How to Become a Construction Project Manager: 4 Step Career Guide

project manager in construction

Perhaps you’ve been working in construction as a laborer. Or maybe you have a background in project management. Either way, you’re looking to make a career change and have narrowed down your options. If you’re looking for a sign to help you choose, consider this the one — there is no better time to become a construction project manager.

This field, which is growing both in terms of opportunity and earning potential, is a great fit for people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. Whether you have experience in the trades or are coming from the corporate world, here is everything you need to know to become a construction project manager.

What is Construction Project Management?

What Does a Construction Project Manager Do?

Project Management vs Construction Management

Construction Project Management Key Skills

Steps to Become a Construction Project Manager

Construction Project Management Salary & Career Outlook

Tips for a Successful Construction Project Management Career

Construction Project Management FAQs

What is Construction Project Management? 

The Construction Management Association of America defines construction project management as “a professional service that provides a project’s owner(s) with effective management of the project’s schedule, cost, quality, safety, scope and function.”

In simpler terms, construction project management is the overseeing of a construction project from start to finish. Construction PMs join a project at its conception, helping to pre-plan all necessary components. From that moment on, they serve as the point person, ensuring a project is executed to completion and follows all plans.

What Does a Construction Project Manager Do? 

Construction projects have many stakeholders. This means that construction project managers are in constant communication and collaboration with other team members, including architects, civil engineers and laborers. In a single day, project managers might transition from the drafting table to the lumber yard to the job site, interfacing with designers, vendors, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, roofers and more along the way. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the day to day work of a construction project manager will include:

  • Preparing cost estimates, budgets and work timetables
  • Interpreting and explaining contracts and technical information to other professionals
  • Reporting work progress and budget matters to clients
  • Collaborating with architects, engineers and other construction specialists
  • Selecting subcontractors and scheduling and coordinating their activities
  • Responding to work delays, emergencies and other problems
  • Complying with legal requirements, building and safety codes and other regulations

Project Management vs. Construction Management: Key Differences

A common misconception about construction project management jobs is that they are the same or include nearly all the same tasks as a project management job. While there is certainly overlap, there are a few stark differences when you compare construction project management vs project management:

  • Project managers guide and manage the process of development from real-estate through construction. 
  • Construction project managers only manage the construction portion of the project.

Important Construction Project Management Skills 

Being an effective construction project manager requires you to wear many hats. There are always multiple balls in the air, and the construction PM is tasked with ensuring nothing falls through the cracks. To keep projects moving along on time and on budget — or as close to them as they can be — the following skills are required for all construction project managers.

  1. Communication – with many different parties playing a role in any construction project, PMs must be able to effectively communicate with all stakeholders and stay on top of correspondence.
  2. Flexibility – Issues or speed bumps are bound to come up on a construction project, so project managers need to be able to roll with the punches and adjust as needed.
  3. Industry Knowledge – Construction is a somewhat niche industry, in that there are rules and regulations, specific terminology and standard operating rules to follow. Construction project managers need to know these to avoid being unprepared or uninformed. 
  4. Scheduling – A construction project will live and die by the schedule. As the construction project manager, sticking to the schedule is arguably priority number one.
  5. Delegation – As the project point person, construction PMs are tasked with assigning various components of the construction work to the right parties. 
  6. Team Management – Construction project managers by nature oversee the entire team involved with the construction project, from laborers to accountants and everything in between.
  7. Organization – With so many tasks to accomplish simultaneously, project managers must be proficient at multitasking. This requires supreme organizational skills, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
  8. Budgeting – Aside from the project schedule, the budget is the top priority for construction projects and construction PMs. They must ensure that the work stays as close to the budget as possible. 

4 Steps to Become a Construction Project Manager

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines the following education and/or experience requirements for most construction project management jobs: “a bachelor’s degree, and…management techniques [learned] through on-the-job training. Large construction firms may prefer to hire candidates who have both construction experience and a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field.” 

Here’s how to set yourself up for entering the construction project management field:

1. Assess Your Current Construction PM Skills

As we have mentioned, being a construction project manager requires being adept at many different aspects of management — budgeting, scheduling, personnel interfacing and more. The good news is that you have probably been working on those skills already, in whatever professional role you hold now. Assess what skills you can bring to the table, and identify areas you could improve upon.

2. Seek out education opportunities 

This isn’t a requirement, but many firms prefer to have a construction PM with a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t have to be in anything to do with business or construction, but formal education experience is a plus. If you already have a degree but would like more construction-specific learning opportunities, consider pursuing professional development opportunities that are targeted to this field.

3. Begin training/getting work experience

Experience will be hugely important in helping you land a construction PM job. It’s okay to start at square one too, working right on a job site to gain exposure to the ins and outs of construction. From there, you can pursue internships or entry level roles at large construction firms to help you transition to construction PM work.

4. Become certified

There are a couple of professional organizations you should get certifications from and apply to join. First, the Construction Management Association of America awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential to workers who have the required experience and who pass a technical exam. Second is the American Institute of Constructors, which awards the Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) credential to candidates who meet its requirements, which include passing construction exams.

Construction Project Management Salary & Career Outlook 

Construction project management is a promising career for those who are just starting out and those who have been in the field for years. The median salary for a construction project manager is approximately $112,000 annually, much higher than the national average. What’s more, employment opportunities for construction PMs are expected to grow 8% by 2031, a figure also higher than the national average for other occupations. This equates to about 36,400 more jobs in the next decade than there are currently.

Tips for a Successful Career in Construction Project Management 

There are a few things you can do before and after you enter the construction PM field to ensure you continue to grow in your career. 

First, always work on honing your project management skills. It’s easy to go through the motions after you’ve been doing the work for a while, but that’s also how PMs get complacent and lose their edge, and projects can go off the rails.

Second, nurture your professional network. The nature of construction jobs means there is a beginning and an end, and you need to know where your next job is going to come from. Having a robust professional network and contacts within the field can help you line up consistent work or even join a firm that ensures you always have construction projects to manage.  

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, always continue to learn. As the field evolves and advances, so should you, so construction management professional development is a must. At the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education (PCE), we proudly offer a Construction Project Management certificate program. This program is taught by experienced and renowned instructors who share the latest knowledge and best practices to help our students excel in their construction project management careers. 

FAQs About Construction Project Management Careers

What does a construction project manager do?

Construction project managers oversee construction projects from start to finish. Their duties may vary, but they are primarily tasked with preparing cost estimates, budgets and work timetables, reporting work progress and budget matters to clients, collaborating with architects, engineers and other construction specialists, and responding to work delays, emergencies and other problems.

How much does a construction project manager make?

As of December 2022, the median salary for construction project managers was approximately $112,000. This will vary slightly based on location and years of experience.

What’s the job outlook for construction PMs?

Job growth in the construction PM field is promising — 8% growth is expected by 2031, with more than 36,000 jobs to be added.

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