Construction management is a broad term used to describe the management of construction projects. In this article we discuss specifically what construction management is, what you need to do to become a construction manager (with or without a construction management degree), how much you can expect to earn, and how to effectively manage construction projects.
Construction management is, in essence, professionally and effectively managing all aspects of a construction project on behalf of the project’s key stakeholders. This includes meeting the project’s objectives on time and within budget. (Learn more). On large construction projects there are typically several stakeholders.
Internal stakeholders are directly involved in the construction project. This includes, but is not limited to, the project owners, project sponsors, suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and the end users of the finished product.
External stakeholders may not be directly involved in the construction project but are still impacted by, or can influence, the project. This could include government agencies, support staff, labor unions, politicians, licensing and inspection organizations, and the surrounding community.
Construction management includes managing all the people who are directly or indirectly involved in or can exert influence on the construction project. You can see that construction management can get complicated!
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.” We’re going to add an important aspect to this list: post-project review. A good construction manager takes the time to review and document what went well and what needed improvement on the project. This helps the current project team do a better job in the future.
Let’s drill down on what a construction manager does.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Planning may be the most critical job a construction project manager is required to do. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Planning a project involves anticipating not just the actual work, but also the risks that can impact budget, timeline, and safety.
While planning may be the most critical responsibility of this role, it’s the coordination of people, materials, and equipment that may be one of the toughest things they need to handle.
A construction manager ensures that the right people are talking to each other – and reaching agreement. Material and equipment must arrive when needed. Some projects involve external stakeholders, such as community groups, who may not be decision makers, but who can use their people power to hold up a construction project they oppose. A construction manager identifies local authorities who can coordinate and communicate with these external stakeholders.
Deciding how much money is needed to complete the project is part of the planning process. But these are estimates. What transpires in the real world rarely matches the budget dollar for dollar. A key part of this role is managing cash flow. That’s why building contingency into the budget is so important. You can pretty much guarantee that changes will occur that impact the planned budget. It’s also why managing changes to the project scope is also the responsibility of the construction manager. (Link to article about change management.)
Supervising involves more than just telling people what to do. A construction manager is responsible for the safety of those on the job site. In some cases training is required to ensure that safety protocols are understood and followed. In large companies, coordination with the human resources department is needed. The construction manager must also be familiar with local, state, and federal laws related to worker safety.
The best construction managers appreciate the value of a project review and make it a formal part of the project plan. Of course you want to compare budget estimates with the amount of money actually spent. You’ll also review project changes and whether the budget contingency was managed well. A construction manager takes time to talk with the project team and get their insights into what went well and where improvements are needed. No construction project is perfect. However, every project offers an opportunity to improve. A formal “post-mortem” project document should be completed and referred to at the start of the next construction project.
Construction managers take on a great amount of responsibility on behalf of the project’s key stakeholders. But how much are they compensated for all their hard work?
According to the BLS the average hourly wage (as of May 2020) for construction managers nationally is $51.57. The average annual salary is $107,260.
But, wages can vary quite a bit from state to state. For example, a construction manager in California will make an average of $61.56 an hour. In Texas it’s just $45.52. However, there are far more construction management jobs in Texas than in California. You also must consider the cost of living – which is considerably less in Texas.
For construction managers at the top of their game, average national salaries can reach as high as $170K according to the data.
There are several different categories of construction projects, with the two biggest categories being commercial construction and residential construction.
According to the BLS the industry with the most construction managers is non-residential building construction (i.e. commercial construction) with over 75,000 employed. This is followed by residential construction management with over 47,000 employed. Highway, street, and bridge construction employs far less construction managers with just 12,400 – but it also pays the highest average hourly wage at $55.07.
Remember that specializing in certain types of construction projects can be lucrative and place you in higher demand.
There are opportunities for construction management jobs in virtually every state across the country. According to the BLS, states with the highest level of construction management employment are Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois. If you want to break it down even further, the hottest cities for construction management jobs include Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas; Los Angeles, California; and Chicago, Illinois.
If you want to become a construction manager, you have several ways to get started. If you own a small construction company, you may be managing construction projects now. You can also take certification courses or get a degree in construction management.
U.S. News and World Report lists 71 schools across the country that offer a degree in construction management. Residents typically pay far less tuition than students who reside out-of-state. For example, Bradley University in Peoria, IL charges over $36K for out-of-state students. Residents will pay just under $4,600 to attend. (As of Fall 2020.) For those who need a flexible schedule, Louisiana State University (LSU) offers a construction management degree program completely online.
Not everyone has the time or money to earn a construction management degree. Construction management certification courses cater to those already working in the construction industry who want to improve or expand their technical skills. Taking certification courses can help you decide if construction management is the right career path for you. For example, the University of Houston College of Technology has an online construction management certificate program. Courses include Construction Management Principles, Contract Management, Construction Cost Estimating, and Planning and Scheduling.
Many who are interested in becoming a construction manager wonder if construction management is stressful. The short answer is “yes.” They also ask if construction management is hard. You betcha.
It’s stressful, it’s hard – and it is a very rewarding career for many. You need to have a lot of energy, enjoy solving problems, and have strong people skills.
There are many jobs in construction – being a construction manager is just one option. But as you can see, it is a pretty good paying option with many opportunities today.
There are several tools you’ll need as a construction manager. A reliable mode of transportation, a cell phone, and a laptop computer or tablet. You can manage a construction project with pen and paper – but we don’t recommend it. Minimally, you’ll need to use spreadsheets to manage the project schedule and budget. Construction project management software is used by many small businesses, builders, and contractors. It is often the most efficient way to manage your residential construction projects.
Construction management can get complicated fast. You’ve got to deal with multiple stakeholders who expect you to deliver a quality product on time and on budget. It’s hard work – that’s why construction managers get paid the big bucks. BuildBook has construction project management software to help you successfully manage your construction projects – big and small. Learn more about BuildBook and take a free test drive: https://buildbook.co/signup. We also provide free templates for many aspects of construction project management. We even tell you how to use them.
Construction management is a rewarding career if you have great people skills, excellent project management experience, and a high tolerance for stress. There are opportunities for construction management positions across the United States. Remember that some states have lower average salaries but offer a lower cost of living. So be sure to look at the whole package. There are several schools that offer a degree in construction management. For those who own their own construction company, a construction management certificate program can improve and expand your skills – from the comfort of your office chair.