What do a $100 million condominium development, a $3+ billion waste-water treatment plant, the Olympic stadium, a cutting-edge computing facility, and a charity-funded beachfront home for special needs children have in common?
If they were all completed on time, met rigorous safety standards, and came in under budget, the answer is a skilled construction manager.
Simply put, the world relies on construction managers to supervise the safe and efficient building of the bridges, roads, schools, factories, airports, recycling centers, skyscrapers and subway systems we enjoy every, single day. And that makes construction management one of the most fulfilling, fun and exciting careers today – a chance to do what you love while literally changing the world, one building project at a time.
As a construction manager, you’ll play a central role in community development. You’ll be responsible for ensuring strict safety standards. Your job will answer the vital infrastructure needs of your city and community. And as manager, you’ll lead, motivate and interact, everyday, with diverse and talented professionals who also work to better the world, one brick at a time.
Sound rewarding? This guide will help you explore the field and get your started on the path toward launching a successful career in construction management (CM).
Table of Contents
- What is Construction Management?
- Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
- Career Path, Step 1: On-the-Job Training
- Career Path, Step 2: Embrace Autodidactic Learning
- Career Path, Step 3: Get Educated
- Career Path, Step 4: Network
What is Construction Management?
Wikipedia defines construction management as, “the overall planning, coordination, and control of a project from beginning to completion. CPM is aimed at meeting a client’s requirement in order to produce a functionally and financially viable project.”
In even simpler terms, construction managers (CMs) protect the interests of project owners (public agencies, private developers, or individuals), as well as those of contractors, architects and designers throughout the construction process. Without the help and expertise of a professional construction manager, projects simply wouldn’t be completed on time, on budget – or ever.
A CM’s professional responsibilities are diverse, encompassing:
- The definition, development and translation of project parameters into a viable, executable project
- Development of a project timeline
- Request and obtainment of work permits, building permits, and other legal requirements
- Project budgeting
- Development of project materials and documentation, which other professionals will depend on to provide accurate bids
- Bid evaluation and eventual selection of professional service providers: industrial designers, architects, contractors, etc.
- Disburse payment throughout construction
- Coordinate work and communication between architects, designers, contractors, the construction crew, and other professionals
- Coordinate and supervise construction work
- Ensure adherence to construction and safety standards
- Serve as a liaison between professionals and the project owner
- Implement any changes to project scope or work requirements
- Ensure work proceeds on schedule and under budget
- Troubleshoot emergencies
- Schedule walkthroughs
- Keep clients/owners informed of progress
- Coordinate project commissioning and finalization
- And more (yes, seriously)
A day in the life of a construction manager is busy indeed: projects begin with intense communications (that you direct) between the project’s owner and the project’s varying professionals, from the engineers and architects behind the scenes to the designers, contractors and workers who will put on the finishing touches.
After everyone has had his or her say – and after the owner has signed off of everyone else’s suggestions – it’s up to you to finagle sophisticated software to spit out schema for complicated planning techniques, detailed schedules, line-item budgets, and all the other minutiae involved in small and large construction projects.
When construction begins, your primary responsibility is to be on the job site, everyday and in close contact with every person involved in the project. They are responsible to you, but at the end of the day, you have the biggest responsibility: ensuring that everything proceeds according to plan and that your entire crew stays on point, all the time.
You’ll use technology and communications, knowledge and the Internet, persuasion and experience to fulfill these varied and challenging tasks. As a CM, your every working moment is dedicated to your projects, whether they’re in the stages of pre-planning or finalization. Like doctors, construction managers are “on call” almost 24 hours a day. Without a doubt, this is a challenging and demanding career path.
If construction management sounds like a lot of responsibility, not to mention a lot of work, it is. You are, quite literally, in charge of managing millions of dollars, constructing massive buildings, and keeping millions of people safe from harm.
It’s exhilarating. It’s fulfilling. And it is rewarding – literally. Construction management is a growing field that pays very well. According to U.S. News and World Report, construction management is the #1 best construction job and the 37th best job – that’s out of all jobs, in every industry and marketplace in the world.
And in addition to being coveted and enjoyable positions, CM jobs are on the rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that construction management positions will grow 16 percent between 2012 and 2022 – faster than average for all occupations. And the salary? We’ve saved the best for last: Construction managers made, on average, $82,790 in 2012. The highest-paid CMs raked in more than $144,520 a year, and even the lowest-paid construction managers pulled a very respectable $50k.
Now that’s earning power.
According to the Princeton Review, “practical study” is one of the most important elements of a successful career in construction management.
So what is practical study? It’s on-the-job training. It’s digging in and getting your hands dirty. It’s learning through doing.
One of the primary benefits is job experience: start slow and work your way up the ladder, learning as you go. Building years’ worth of on-the-job experience is excellent for your résumé and even better for future job prospects. No one graduates high school and enters directly into a high-ranking CM position.
A secondary, not oft-touted but extremely valuable benefit to working in construction is the opportunity to meet and learn from experienced construction managers who excel at their jobs. Under their guidance and tutelage, you’ll gain important insight into the field. You may even gain a lifelong mentor and friend in the process. (And did you know? Having a mentor is shown to accelerate your career.)
Perhaps the greatest benefit to working in construction is the chance to sample every diverse aspect of the construction business. Try your hand at carpentry, masonry, plumbing, foundation work, steel structures, concrete and other elements of the construction business. Get an apprenticeship. Shadow building inspectors, architects, civil and structural engineers, and other professionals.
Find your passion. What parts of the construction business most excite you? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Identifying your calling is invaluable, as it will guide your career and help you carve out a path that is both profitable and enjoyable.
Autodidactic learning is self-education – the willingness, motivation and ability to learn new things on your own.
Go-getters do very well as construction managers, because they’re willing to go the extra mile for their clients. For example, if you can buckle down and slog through your city and state building codes, and understand the details in and out, up and down, backward and forward, you’ll be a better hiring candidate. Explains the Princeton Review “‘Expediters’ who promise to obtain permits faster can charge up to $25,000 for their services, so construction managers familiar with the process [and] who can trek through local bureaucracies can save their clients a considerable amount of money.”
Self-education for CMs goes far beyond an understanding of legalese and building codes: you must understand people, too. If you’re interested in human psychology – in how to convince, motivate, persuade, and inspire – pick up a few books on marketing, sales and management. Learn to motivate unmotivated employees; to light a fire under your architect; and to convince your clients to sign-off on last-minute changes to the plan. These skills will make you a better, more effective manager.
Other skills are important for construction managers. According to the BLS, the essential professional skills and qualities of a construction manager include:
- Analytical skills
- Business skills
- Customer-service skills
- Decision-making skills
- Leadership skills
- Public speaking skills
- Technical skills (e.g. construction methodologies and technologies)
- Time-management skills
- Writing skills
If you can self-teach, you can always evolve and better your skills at construction management. Over time, you will become an invaluable employee – an in-demand manager with your pick of companies, positions and opportunities. And over time, that will translate to a better salary and greater professional satisfaction.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Important Skills for CMs (scroll down)
Qualifications for construction manager positions vary. Years ago, it was common for managers to work their way up through the ranks, achieving CM status through hard work and hands-on experience. Today, though a degree is not a strict requirement, all but a few CM positions prefer candidates with a college degree, certifications and other educational benchmarks.
Regardless of job requirements, there is no doubt that a degree will serve you well, granting you a deeper understanding and greater knowledge of your career’s required skills. And if that’s not enough motivation, try this statistic on for size: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning a master’s degree will more than double your earning potential over a high school diploma.
In many ways, a well-qualified CM is a jack-or-jill-of-all-trades AND, simultaneously, a master of one. To truly dominate a career in construction management, you must have a good grasp of:
- Physical science
- Construction science
- Business management
- Project management
- Human resources
- Civil engineering
- All aspects of construction: plumbing, electrical wiring, masonry, carpentry, etc.
There are several ways to pursue an education in construction management. Start with discovering your passions, as discussed above. Honing your natural interests will help guide you down the career path and educational route that will be most fulfilling. Once you’ve identified your strengths, it’s time to pursue educational accomplishments to beef up your résumé.
Voluntary Construction Certifications
Be aware that there are two basic tiers of construction certifications: trade licensing and certification, which certify you as a plumber, electrician, mason, or other professional; and construction management certification. You’ll likely need both – trade certifications first, as you’re learning the ropes, and CM certification when you have some experience under your belt.
There are three advanced certifications you can look into:
The Associate Constructor (AC) certification from the American Institute of Constructors. To earn this certification, you must meet basic job requirements and pass certain construction exams.
- The Associate Constructor (AC) certification from the American Institute of Constructors. To earn this certification, you must meet basic job requirements and pass certain construction exams.
- The Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) certification, also from the American Institute of Constructors. This certification requires job experience and extensive testing.
- The Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation from the Construction Management Association of America. This certification requires job experience, self-study, and that you pass a technical exam on legal matters, risk allocation, and your professional responsibilities as a CM.
The CMAA also offers online distance learning, CM training, and other educational programs for aspiring managers.
Two-Year Degrees in Construction Management
Several colleges, universities and technical institutes offer two-year Associates (AS or Aas) degrees in construction management and construction technology. Some options are also available online. Many of these programs offer flexible scheduling, so you can continue working, building experience, and collecting a salary while you further your education.
College Degrees in Construction Management
The BLS estimates that, “More than 100 colleges and universities offer accredited bachelor’s degree programs in construction science, building science, or construction engineering.” The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) emphasizes that your educational options don’t end at the bachelor’s level; advanced degrees are available at numerous colleges and universities, offering master’s degree programs in construction management or construction science.
Though a master’s degree is not a requirement for most CM positions, if you enjoy your studies, you should seriously consider pursuing an advanced degree. Recipients of master’s degrees in construction management, and especially those graduates with previous construction experience, usually become well paid and top-ranking construction managers – the very highest earners in the industry – with very large builders or construction management companies.
Wondering how you can pay for your education? Scholarships, grants and other financial aid are available to help you pay for advanced degrees, which can run into the five-figures. Certification programs are also expensive, often costing $1,000+ for a weekend course, but scholarships also cover this type of education. Additionally, your company may be willing to pay your way to certain training programs.
If you’re a people person, this is the fun part. Get to know your peers. Learn about the workers you manage. Develop working friendships with complementary professionals – the architects, engineers, cost estimators, landscape architects, and building inspectors you work with, everyday. The more you network, the easier your job will be.
Attend local construction conventions (there are dozens every year, in most metropolitan areas). Hobnob. Make connections. Meet new service providers and catch up with those with whom you’ve worked before. Stay current on new construction materials, methods and other topics of industry importance.
The real bread-and-butter of networking is construction conferences and events. You’ll encounter inspiring topics, incredible innovations and loads of knowledge about your field, and you’ll probably have fun in the process. Conferences and other industry events, which attract the biggest names in the industry, also increase your exposure. Don’t be shy: introduce yourself to potential employers and take the opportunity to establish yourself as a leader in construction management.
Finally, send out your conference feelers far and wide: you may be a construction manager, but your job entails so much more than just construction. Consider management conferences, leadership and marketing events, and architectural conferences. Again, it all goes back to your interests: what aspects of the industry do you find most engaging? Play to them. Nurture them. And excel.
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