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What does a construction manager do?

Construction managers are typically involved from the very start of a building or renovation project. See more home construction pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/lisafx

Construction managers are a lot like mothers, really. They have to set schedules, keep an eye on finances, make sure everybody is where they're supposed to be every day (and doing what they're supposed to be doing), ensure there are no safety hazards around, and, in general, keep everyone happy. Sounds like quite the job already. But the details are even more dizzying.

More specifically, construction managers are hired to lead and oversee a variety of building projects from start to finish. The jobs can range from a small remodeling or renovation job to the construction of a large commercial structure, such as a school or hospital. About two-thirds of American construction managers are self-employed, and are hired by clients because they have appropriate work experience and, increasingly, at least a bachelor's degree in a construction-related field [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. As of May 2010, the median annual wage for American construction managers was $83,860 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

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While some people use the terms "general contractor" and "construction manager" interchangeably, these are actually two different jobs. Construction managers are typically involved from the start of a project, helping the client with the initial planning, as well as the selection of an architect and general contractor. Construction managers may also perform the first two tasks, then serve as general contractor. True general contractors aren't involved in the building process until the initial planning and design work is completed [source: Austin Stanovich].

There are several specific tasks that construction managers perform: project management planning, cost management, quality management, contract administration and safety management. Here's a brief look at what each entails [source: Construction Management]:

  • Project management planning. This initial stage involves laying out a plan for the entire project, including the various jobs that need to be done, the materials required and a timeline.
  • Cost management. Construction managers must constantly keep tabs on costs, making adjustments if unexpected issues or complications arise.
  • Quality management. Projects often involve numerous contractors and subcontractors; construction managers must make sure they're all doing a good job and not cutting corners.
  • Contract administration. Lengthy contracts with the client are part of all construction projects, and it's the construction manager's job to ensure all of the contract provisions are being met and all parties are satisfied.
  • Safety management. Construction sites are filled with potential safety hazards that construction managers must be aware of and guard against.

Above all, construction managers have to keep everyone in the loop during the entire project, from clients and architects to contractors and subcontractors, and quickly attend to any problems that arise. Sound like an interesting career? Read on to see how you could become a construction manager [source: Construction Management].

In today's high-tech, highly regulated building environment, being a construction manager (in the U.S., at least) is more complicated than simply reading some blueprints and making sure walls are plumb. You have to know about building codes and "green" architecture, be able to use industry-specific software, and have at least a working knowledge of every aspect of the job, to name just a few things. Work experience is valuable, but that alone won't cut it -- increasingly, clients want you to have a college degree as well, ideally in construction science, construction management or civil engineering [source: World Wide Learn].

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities currently offer bachelor's degrees in construction management, and about 60 have master's degree programs in construction management or construction science. Students study traditional subjects like math, statistics, information technology and architecture, plus take more specialized classes in subjects such as building code enforcement, site planning and design, cost estimating, and scheduling. More and more, it also helps to know a foreign language [source: Francis].

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Of course, just because you enjoy such subjects doesn't mean the job is right for you. As a manager, you'll need good communication skills, plus the ability to lead a team of very diverse people -- clients, architects, designers, tradesmen, supervisors, etc. And because the environment is fast-paced, with numerous deadlines, subcontractors coming and going, calls from clients, budget decisions, and more, you also need to be able to multi-task, make decisions quickly and be flexible.

Still want the job? Wait, there's a little bit more. Nowadays, clients are often looking for certified construction managers. So, once you gain some construction management experience, check into obtaining voluntary certification through the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) or the American Institute of Constructors (AIC). Certification is based on your formal education, field experience and knowledge of construction management principles, as well as a written exam [source: World Wide Learn].

My sister-in-law is married to a guy who runs some kind of construction business. I never quite understood what he did, but as I was researching this article it dawned on me he must be a construction manager. I checked out his Web site -- Moore Construction Services -- and sure enough, that's his job. This year at the family reunion, I'll finally be able to fully understand what he's talking about.

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Sources

  • Austin Stanovich. "Client Advisory: General Contractor Or ... Construction Manager?" (April 20, 2012) http://www.austinstanovich.com/pdf/Articles/General-Contractor-or-Construction-Manager.pdf
  • Black Diamond Properties. "Guidelines for Construction Management." (April 16, 2012) http://www.blackdiamondprop.com/construction_management_guidelines.html
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Construction managers." (April 16, 2012) http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Construction-managers.htm
  • CMAA. "CCM." (April 16, 2012) http://cmaanet.org/ccm
  • Construction Management. "Construction Management." (April 16, 2012) http://www.constructionmanagement.net/
  • Francis, Willette. "How To Become A Construction Manager." CollegeSurfing. (April 16, 2012) http://www.collegesurfing.com/content/become-construction-manager/
  • Grimes & Associates. "What does a Construction Manager Do?" (April 16, 2012) http://www.grimesengineering.com/construction-management.asp
  • Job Shadow. "Interview with a Construction Manager." (April 16, 2012) http://www.jobshadow.com/interview-with-a-construction-manager/
  • OSHA. "Construction Management Industry." (April 16, 2012) http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/cmaa/index.html
  • Student Scholarships. "Construction Managers." (April 16, 2012) http://www.studentscholarships.org/salary_ca/129/construction_managers.php
  • WorldWideLearn. "Guide to Majors in Construction Management." (April 16, 2012) http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-education-guide/business/construction-management-major.htm

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