Nature of the Work
Construction managers plan and coordinate construction projects. They may have job titles such as constructor, construction superintendent, general superintendent, project engineer, project manager, general construction manager, or executive construction manager.
Construction managers may be owners or salaried employees of a construction management or contracting firm, or may work under contract or as a salaried employee of the owner, developer, contractor, or management firm overseeing the construction project. They may plan and direct a whole project or just a part of a project. The term “construction manager” to describe salaried or self-employed managers who oversee construction supervisors and workers.
In contrast with, “construction manager” is defined more narrowly within the construction industry to denote a management firm, or an individual employed by such a firm, involved in managerial oversight of a construction project. Under this definition, construction managers usually represent the owner or developer along with other workers throughout the project. Although they usually play no direct role in the actual construction of a structure, they typically schedule and coordinate all design and construction processes, including the selection, hiring, and oversight of specialty trade contractors.
Managers who work in the construction industry, such as general managers, project engineers, and others, increasingly are called constructors. Constructors manage, coordinate, and supervise the construction process from the conceptual development stage through final construction on a timely and economical basis. Given designs for buildings, roads, bridges, or other projects, constructors oversee the organization, scheduling, and implementation of the project to execute those designs. They are responsible for coordinating and managing people, materials, and equipment; budgets, schedules, and contracts; and safety of employees and the general public.
On large projects, several different management systems may be used. In the general contractor system, the owner hires a general contractor to manage all activities. Working for the general contractor, construction managers oversee the completion of all construction in accordance with the engineer’s and architect’s drawings and specifications and prevailing building codes. They arrange for trade contractors to perform specialized craft-work or other specified construction work. On small projects, such as remodeling a home, a self-employed construction manager or skilled trades worker who directs and oversees employees often is referred to as the construction “contractor.”
In the construction management system, the owner hires a firm to oversee all aspects of the project. The management firm will then hire a general contractor to run the construction process and oversee construction of the structure. The major difference from the general contractor system is that the hired management firm, rather than the owner, works with the individual construction manager.
In the design-build system, the owners, architects, general contractors, and major subcontractors are brought together to cooperatively plan and design the project. The design-build group may be from an individual firm or a conglomeration of separate entities. The construction manager participates during the design process and may be in charge of the construction project once the design is agreed upon.
Large construction projects, such as an office building or industrial complex, are too complicated for one person to manage. These projects are divided into many segments: Site preparation, including land clearing and earth moving; sewage systems; landscaping and road construction; building construction, including excavation and laying of foundations, as well as erection of structural framework, floors, walls, and roofs; and building systems, including fire-protection, electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning, and heating. Construction managers may be in charge of one or more of these activities. Construction managers often work with engineers, architects, and others who are involved in the construction process.
Construction managers evaluate and determine appropriate construction methods and the most cost-effective plan and schedule. They divide all required construction site activities into logical steps, budgeting the time required to meet established deadlines. This may require sophisticated estimating and scheduling techniques and use of computers with specialized software. They oversee the selection of trade contractors to complete specific pieces of the project—which could include everything from structural metalworking and plumbing to painting and carpet installation. Construction managers determine the labor requirements and, in some cases, supervise or monitor the hiring and dismissal of workers. They oversee the performance of all trade contractors and are responsible for ensuring that all work is completed on schedule.
Construction managers direct and monitor the progress of construction activities, sometimes through construction supervisors or other construction managers. They oversee the delivery and use of materials, tools, and equipment; and the quality of construction, worker productivity, and safety. They are responsible for obtaining all necessary permits and licenses and, depending upon the contractual arrangements, direct or monitor compliance with building and safety codes and other regulations. They may have several subordinates, such as assistant managers or superintendents, field engineers, or crew supervisors, reporting to them.
Construction managers regularly review engineering and architectural drawings and specifications to monitor progress and ensure compliance with plans and schedules. They track and control construction costs against the project budget to avoid cost overruns. Based upon direct observation and reports by subordinate supervisors, managers may prepare daily reports of progress and requirements for labor, material, machinery, and equipment at the construction site. They meet regularly with owners, other constructors, trade contractors, vendors, architects, engineers, and others to monitor and coordinate all phases of the construction project.
Construction managers work out of a main office from which the overall construction project is monitored, or out of a field office at the construction site. Advances in telecommunications and Internet access allow construction managers to be on-site without being out of contact of the office. Management decisions regarding daily construction activities generally are made at the jobsite. Managers usually travel when the construction site is in another State or when they are responsible for activities at two or more sites. Management of overseas construction projects usually entails temporary residence in another country.
Construction managers may be “on call”—often 24 hours a day—to deal with delays, bad weather, or emergencies at the site. Most work more than a standard 40-hour week because construction may proceed around-the-clock. They may have to work this type of schedule for days, even weeks, to meet special project deadlines, especially if there are delays.
Although the work usually is not considered inherently dangerous, construction managers must be careful while performing on-site services.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Persons interested in becoming a construction manager need a solid background in building science, business, and management, as well as related work experience within the construction industry. They need to understand contracts, plans, and specifications, and to be knowledgeable about construction methods, materials, and regulations. Familiarity with computers and software programs for job costing, online collaboration, scheduling, and estimating also is important.
Traditionally, persons advance to construction management positions after having substantial experience as construction craft-workers—, carpenters, masons, plumbers, or electricians, for example—or after having worked as construction supervisors or as owners of independent specialty contracting firms overseeing workers in one or more construction trades. However, employers—particularly large construction firms—increasingly prefer individuals who combine industry work experience with a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering. Practical industry experience also is very important, whether it is acquired through internships, cooperative education programs, or work experience in the industry.
Construction managers should be flexible and work effectively in a fast-paced environment. They should be decisive and work well under pressure, particularly when faced with unexpected occurrences or delays. The ability to coordinate several major activities at once, while analyzing and resolving specific problems, is essential, as is an understanding of engineering, architectural, and other construction drawings. Good oral and written communication skills also are important, as are leadership skills. Managers must be able to establish a good working relationship with many different people, including owners, other managers, designers, supervisors, and craft workers.
Advancement opportunities for construction managers vary depending upon an individual’s performance and the size and type of company for which they work. Within large firms, managers may eventually become top-level managers or executives. Highly experienced individuals may become independent consultants; some serve as expert witnesses in court or as arbitrators in disputes. Those with the required capital may establish their own construction management services, specialty contracting, or general contracting firm.
Many colleges and universities offer 4-year degree programs in construction management, construction science, and construction engineering. These programs include courses in project control and development, site planning, design, construction methods, construction materials, value analysis, cost estimating, scheduling, contract administration, accounting, business and financial management, safety, building codes and standards, inspection procedures, engineering and architectural sciences, mathematics, statistics, and information technology.
Graduates from 4-year degree programs usually are hired as assistants to project managers, field engineers, schedulers, or cost estimators. An increasing number of graduates in related fields—engineering or architecture, for example—also enter construction management, often after acquiring substantial experience on construction projects or after completing graduate studies in construction management or building science.
Several colleges and universities offer a master’s degree program in construction management or construction science. Master’s degree recipients, especially those with work experience in construction, typically become construction managers in very large construction or construction management companies.
Often, individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field seek a master’s degree in order to work in the construction industry. Some construction managers obtain a master’s degree in business administration or finance to further their career prospects. Doctoral degree recipients usually become college professors or conduct research.
Many individuals also attend training and educational programs sponsored by industry associations, often in collaboration with postsecondary institutions. A number of 2-year colleges throughout the country offer construction management or construction technology programs.
There is a growing movement towards certification of construction managers to ensure that a construction manager has a certain body of knowledge, abilities, and experience. Both the American Institute of Constructors (AIC) and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) have established voluntary certification programs for construction managers. Requirements combine written examinations with verification of education and professional experience.
AIC awards the Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations to candidates who meet its requirements and pass appropriate construction examinations. CMAA awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation to practitioners who meet its requirements through work performed in a construction management firm and by passing a technical examination.
Applicants for the CMAA certification also must complete a self-study course that covers a broad range of topics central to construction management, including the professional role of a construction manager, legal issues, and allocation of risk. Although certification is not required to work in the construction industry, voluntary certification can be valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience.
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