The construction industry is continuing to grow at a crazy pace — you may have even noticed it in your area. The industry is projected to more than double in revenue between 2020 and 2030. The size of the construction market amounted to 6.4 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020. That’s an astounding figure, but it’s expected to reach 14.4 trillion in 2030!1 If you’ve ever considered construction management as a career, now is the time to go for it.
Construction management is a rewarding career if you’re a strong communicator with excellent project management experience. Oh, and a high tolerance for stress. There are lots of opportunities for construction management positions across the United States.
In this article, we’ll break down what a construction manager is, what you need to do to become one (with or without a construction management degree), how much you can expect to earn, and how to effectively manage construction projects. But first, let’s take a look at what construction management is and who is involved.
Construction management is a broad term used to describe the management of construction projects. This includes a project’s schedule, budget, quality, safety, and scope. Put simply, construction management is 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. There are typically several stakeholders on large construction projects.
Internal stakeholders are directly involved in the construction project. The list includes the project owners, project sponsors, suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and the end users of the finished product.
External stakeholders are usually not directly involved in the construction project but are still impacted by the project or their influence on it. They can be government agencies, support staff, labor unions, politicians, licensing and inspection organizations, and the surrounding community.
Construction management includes leading all the people who are directly or indirectly involved in 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.”2 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 team do a better job in the future.
Let’s drill down a bit on what a construction manager actually 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 once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Planning a project involves anticipating the actual work and all the potential risks that can impact the budget, timeline, and safety.
It’s a juggling act! While planning may be the most important 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 an agreement. Material and equipment must arrive when needed. Some projects involve external stakeholders, such as community groups, who may not be decision makers but can use people to hold up a construction project they oppose. A construction manager identifies local authorities who can coordinate and communicate with these external stakeholders.
It always comes down to money. Deciding how much it will cost to complete the project is part of the planning process. But these are estimates. What happens in the real world rarely matches the budget dollar for dollar. A key part of this role is managing costs throughout a project. That’s why building contingency into the estimated project budget is so important. You can pretty much guarantee that changes will happen that impact the planned budget. It’s also why managing changes to the project scope of work is also the construction manager's responsibility.
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 estimated costs 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 gathers 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. Spot and correct mistakes for a more flawless process next time.
Managing and 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.
Beyond ensuring safety, there’s also knowing the right team members to put in the right spots. Then there's communication, timelines, making sure everyone is aware of all the ins and outs of the equipment, and setting expectations ahead of time. During the project, construction managers need to keep everyone aware of any changes in the workflow as the project progresses.
Lastly, you also need to be available for your employees and make sure they know to come to you with any issues or opportunities to save money. Stay informed daily of tasks and unmet goals. Don’t forget to celebrate wins and goals met!
Construction managers work on a fixed fee as an extension of the construction company owner’s staff. Their goal is to meet the company's goals as far as schedule, budget, and quality.
General contractors are hired at a fixed price by a homeowner, architect, or engineering firm. They have their own employees and an incentive to protect their profit margin. Any saving opportunities revert to the contractor, even when it may not work out best for the client. Their interests don’t always line up with the owner.
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 2021) for construction managers nationally is $52.02, and the average annual salary is $108,210.2
But wages can vary quite a bit from state to state. For example, a construction manager in California will make an average of $59.06 an hour. In Texas, it’s just $49.30. 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.3
There are several different categories of construction projects, with the two biggest categories being commercial and residential construction.
The industry with the most construction managers is non-residential building construction (commercial construction), with over 70,000 employed. This is followed by residential construction management with over 45,000 employed. Highway, street, and bridge construction employs far less construction managers with just 12,350 – but it also pays the highest average hourly wage at $54.06.4
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. States with the highest level of construction management employment are California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois. If you want to break it down even further, the hottest cities for construction management jobs include Chicago, New York, NY, Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth.5
If you want to become a construction manager, there are a couple of ways to get started. If you own a small construction company, you may already be managing construction projects. You can also take certification courses or get a degree in construction management.
According to U.S. News and World Report, 74 schools across the country offer a degree in construction management.6 Residents typically pay far less tuition than students who reside out-of-state. For example, Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, charges nearly 24K for out-of-state students. Residents will pay just under $8,000 to attend (as of 2022).7 For those who need a flexible schedule, Louisiana State University (LSU) offers a construction management degree program completely online.8
Not everyone has the time or money to earn a construction management degree. Construction management certification courses cater to those already working in the 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.
Certain certifications can help too. For instance, OHSA’s Outreach Training Program and Certified Safety Manager (CSM) can help you learn how to keep your work sites safe.
Those interested in becoming construction managers wonder if the career will be stressful. The short answer is “yes.” They also ask if construction management is hard. You better believe it. The job includes the responsibility of delegating tasks to meet the client's goals, and meeting project dates can be tricky if access to resources is beyond their control. Another massive stressor is trying to accomplish it all within the framework of the budget.
So yes, it’s stressful, it’s hard – but it’s a super rewarding career for many. You’ll need to have a lot of energy, enjoy solving problems, and have strong people skills.
There are obviously many jobs in construction. Being a construction manager is just one option. But as you can see, it is a pretty good paying career with many opportunities today.
There are several tools you’ll need as a construction manager: reliable 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. Lose papers or notebooks and you’re up the creek! At a minimum, you’ll need to use spreadsheets to manage the project schedule and budget. Also, construction project management software is used by many small businesses, builders, and contractors. It’s 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 your back with construction project management software to help you successfully manage your construction projects – big and small. And best of all, it’s cloud-based. That means it’s accessible at both the office and the jobsite or at any stop in between.