Construction project management combines the responsibilities of a traditional project manager with the skills and expertise of the construction industry. Because construction projects are always changing, a successful construction project manager needs a wide range of skills and abilities to manage diverse teams and projects.
If you’re new to construction project management, this article will walk you through the must-know basics, and the essential principles of budgeting, finance, organization, scheduling, conflict, and legal issues. You’ll also learn about the best universities to study construction project management, what it takes to get a job as a construction project manager, and hear from industry experts.
What Is Construction Project Management (CPM)?
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as “the art of directing and coordinating human and material resources throughout the life of a project by using modern management techniques to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, cost, time, quality, and participating objectives.” In the case of construction project management, you can simply take PMI’s definition and put it into a construction context for a definition of a construction project manager.
Construction project management involves the planning, coordination, and control over the various tasks involved in construction projects. This could include different types of construction projects, like agricultural, residential, commercial, institutional, industrial, heavy civil, and environmental.
It typically includes complex tasks that change dramatically from project to project, and requires skills like strong communication, knowledge of the building process, and problem solving.
The Role of a Project Manager in Construction Management
Construction project managers help ensure the project is tracking along to plan. They manage the project so it finishes on time and on budget, and that their team completes it according to building codes, plans, and specs. Other functions can include specifying scope, budget, and schedules, selecting subcontractors and workers, developing communication strategy for resolving conflicts, and more.
The Construction Management Association of America, a US construction management certification and advocacy body, says the 120 common responsibilities of a construction manager fall into these seven categories:
- Project management planning
- Cost management
- Time management
- Quality management
- Contract administration
- Safety management
- CM professional practice (managing the project team, defining roles and responsibilities, etc).
The Role of a Contractor in Construction Management
Once the design phase has been completed, the construction project manager will assign contractors to a project through a bidding process. Contractors are chosen using one of three common methods: low-bid selection, best-value selection, or qualifications-based selection.
Contractors should be able to handle public safety, time management, cost management, quality management, decision making, math, drawings, and human resources.
Construction Project Management Basics
Construction project management is a complex field, requiring knowledge in many different areas like finance, mediation, law, business, and more.
For construction PMs just entering the field, here are the basic principles you should understand:
How to Obtain a Construction Management Project
The project owner will share project information to a large group of contractors, general contractors or subcontractors to solicit bids. The process starts with a cost estimate from blueprints and material take-offs, telling the owner how much money he or she should expect to pay in order for the contractor to complete the project.
There are two kinds of bids:
- Open bid: Used for public projects and usually promoted with advertising, an open bid invites all contractors to submit their bid.
- Closed bid: Reserved for private projects, a closed bid is when the owner sends invitations to a select number of contractors so only they are able to submit a bid.
Then, once the owner receives all the bids for the project, he or she can select the contractor through a number of ways:
- Low-bid selection: This method focuses on the project’s price. Contractors submit their bids with the lowest price they would complete the project for, and the owner chooses the contractor with the lowest one.
- Qualifications-based selection: This selection method picks a contractor solely based on qualifications. The owner will ask for a request for qualifications (RFQ), which gives an overview of each contractor’s experience, management plans, project organization, and budget and schedule performance.
- Best-value selection: Combining both price and qualifications, the owner looks for the contractor with the best cost and best skillset.
And finally, once the owner chooses a contractor, there are four different kinds of payment contracts they can agree upon:
- Lump sum: A lump sum contract is the most common. The contractor and owner agree on the overall cost of the project and the owner is required to pay that amount whether or not the project fails, or if it exceeds the initial price.
- Cost-plus-fee: The owner pays the total cost and a fixed fee percentage of the total cost to the contractor. This is the most beneficial contract for the contractor, since any additional costs will be covered.
- Guaranteed maximum price: The guaranteed maximum price contract is the same as the cost-plus-fee, except there is a set price so the total cost and fee cannot exceed.
- Unitprice: This contract is chosen when both parties are unable to determine the cost ahead of time. The owner provides specific unit price to limit spending.
Business Models for Construction Projects
While the bidding process typically stays the same regardless of the type of construction project, there are two forms of business models in the construction industry:
- Design, bid, build contracts: The most popular model of construction management, design, bid, build contracts allow the owner to choose a contractor after the design phase has already been completed by an architect or engineer.
- Design-build contracts: This model is the opposite of the design, bid, build contract. Design-build contracts are when the design and construction phases are completed by the same entity (referred to as the design-builder or the design-build contractor). This model is used to reduce completion date since the design and construction phases can happen at the same time.
Project Management Principles and Process
Once the bidding process is complete, the construction phase can begin. Although the phases of a construction project are different than traditional project management, they still include and follow many of the same principles.
All construction project managers should know the five phases of project management, as developed by the Project Management Institute.
At the beginning of the project, you must create and evaluate the business case in order to determine if the project if feasible and if it should be undertaken. Stakeholders do their due diligence and feasibility testing may occur, if needed. If all parties decide to move forward with the project, a project charter or project initiation document (PID) is created, including the business needs and business case.
Next, the project team develops a roadmap for everyone to follow. During this phase, the project manager creates the project management plan (PMP), a formal, approved document to guide execution and control. The PMP also documents scope, cost, and schedule baselines. Other documents included in the planning phase include:
- Scope statement and scope documentation: A document that defines the business need, benefits, objectives, deliverables, and key milestones.
- Work breakdown structure (WBS): A visual representation that breaks down the scope of the project into manageable chunks.
- Communication plan: This plan outlines the communication goals and objectives, communication roles, and communication tools and methods. Because everyone has a different way of communicating, the communication plan creates a basic framework to get everyone on the same page and avoid misunderstandings or conflict.
- Risk management plan: This plan helps project managers identify foreseeable risks, including unrealistic time and cost estimates, budget cuts, changing requirements, and lack of committed resources
This is when the work begins. After a kick-off meeting, the project team begins to assign resources, execute project management plans, set up tracking systems, execute tasks, update the project schedule, and modify the project plan.
Performance and Monitoring
The monitoring phase often happens at the same time as the execution phase. This step is all about measuring progress and performance to ensure that items are tracking with the project management plan.
This last phase represents project completion. Project managers sometimes hold a post-mortem meeting to evaluate what went well in the project and identify failures. Then, the team creates a project punch list of any tasks that didn’t get accomplished, performs a final budget, and creates a project report.
New to Construction? Advice From the Experts
We asked six construction project management experts about their #1 piece of advice for people entering the field.
Here's what they had to say:
"My biggest piece of advice for people entering the field of construction management is to spend time on the job site observing the work being done and asking lots of questions. Get out in the field, get your boots muddy, and show respect to the trades who actually do the work of getting projects built. It's important that entry level CMs understand the many field elements, such as weather, site conditions, limited lay down space, traffic congestion, etc. that can impact cost, schedule, quality, safety, and the other project variables that CMs are responsible for managing."
Barbara Jackson, author of “Construction Management Jumpstart” and director of the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate & Construction Management.
“One piece of advice I could offer for those entering this field would be to ensure the flow of communication. Bad news is just as important as good news. Making sure all stakeholders in the project are aware of what is happening on the job will minimize the phone calls, emails, and conference calls in the midst of trying to fix or recover from an issue onsite.”
Dan Julien, prinicpal of Julien Management, a construction and project management consultant to some of the largest brands and high-profile individuals.
"The best piece of advice I can offer is that you commit yourself to on-going education. The construction industry is in the midst of change - cost, project delivery systems, technology, demographics, and, perhaps most important, sustainability ("green") expectations, are all impacting how projects are designed, built, managed, and financed. Successful CMs are nimble and informed and understand the implications of these many changes. The old way of doing things is disappearing; keeping up to date on everything from standards and codes, to construction practices, to collaborative project delivery and more will be required."
Alison Dykstra, AIA, founder of Kirshner Books and author of "Construction Project Management: A Complete Introduction" and soon-to-be-published "Green Construction: An Introduction to a Changing Industry."
"In construction management, the more we plan the luckier we get and the more successful our project becomes. Planning begins before starting the project, including; selecting the best construction methodologies, preparing the construction schedule/program and organizing resources. It also encompasses daily and weekly planning through the life of the project to ensure all tasks are completed.
"Construction is all about teamwork and good communication is essential for every project manager. You have to communicate with your team, subcontractors, suppliers, your client, designers, local authorities and sometimes neighbors and members of the public."
"Never stop studying or analyzing everything you see in a project. Never take anything for granted. The construction management profession demands complete attention, great commitment and excellent learning and analytics skills. Live the project in its day to day and never forget to prepare for the unexpected."
Vicente Barrera, 18 years of professional experience in industrial construction and infrastructure. Currently a project manager for SENER, a private engineering and technology group.
“My biggest piece of advice: Never stop learning. That was actually one of the major reasons why we created Construction Junkie. The construction industry may still do some of the same things we've done for decades, but there's always room for improvement and things should ALWAYS be improving. Just look at the advances being made in concrete right now. Concrete has been used for centuries, but now scientists are figuring out ways for it to heal its own cracks and others are engineering ways to make permeable concrete strong enough for heavy concrete. If we stop learning, progress stops with it.”
-Shane Hedmond, editor-in-chief of ConstructionJunkie.com
Top Construction Management Books for Beginners
Here are the best construction management books for beginners, either students or those just entering the field:
Written by an expert with over 20 years of experience as a licensed contractor, this bestselling guide provides a deep introduction into construction management basics, shares the latest techniques and tools of the trade, and includes today’s hot issues like sustainability and build information modeling (BIM). Readers will find out what it takes to be a construction manager with an aptitude quiz, learn the ins and outs of contract documentation, and build and maintain a project schedule. Click here to learn more.
Alison Dykstra, an architect and construction management teacher, offers an introduction to managing contracted construction projects in 25 chapters. The book walks through the early development stage through bidding, selecting a contractor, the construction itself, and closing out. She also covers frequently asked questions, like who the players are in construction and what each one does, and the link between the type of contract and how the contractor gets paid. Click here to learn more.
Geared toward construction professionals and students, this book provides a step-by-step guide to successfully managing a project, including a list of things not to do to avoid costly mistakes. Written by a construction professional, readers will learn about planning the project, scheduling, people, materials, quality, safety, subcontractors, contracts, finance and more. Click here to learn more.
This book is written for both project managers and homeowners looking to build residential properties, so the concepts covered are more general. Topics include the critical success factors in a construction project, self-managing a project, a guide to bidding, assembling a construction team, and more. Click here to learn more.
This book introduces all aspects of construction management to students and professionals. It covers each stage of the construction project from conception to completion, design-build, build-own-operate-transfer, and discusses environmental issues important in today’s practice. Click here to learn more.
Construction PM Stages
The construction management life cycle begins at the same time as the bidding process, but once the contract has been finalized, the meat of the project can start.
Here are the stages in a construction project:
This is the first stage of a construction project and once it is completed, it signals the beginning of the bidding process. In design, bid, build contracts, the owner chooses a contractor based on completed designs.
In this stage, an architect or engineer first assesses the feasibility of the design based on regulations and codes of the building, as well as the number of rooms, the size of the building, and the amount of space. Then, he or she creates schematic designs, or sketches, researching the type of equipment and materials needed and their cost.
And finally, the working drawings are created. These are the project’s final specifications and drawings that builders use for construction and that contractors add to their bid.
The bidding process is over and the owner has chosen a contractor. The contractor is then paired with the project team, comprising of a contract administrator, project manager, field engineer, and superintendent. Then, the team gets the site ready for construction. They conduct a site examination, test soil, and identify any possible unexpected situations, like environmental problems.
The project team purchases the required equipment, materials, and labor. In other words, the procurement stage is when the team buys everything they need to complete the project. The complexity of this stage depends on the size of the project and the company. Large, national construction companies usually have procurement departments that purchase labor and materials for hundreds of projects at once. On the other hand, for smaller projects, the superintendent may buy small quantities of materials from local building supplies or hire a local laborer.
To kick-off the construction phase, the superintendent will arrange a pre-construction meeting with the subcontractors and material vendors to set the ground rules for working together. Then, the team must get ready to start construction, completing activities like setting up temporary storage facilities, securing the site, developing a materials and handling plan, establishing safety programs, and more. After that, the team begins construction.
Once construction is completed, the commissioning stage beings. There are two parts to the commissioning process. First, the project team must test the systems and equipment to make sure everything is working correctly before turning over the building to the owner. Then, the team must train the owner’s personnel in the operation and maintenance of the systems in the new building.
When the owner moves into the new building, a warranty period beings. This ensures that all the materials, equipment, and building quality meet the expectations included in the contract. There are two types of warranties: express warranties (written and included in the contract) and implied warranties (established or required by law).
This final phases ties up any loose ends. The team formally completes any remaining contractual obligations to finish the project. They may create a project punch list of any tasks that didn’t get accomplished and may conduct a post-project review, document lessons learned, archive project documents, or prepare a project completion report.
Cost, Budget & Finance in Construction Management
Project managers must always be thinking about money. From estimating budgets before the project even starts to hiring and paying contractors, financial management is one of the most important parts of a successful project.
Here are the things you should know:
Construction Pricing and Contracting
There are a number of different options when paying contractors and outlining price in contracts. In the competitive bidding process, contractors submit their bid to work on the project. These bids are either submitted on a lump sum or unit price basis (whatever the owner specifies). A lump sum bid refers to the total price of work by the contractor, and unit price bidding is used in projects where the amount of labor and materials are uncertain. Instead of inviting competitive bidding, some private owners choose to award contracts to one or more selected contractors with negotiated contracts, which provides for more flexibility in pricing. Negotiated contracts usually require reimbursement of direct project costs plus the contractor’s fee determined by one of these methods: cost plus fixed percentage, cost plus fixed fee, cost plus variable fee, target estimate, or guaranteed maximum price or cost.
Cost Estimation and Budgeting
A cost estimation is prepared in order to submit a bid for a construction project and is used to establish a budget for the project once it is won. Cost estimates are sometimes prepared by a professional estimator, like a building estimator or a chief estimator. Even though the project manager may not be the sole person responsible for cost estimation, it is still necessary that he or she become familiar with the process to understand the scope of the project. The cost estimation process includes determining the cost estimates from building, unit prices and lump-sum estimates, job sites and general overhead, bidding procedures, and labor costs.
Cost Control Monitoring
As the project begins, project managers need to quickly create a process to monitor project costs. The sooner the cost control monitoring phase beings, the faster project managers will be able to identify trouble spots. For example, if an item is significantly more expensive than the estimate, the project manager should identify the reason for the difference and see if that cost increase affects anything else in the budget.
Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
A Capital Improvement Plan (or Program) is a four- to ten-year plan that identifies capital projects and equipment purchases, provides a scheduling, and identifies options for financing the plan. The plan links a government entity, a strategic plan, and the entity’s annual budget. A CIP includes a listing of all projects or equipment to be purchased, the projects ranked in order of preference, the plan for financing the projects, schedules for the construction phase of the project, justification of the project, and explanation of the expenses.
The project manager and/or the agency’s accounting department will have to develop the project budget for the fiscal year, record and report expenditures, review and pay contractor invoices, and manage cash flow. From materials to labor, there are many costs in construction projects. Costs are either direct (like labor, material, subcontracting, and land) or indirect (like indirect labor, supervision, tools, equipment, supplies, insurance, and support costs). The project team and the accounting department may need to work closely together in order to manage contractor invoices. The project team reviews invoices to make sure the work has been properly completed, then the accounting department ensures that the invoices are contractually eligible and that the prices are consistent with the contract.
Organizing and Scheduling a Construction Project
With RFPs, contracts, invoices, blueprints, and more, it can be hard to keep track of all the necessary documents in a construction project. Because construction projects are so large and involve complex information, organization is key to staying on schedule.
Records Management: Record management controls the distribution, storage, and retrieval of project records, both hard copies and electronic, in a safe, secure way. Project managers must make sure that all incoming and outgoing documents are transmitted through the records management specialist, who uses software to track the records (this method will also create a central library of all project documents and information in one place).
Contract Management: It is important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities for the project team members who are managing the project and the project staff responsible for managing contracts and documents. The contract management plan is designed to set expectations and procedures around this by addressing who has the authority to direct and approve the contractors to work, how the contractor’s work is monitored and reported, how they are paid and approved, how contracts are modified, which financial audits are necessary, etc.
Contract Procurement Planning: Project managers also have to ensure that procurement activities fit with the project plan. Some of the tasks they have to manage include:
- Setting expected contract price
- Creating the scope of work (SOW) for each contract
- Standardizing procurement documents and any other necessary documents
- Adding completion dates to contracts that align with the project schedule
Commissioning Plan and List: The commissioning plan and list should be started early in the design phase and continually updated as the project progresses. The commissioning plan is designed to provide direction for the commissioning process during construction, to resolve issues related to scheduling, roles, and responsibilities, and to aid in the reporting, approvals, and coordination. It is a systematic process to ensure that buildings perform according to the design and to the owner’s operational requirements.
Project Control Process: The project control process tracks and manages the scope, cost, and schedule of a construction project. The goals of this process are to establish a baseline, track performance against the baseline, forecast performance at completion and compare to the baseline, and identify changes and monitor the effects to the baseline.
Project Requirement Definition: Also known as the statement of work, this document details the project deliverables. In the project requirement definition (PRD), the project manager explains the scope of work and what the project will accomplish. It helps stakeholders, team members, and external parties all understand the goal of the project and acts as a record of initial expectations.
As-Built Drawings: Also known as record drawings, these are edited drawings submitted by a contractor at the end of a project. They reflect all the changes made in the working drawings during the construction process, and show the dimensions, geometry, and location of all elements included in the contract. As-built drawings provide a quick visual into the existing design and capture deviations from the original documents.
Daily Documentation: Keeping diaries, logs, and daily reports of project activities acts as a reference guide after the work is completed and can mitigate any damages. This kind of documentation can show how questions were answered, how problems were solved, and tracks any unusual conditions on a certain day. By keeping these daily logs, you are leaving a paper trail throughout the whole project in case anything goes awry later on.
Organizing your documents helps you categorize and prioritize important project information, and once you have everything stored in a central location, you can build out your project schedule.
A well-defined schedule provides a structured approach to planning, identifies problems before they arise, forecasts cash flows, and assesses resource requirements.
Here are the fundamental and advanced scheduling techniques:
Fundamental and Advanced Scheduling Techniques
Gantt charts: A Gantt chart is the easiest way to create a construction schedule. It lets you visualize your project timeline by transforming task names, dates, durations, and end dates into cascading horizontal bar charts. Learn more about creating and using Gantt charts in Smartsheet.
Critical path scheduling: The most widely used scheduling technique is the critical path method. This method calculates the minimum project completion time and the start and end dates for all project tasks. It identifies the critical tasks that, if delayed, will delay your entire project. The critical path method helps you reduce timelines, manage resources, and compare planned with actual. To learn more, read our Ultimate Guide to the Critical Path Method.
Line of Balance: This scheduling technique is best suited for repetitive work and is often employed in road construction. It is a management control process for collecting, measuring, and presenting facts relating to time, all measured against a specific plan. With a Line of Balance schedule, you must allocate resources for each step, so you can make sure the next step is not delayed.
Q Scheduling: This form of construction scheduling addresses the sequence of activities, relationships between tasks, and the total cost of finishing the project. It includes the overall construction site and prevents two competing activities from happening at the same time at the same location. While this technique is the closest to reality, it requires special software and can take more effort from the project manager to evaluate cost analyses for the different schedule alternatives generated.
Problems, Issues & Legal in a Construction Project
Construction projects are always changing, and the constant level of uncertainty can often bring conflict to project teams. Construction project managers are often tasked with resolving disputes, identifying and mitigating risks, and understanding legal ramifications.
Here’s what construction project managers should know:
Conflicts will inevitably arise in any project and it’s your job as the project manager to resolve the disputes so your team can stay productive and work well together. Possible conflicts in a project could include poor communication, lack of clarity, conflicts of interest, limited resources, or power struggles. While every conflict is different, there are a couple different resolution strategies that you may have to employ:
- Mediation: A third-party mediator will be hired to resolve the disputes between the two parties. This strategy is the cheapest and least time-consuming.
- Mini-Trial: A mini-trial is held in an informal setting with an advisor or attorney that must be paid. The agreement is nonbinding and can be broken. A mini-trial takes more time and money than mediation.
- Arbitration: Arbitration is the most expensive and time-consuming way to resolve a conflict. Each party is represented by an attorney while witnesses and evidence are presented. Then, the arbitrator makes a ruling and his final decision is a binding agreement.
Create a Risk Management Plan
By focusing on prevention, project managers can spend less time dealing with spontaneous problems and more time on reducing their impact. A risk management plan is used to manage all project risks, defines the roles of project staff in risk management, and identifies potential risks and categorizes them in terms of probability and impact.
Understand Legal Principles
When project managers have to negotiate contracts, deal with jurisdiction's licensing requirements, purchase insurance, and manage job site safety, an understanding of legal principles can save time and money. There are several areas of liability in construction management. There could be a claim for failure to detect defective work, if a bid exceeds estimates, or if there is extended overhead or if the project is delayed. Most professional liability policies don’t cover any aspect of faulty workmanship (like fabrication or installation) nor do they cover economic risks, so project managers have to make sure they have the appropriate coverage and that they are doing everything they can to avoid liabilities and claims.
Prepare a Quality Control Plan
A quality control plan ensures that the building has reached a specific standard. Quality control is the last step a project goes through before being delivered to the owner and consists of a series of systems and procedures to make sure it meets the highest standards. Project managers will have to evaluate how to test quality, create a step-by-step process for auditing the project, and revise and review the plan to find new problem areas. They will also have to be knowledgeable in safety management and codes, building codes, and compliance codes, and include these aspects in the plan.
Construction PM Software
A new wave of web and cloud apps are streamlining communication, simplifying document management, and improving efficiency in construction management.
Here are some of top construction management tools:
Smartsheet is a spreadsheet-inspired work management tool with robust collaboration and communication features. With pre-built construction templates, it’s easy to create a timeline, track progress, manage documents, and organize the details. Gantt charts are automatically created and auto-adjust every time a change is made, so you can share the most up-to-date timeline with team members or stakeholders. You can upload files from your computer, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, or add a web URL, creating a central repository for all project documentation and contracts. Team members can have discussions directly in the sheet and set reminders and alerts, so everyone is on the same page. And lastly, Smartsheet integrates with other apps like DocuSign (to streamline the contract process by collecting e-signatures), Harvest (to automatically create invoices), and Google Apps (to sync your calendar and add or edit information directly from Gmail). Get a free, 30-day trial of Smartsheet.
BuilderTREND is a cloud-based construction project management tool for home builders and remodelers. It helps builders communicate with subcontractors about tasks and allows clients to see real-time status about their home and the costs. BuilderTrend lets you create proposals, simplify the bidding process, send documents, create schedules, and manage customer relationships.
Co-construct is a web-based solution for custom builders and remodelers. It helps businesses coordinate their selections, schedules, and photos while improving relationships with interactive communication. Users can track change orders, create a project budget, update schedules, share files, and more.
Procore helps firms increase efficiency and accountability with streamlined communication and documentation. The cloud-based tool provides ways to collaborate on projects and view documents, with real-time editing capabilities. Other features include project dashboards, scheduling, reporting, document management, email training, bidding and more.
BuildTools is designed for residential construction firms and offers project management, scheduling, service management, document storage, budgeting, and customer management capabilities. You can manage all the communication for your crew and subcontractors, easily sharing emails, site photos, project schedules, budgets, and timesheets.
Aconex offers one solution to manage information and processes across engineering and construction project to improve efficiency and reduce risk. Features include document management, workflow automation, bid management, issue management, and more. As a web-based solution, Aconex allows users to create and review documents from any location.
Education Opportunities for Construction Project Management
Studying construction project management is a specialty field where you learn about management, planning, and organization in order to successfully complete projects in the construction industry.
Traditionally, people in this field were promoted to construction project manager positions from trade jobs like carpenter or plumber. Then, by the end of the 20th century, construction had grown so complex and intricate that companies started to look for education over experience.
From four-year programs to certificates to Ph.D programs, there are many educational possibilities in construction management.
Here are the options:
Education and Training Opportunities: What to Study and Where to Apply
Today’s construction project manager typically has a bachelor’s degree in engineering or construction, with some pursuing master’s degrees and certificates as well. And, with the rise of online classes, it is much easier to hold a full-time or part-time job and take classes in your free time (online certification programs are especially popular).
Here are the education options for those wanting to pursue construction management:
Bachelor’s of Science in Construction Project Management
A B.S. in construction project management is a four-year program where you learn how to analyze structural systems, implement cost estimating and scheduling techniques, assess conflict and identify resolution strategies, apply the principles of project management to construction, and more. It prepares you for careers like construction executive, project manager, project engineer, field engineer, cost engineer, or facilities engineer.
Classes can include Financial Accounting, Technical Writing/Communication, Structural Analysis, Engineering Economics, or Conflict Resolution. Depending on the university, the classes can skew heavily toward mathematics and engineering.
Some of the top universities for construction management include:
- Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, with a 90% job placement rate for graduating students.
- University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, with an entire Construction Management Department.
- Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, with its School of Business Construction.
- University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida was the first to become accredited by the ACCE (The American Council for Construction Education).
Master’s in Construction Management
You may also decide to pursue a Master of Science in Construction Management or an MBA with a concentration in construction management. If you do pursue a graduate degree, you can choose to focus in more speciality areas, like construction, real estate, or construction management.
A master’s program introduces advanced concepts like financial, legal, ethical issues, and leadership strategies, and ends with a thesis project. In order to begin a graduate program in construction management, you must have a bachelor’s degree and some programs require that you also have professional experience.
Courses may include Advanced Construction Scheduling, Lean Construction, Project Delivery, Risk Management, Schedule Impact Analysis, or Construction Estimating.
Some of the top universities for a master’s in construction project management include:
- Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, Arizona, offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies of construction management. It also offers an accelerated master’s program called “4+1,” allowing undergraduates to begin a master’s program while seniors. Its school of construction is the largest in the state and produces 21% of all construction management degrees in Arizona. ASU also offers an online master's program in construction management, designed to meet the growing need for professionals with advanced technical, management, and applied research skills in the construction industry.
- Stanford University in Stanford, California, has a graduate and doctoral program in three construction course tracks: construction engineering and management, design-construction integration, and sustainable design and construction.
- University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, includes certificates, undergraduate, and graduate degrees in construction management. The department also has strong ties for local construction agencies, leading to many student internships.
- Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina has received high marks for its construction management master’s program from both the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and the Associated General Contractors of America.
Construction Project Management Certificates
Many universities, including the University of Washington, UC Berkeley, the University of Houston, and others offer construction management certificates. These certificates require less credits than a degree, so you can complete the courses faster and gain further knowledge to differentiate you from the crowd.
In addition to university certificates, a number of associations and institutions also offer certification programs.
Here are a few:
Certified Construction Manager from the Construction Management Association for America (CMAA)
According to the CMAA, North America’s only organization dedicated to the interests of professional construction and program management, “a Certified Construction Manager (CCM) is someone who has voluntarily met the prescribed criteria of the CCM program with regard to formal education, field experience, and demonstrated capability and understanding of the CM body of knowledge.”
To become certified, you must have 48 months experience as a construction manager in a number of qualifying areas, and meet a number of other criteria (click here for the full list). If you meet the qualifications, you must pay an application fee of $325 for CMAA members or $425 for non-members, and take a certification exam.
The exam costs $275 initially, and if you have to retake it, the fee drops to $125. It is a five-hour exam, with questions about project management, cost management, time management, contract administration, quality management, professional practice, and safety and risk management.
Construction Manager-in-Training (CMIT) from the Construction Management Association for America (CMAA)
The Construction Manager in Training (CMIT) program is designed for soon-to-be and recent graduates, working graduate degree candidates, or experienced professionals looking to become a construction manager. The program focuses on professional development and learning about key construction management practices early on in your career.
The program has two phases: a capstone assessment that requires a passing grade of 80% and a mentor-protege relationship. It requires CMAA membership status in addition to program fees, which range from $60-$195, depending on whether you are a student or young professional.
Associate Constructor Certification from the American Institute of Constructors
The American Institute of Constructors promotes individual professionalism and excellence throughout the related fields of construction. It offers an Associate Constructor certification for recent graduates of four-year construction programs. The certification represents a high level of skill and knowledge in managing the construction process.
To become certified, you must pass a 300-question multiple choice exam given during two four-hour sessions on a single day. The exam includes questions about communication skills, engineering concepts, management concepts, materials concepts, and more. It costs $165 for the first time you take the exam, then $110 if you want to retake it.
Getting a Job as a Construction Project Manager
Do you like building and design, but think architecture involves too much drawing? Or that civil engineering involves too much math and carpentry involves too much manual labor? Then construction project management is for you.
While the job market was hit hard in the mid-2000s, hiring is now on the rise. Employment is expected to grow 16% between 2012-2022, faster than the average for all occupations and including more than 78,000 new construction manager jobs. And, the median salary for a construction project manager is $72,522, according to PayScale.
Here’s a list of the necessary skills and possible job titles in construction management:
Skills and Abilities
Successful construction project managers should have a wide range of skills and abilities to help them manage diverse teams and projects. A solid education is a great place to start, and certainly prepares you for the construction industry. However, there is no substitute for real-life, hands-on work experience.
Here are the skills, abilities, and required knowledge for construction management:
- Understanding of the building process
- Problem solving
- Leadership skills
- Strong communication skills and the ability to work with different groups of people, from project owners to tradesmen
- Time management
- Document management
- Experience with finances and budget management
- The ability to coordinate and oversee a project from start to finish
- Computer skills and basic construction scheduling software knowledge
Construction Management Job Titles and Definitions
There are many different roles in construction project management, with some requiring a more technical background. Here are some of the job titles and their definitions:
- Field Engineer/Surveyor: A field engineer or surveyor supervises a crew of workers known as the “survey party.” This party is responsible for staking out reference points and markers that will guide the construction process. Before any other work beings, the survey party must define the legal boundaries of the land where the work will be done.
- Project Engineer: A project engineer acts as the liaison between the project manager and the technical aspects of a project. He or she is usually the primary technical point person for the consumer and is in charge of scheduling, planning, and resource forecasting for engineering activities. In some cases, the project engineer is the same as the project manager, but the majority of the time, both roles share joint responsibility for leading a project.
- District Construction Engineer: The district construction engineer manages the activities of the technical services department, including engineering, contracting, inspection, and more. He or she also coordinates with other departments and outside agencies. This position is also similar to a project manager, however it usually requires a background in civil engineering.
- Project Coordinator: The project coordinator assists the project manager in all day-to-day activities. He or she may act as the liaison between customers, subcontractors, architects, owners, and general contracts on active projects, maintain and monitor records, track budgets, and perform other general duties.
- Project Manager: The construction project manager supervises projects from beginning to end, making sure they finish on time and on budget. He or she plans all aspect of the construction process, including hiring contractors, negotiating contracts, setting budgets, complying with building and safety codes, and dealing with conflict.
- Construction Manager: Also known as a site manager, a construction manager is responsible for running and managing the construction site. He or she works closely with architects to go over blueprints, makes project timetables, determines material and labor costs, gathers permits, and schedules work on site.
- Operations Manager: An operations manager works in a large construction company that oversees many projects at once. He or she develops construction strategies and works with the project manager to manage resource allocation. He or she also works with civil engineers to create the quality checks that a project must go through before it is delivered to the owner.
Managing Sustainable Building Projects
“Green construction,” focused on making structures more energy efficient and eco-friendly, is a huge area of growth in the construction industry. Green building refers to the effort to ensure that both the actual structure and building process are environmentally responsible.
Project managers overseeing a sustainable building project must understand how the project affects the environment, ensure that waste is properly disposed, find greener materials, and use efficient building methods. He or she must also understand environmental issues and environmental compliance in the area they are building. Many green project managers are required to have a working knowledge of documentation requirements for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Terminology and Acronym List
- A&E: architectural and engineering
- CA: contract administrator
- CIP: capital improvement plan
- CM: construction manager
- CPI: cost performance index
- CPM: critical path method
- D/B: design/build
- D/B/B: design/bid/build
- EA: environmental assessment
- EIS: environmental impact statement
- FEIS: final environmental impact statement
- FONSI: finding of no significant impact
- GEC: general engineering consultant
- GM: general manager
- LEED: Leadership in Enegery and Environmental Design
- MPO: metropolitan planning organization
- OFE: owner furnished equipment
- OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- O&M: operations and maintenance
- PM: project manager
- PMC: project management consultant
- PMO: project management oversight
- PMP: project management plan
- PRD: project requirements definition
- RE: resident engineer
- RFC: request for change
- RFI: request for information
- RFP: request for proposal
- SOW: scope of work
- SPI: schedule performance index
- VE: value engineering
- WBS: work breakdown structure
More Construction Resources
With many stakeholders, hundreds of details, and dozens of documents, construction projects can be complex and difficult to manage. However, the key to being successful is to never stop learning, to stay organized, and to communicate frequently and clearly.
To help you become an effective construction project manager, we've put together the must-have construction management templates. You can download a construction budget template, a construction estimator, construction timeline, and more.
In addition to pre-built construction templates, Smartsheet can improve your organization, planning, and document management in your next construction project. With automatic Gantt charts and critical path, super simple file attachments, and alerts and reminders, you can build a central repository where anyone can access project details in real time. The product also provides an extensive range of smart views - Grid, Calendar, Gantt, Dashboards, and Card-View. Whether you are a field engineer or an operations manager, Smartsheet works the way you want.
See how easy it can be to manage your construction project with Smartsheet.
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