10 Responsibilities of a Construction Project Manager

The towers rise rapidly at Ground Zero as the new World Trade Center is rebuilt. Like every other construction project, this is overseen by a project manager.
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At 1,271 feet (387 meters) and counting, the towering structure at One World Trade Center in Manhattan's financial district is the city's tallest building, casting a shadow over even the famous Empire State Building, just a hop, skip and jump uptown. Constructed on the site of the original World Trade Center, the building is a testament to American resilience, not to mention the country's astonishing ability to... build large things. That's right, this glass-enclosed monolith didn't sprout up out of the sidewalk all by itself: Since 2006, a massive construction crew has been hard at work raising the world's newest skyscraper [source: Washington Post].

At the helm of this and every other hard hat project, from cementing a parking lot to constructing an apartment building, is a construction project manager (PM).


The PM has the primary responsibility of planning a particular construction job and overseeing its progress along the way. The position typically requires at least an associate's degree -- some require a four-year engineering degree -- and five(ish) years of experience in a related field. The experience pays off: PMs earn about $84,000 a year and their employment prospects are expected to grow by about 17 percent this decade [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

Read on for a rundown of a PM's responsibilities in running a construction project.

10: Plan the Work

Before the first nail is hammered, the PM must plan the work that his or her crew will actually do.

The PM looks over a proposed project to determine how and when the work will be performed, including prep work that must be completed before the building starts. The PM's cost estimate is important because it determines the price at which the PM's company will bid its services. The PM also develops a deliverables schedule to provide a road map that the construction team must stick to in order to finish the job in a timely and cost-effective manner (two other PM responsibilities). And the construction manager must review the project in depth in order to be prepared to handle tasks that come up along the way [sources: Exforsys, Hendrickson].


9: Hire, Fire, Supervise

Who's out of line today? The PM has to be on the case.

On a construction site, the PM is the boss.

The construction project manager is not only responsible for planning the work and making sure it gets done, but also supervising the hard hats who do it. That means coordinating and directing the efforts of construction workers. It also means hiring, disciplining and perhaps even firing those who step out of line (or those who, like Vito Spatafore in "The Sopranos," spend more time sipping coffee, thumbing through a newspaper and doing unexpected things in the port-o-john than lifting a hammer) [source: Exforsys].


In other words, it's the PM's job to get the work done through other people. In this and in many other ways, the PM is no different than a manager in any other job field, whether it's the globe-trotting Ringling Bros. Circus or a paper clip sales outfit in Sheboygan, WI.

8: Get Equipment and Materials

"They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries," legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells once famously said of his desire to be involved in choosing the players for his teams. For construction project managers, the sentiment also holds true when it comes to selecting the tools and equipment used to complete the job.

The people the PM oversees are worthless without the proper tools. The PM must obtain the equipment and supplies -- from nails to bulldozers -- necessary to complete the project, not to mention find a place to store it and implement a method for tracking inventory. It's important that the PM be thorough in this aspect of the job, keeping costs within budget while also ensuring that no time will be lost waiting on additional equipment or repairs once construction begins [sources: Exforsys, Hendrickson, Shaker].


7: Set Goals

The PM determines the cost and time goals as well as "micro-goals" for the different phases of construction.

A construction PM may not be the one drilling holes, turning screws and hammering nails, but it's his or her responsibility to make sure that all of the work is done properly, on time and within the projected cost.

The PM typically sets specific project goals after the contract with the owner (client) is signed. The PM reviews the contractual conditions of performance - requirements and deliverables - to determine precisely the work that must be accomplished in order to satisfy the contract. He or she then determines cost and time goals as well as "micro-goals" for accomplishing different phases of the construction. Based on these goals, the PM sets out the number of workers and types of supplies and materials necessary to reach them [source: Shaker].


6: Stay on Time

Veteran hard hats often refer to a construction project as "any collection of vaguely related activities that are ninety percent complete, over budget and late" [source: Shaker].

A particular job typically comes with a very specific set of objectives and constraints, where the time in which it should be completed is a key goal. The time period is important because the construction contract often includes money penalties against the builder in the event the project runs late. Time, indeed, is money [source: Hendrickson].


In order to meet an overall construction deadline, the PM must set a specific schedule with a number of deadlines for the various projects that must be completed. The PM must also review the work on a daily basis to ensure that it's timely progressing. If there's a slow down - whether because of weather, an accident or simply a task that takes longer than expected - the PM must make changes to get the job back on track [sources: Exforsys, Shaker].

5: Stay Under Budget

That brand spankin' new strip mall may be one fine sight, but it's unlikely that a gaggle of construction workers put their blood, sweat and tears into building the joint out of some deep- rooted artistic or creative passion for raising single level shopping centers. A construction project is usually a commercial endeavor. Thus, the PM must keep money in mind while overseeing the work.

Before the work begins, the PM runs cost estimates - considering wages, equipment and materials - to help establish a budget. Cost-projection is a crucial aspect of construction project management because it determines the parameters under which not only the work will be done, but also on which the project's financial success will be determined [source: Shaker].


Once the project begins, the PM must ensure that his crew doesn't overrun the budget. Thus, he or she oversees costs on a daily or at least weekly basis, comparing costs incurred to the estimates and limiting or eliminating costs as necessary to stay under budget [source: Shaker].

4: Keep Client (and Boss) in the Loop

On a construction site, the PM may be the boss, but he serves two masters: the construction company that employs him and the client for whom a particular project is being built.

The PM is expected to keep both of these parties informed as to the ongoing process and any hiccups that come along across the way. This is typically done by preparing a variety of internal and external reports pertaining to job status, equipment, policies and procedures along with a host of other issues. If an issue arises that will cause the construction schedule to change, for example, the PM must inform the client of the situation, projecting how it is expected to affect timing and costs and specifying any planned adjustments to be made [sources: Exforsys, Shaker].


3: Dispute Management

The PM role often also requires a project manager to don an imaginary referee shirt and whistle, resolving a variety of disputes. Whether it's between fellow construction workers or with subcontractors or the client, an unresolved dispute can throw a rod in the smooth running engine that is the PM's construction project.

When handling disputes among employees, the key to successful resolution is to nip a disagreement in the bud. This requires clear preventive measures and effective mechanisms for resolving conflicts that inevitably arise [source: Exforsys].


Disputes with clients, which can spring up over schedule targets, performance guarantees or deviations from the original contract terms, must be handled carefully to ensure a smooth working relationship throughout the life of the project. An unresolved dispute can result in significant legal costs and slow down a project by taking employees away from the task at hand to focus on resolving the dispute. In addressing these conflicts, a PM should seek to resolve them quickly and informally - getting the proper technical input if necessary - and keep the job moving [source: Federal Facilities Council].

2: Draft Contracts

The contract between the owner and builder typically spells out all the work to be done and it is therefore imperative that the PM be involved in drafting it and be intimately familiar with the requirements in order to ensure that they're met [source: Exforsys].

But this isn't the only agreement that a PM must manage to make sure the project goes off without a hitch. There are also architects, materials suppliers and subcontractors (electricians, carpenters and heating and cooling professionals, for example) to be located and brought into the fold. The PM must monitor agreements with each of these parties covering the various pieces of the building project puzzle that they will complete [sources: Exforsys, Shaker].


1: Manage Risk

Be careful where you put that finger! The PM has to be on top of safety issues.

An essential component of troubleshooting is risk management; that is, limiting the amount of trouble that will need to be "shot." A wide variety of factors present potential risk in a construction project: site conditions; design assumptions; public regulations; worker safety; and environmental concerns and regulation, to name a few. As a result of the increasing number of risks, owners have taken to sharing it by requiring that a builder be at least partially liable in the event of a loss due to these factors [source: Hendrickson].

It is therefore the PM's job to analyze risks going into the project so that both the builder and the client are aware of them and can reach a mutual agreement on how the risk will be shared. Once construction is underway, the PM must try to mitigate the risks by carefully selecting materials and equipment and closely monitoring the work being performed [source: Hendrickson].

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Responsibilities of a Construction Project Manager

Those guys have all the fun. In addition to the whistling and making inappropriate comments to various passersby, construction workers get to spend their days in the great outdoors - or at least outside - using their hands to actually make something. If you're a project manager, the job also comes with a pretty decent paycheck. Meanwhile, I continue to work my "sun tan" into a pasty white hue while staring at a computer screen for hours on end. Sure, a construction job may mean early mornings and back breaking work endured through various seasons of tough weather, but the grass is always greener on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

Related Articles

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Construction Managers." April 26, 2012 (May 6, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Construction-managers.htm
  • Charoenngam, Chotchai and Maqsood, Tayyab. "A Qualitative Approach in Problem Solving Process Tracing of Construction Site Engineers." Asian Institute of Technology (May 6, 2012) http://www.arcom.ac.uk/publications/procs/ar2001-475-483_Charoenngam_and_Maqsood.pdf
  • Exforsys, Inc. "The Role of a Construction Manager." Nov. 5, 2006 (May 6, 2012). http://www.exforsys.com/career-center/career-tracks/the-role-of-a-construction-manager.html
  • Federal Facilities Council. "Reducing Construction Costs: Uses of Best Dispute Resolution Practices by Project Owners." The National Academies Press (May 6, 2012). http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11846&page=R1
  • Henderson, Chris. "Project Management for Construction." Carnegie Mellon University (May 6, 2012) http://pmbook.ce.cmu.edu
  • IDA. "DOD Value Engineering Program." (May 6, 2012) http://rtoc.ida.org/ve/ve.html
  • National Paralegal College. "Arbitration vs. Mediation" (May 6, 2012) http://nationalparalegal.edu/public_documents/courseware_asp_files/ADR/Arbitration/ArbVsMed.asp
  • Shaker, Robert J. "The Construction Project Manager." PACE Project Management (May 6, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Construction-managers.htm
  • The Washington Post. "One World Trade Center Becomes New York's Tallest Skyscraper." April 30, 2012 (May 6, 2012) htp://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/one-world-trade-center/2012/04/30/gIQAac7qrT_gallery.html?tid=pm_pop#photo=1