put other standards like worksite safety at risk.
What are the best first steps
to take to become a project manager?
1. Seek higher education:
Construction project management is a skilled discipline and not something you’ll likely pick up without proper training and support. While some building companies may be willing to train you in-house, if you own your company or the option doesn’t exist for further training, you may need to seek out courses and structured learning instead.
It’s also important to note that in many states and countries it is a legal requirement to hold up to date registration or licensing to operate in the construction project management field.
The exact time it takes to gain proper accreditation can vary and is largely dependent on how much time you can devote to completing your training. On average you can expect to study anywhere between 1 – 2.5 years before completing the required coursework.
2. Settle on a project management software package:
If you’ve made it this far into our construction project management guide, you’re probably beginning to wonder how you can even manage all of these different tasks throughout the day.
Luckily there are many digital administration and project management tools available on the market which help automate and streamline everyday operations.
Our job management software, for example, stocks a full suite of project management tools such as Gantt charts, Groundplan integration, multi-level timesheets and a full calendar-based scheduling system for managing everything from assets and materials to staff and contractors.
We’ll spare you the full sales pitch but if you are interested in a software solution that’s built to handle the specifics of the building industry, please do check us out.
Note however that when choosing a software solution, it’s important to pick a package that works for your business and also interfaces with your existing software. Simply put, nobody wants to spend hours pushing their financial data across to their accounting package, so consider integrations carefully when searching for the right fit.
3. Start by doing:
If you’re in a position where you’re able to start transitioning into a project managers role organically then don’t hesitate to take full advantage of the opportunities presented to you.
Starting small is always best, perhaps by managing a single section or stage of an overall build. Maybe try handling on-site logistics while you get settled into the new position and then take on further tasks when you feel more comfortable.
The point here is to scale your responsibilities with your growing experience and ensure that you’re always able to work effectively while learning everything you possibly can.
For existing business owners looking to project manage rather than run operations and work on-site, taking a step back and letting the reigns over to someone else can be difficult.
Job management software you can take with you into the field should never be undervalued.
It’s important to understand that your role in construction project management isn’t to hand over on-site control, but rather to set the tasks and the expectations for work and then guide your employees towards completing them.
If you’re having trouble, check out this guide from learning platform efront on effectively upskilling employees. It offers some great info on teaching staff and includes foolproof methods for learning during work hours.
And there you have it.
What exactly it means to work in construction project management, what you can expect from the role and what you need to get started.