Often when we see construction, we only see the people on the job site hard at work. We don’t see the management team that is behind the project. That’s because most of their time they’re planning from the office.
Your two main management roles for a project are your project manager (PM) and superintendent. Both are vital for the project’s success.
But how does one get into the project management role, you might ask?
This article will look at how to get into construction project management.
As someone who has worked from a project engineer to a project manager, my main advice is patience.
There will be times when the job will get very stressful and other times when the work can be mundane. But seeing a job through to the end is a fantastic feeling.
In this article, I will cover what I did and how I made my way into my current role as a project manager. I will also discuss some things that I learned along the way to get where I am now.
I hope you can take something away from this article and use it to become a construction project manager.
Education Required for Construction Project Management
You will need the proper degree to get your foot in the door. I have a degree in mechanical engineering.
When I first started, I worked for a general contractor. I was given roofing projects which did not pertain to my degree at all. I found that general contracting was not for me and wanted to be more specialized.
Now, I work for a mechanical contractor and can finally apply some of the theories I learned in college.
To start your career in project management, you don’t need a mechanical engineering degree, but it is an option. I often see job postings requesting a degree in architecture, engineering (relevant to work), or construction management.
Some companies may prefer a master’s or graduate degree in one of these fields, but I rarely see this requirement.
I think having experience is much more valuable than having a masters when it comes to running construction projects.
So, let’s talk about what it means to have experience.
The Importance of Experience in Construction Project Management
When you first start your career in construction project management, there’s a good chance you’ll start as a project engineer. That was my first job, and many also take this path.
It’s tough to beat experience because you need to learn a few things in this role before becoming a project manager running a job.
- How to work and communicate with others.
- How to plan for upcoming work.
- The steps of a construction project and the activities to complete to get there.
- How to interface with customers.
Why don’t we explore each of these more, shall we?
How to Work and Communicate With Others
Your primary responsibility in the project manager role is coordination. You’ll speak with general contractors, subcontractors, vendors, construction managers, project owners, and stakeholders.
You’ll need to learn to effectively communicate the information you’ve gathered and input it into a format your project team can easily understand. Also, you’ll need to balance between emails, meetings, and over-the-phone communication.
I like to send emails when I want to put something in writing, but this is not always a great way to communicate. If you need something done now, I find phone calls are more effective.
Finding the balance for communication is something that will come with time.
How to Plan for Upcoming Work
Before starting any construction, you must check off all the preliminary tasks.
Items such as permitting, hazmat abatement, notice to proceed, and submittal approval are just a few items to consider. These tasks all fall under the pre-construction phase, which also sets the foundation for your project.
But how would you know what needs to be required before work can begin? Well, that is where the experience will come in handy.
The Steps of a Construction Project and the Activities to Complete
Each project has a different set of requirements; there’s no cookie-cutter formula to use for all your jobs.
You must carefully review the construction plans and specifications to determine the job-specific requirement. Then you’ll need some knowledge of what is required by your county regarding permitting and local codes.
Some entities can have exceptions, too, so the project requirements are sometimes entirely different. For example, federal government projects have their own set of rules that contractors are required to follow.
For federal projects, the type of permitting you require is much different than getting a building permit.
You’ll also need to always have two employees (quality control manager and safety officer) from the general contractor on-site during construction. Quality control and safety are heavily emphasized in these projects as well.
These are examples of how the requirements can differ; you must do your homework depending on your assigned project.
How to Interface with Customers
As the project manager, you become the face of the job. Meaning you’ll be the main point of contact for the customer on your projects.
They will call you for any questions, or if you need to settle a dispute, it will be directly with them.
You’ll need to improve your customer service skills because that is what you’re doing here. It’s another balance of catering to the customer while not giving things away for free. You have a budget to maintain, after all!
Many of these project management skills would be challenging to obtain just in schooling, so getting real-world experience will be much more valuable.
Also, most companies require some number of years in a project management role before considering you (typically around 3-5 years).
Project engineering is a form of management, so you’ll be ok if you can show your experience there.
The Best Certifications for Construction Project Management: Are They Required?
Another thing that will help you land a project management role is certifications. While I don’t hold any myself, I know that some would be able to help me make a bit more money in my field.
Of course, it would be best to gather all the construction-related certifications, but there are a few that stand out.
I would first recommend the project management professional or PMP certification. This certificate is recognized nationwide and shows you understand project management.
Another certificate to consider if you have an engineering degree is a professional engineer (P.E.) license. Here are some things to consider if you strive for a P.E. license in construction.
It shows that you have a technical understanding of what type of work that you’re performing. For example, you work for a mechanical contractor; you can reliably question the design if you have a P.E. license. You can validate and provide additional feedback during the pre-construction phase.
As an engineer, especially one with a P.E., you’ll need to be cautious when making design change suggestions. You don’t want to be the one that is liable for issues should they arise from a design error.
Having a project management certification can be helpful, and I recommend obtaining one at some point in your career as a construction project manager. While obtaining these certifications can take a lot of work, it will only benefit you in the long run.
Soft Skills to Possess as a Construction Project Manager
Here are some skills you must develop as a project manager in construction. I’ll give a bit of insight into each of them as well.
- Communication: The most crucial requirement of the project management role is communication. Being able to provide information to another person or team will make or break your success in the industry. Focus on developing your communication skills as you work your way to becoming a project manager.
- Time Management: This is another big one for project managers because time is a precious commodity in construction. Everyone has deadlines they need to meet, and if you manage your time poorly, you’ll fall behind. With all the day-to-day tasks you’ll be involved with, you won’t last as a PM if you don’t manage your time well.
- Being Proactive: Everything in construction is planning. Before you carry out any work, you plan for it. Before ordering material? Plan for it. As the PM, project planning and being proactive will prepare you for anything to happen on the job site.
- Critical Thinking: At times, you’ll be put in a position where you’ll need to make a decision that could potentially make or lose money for the job. When this occurs, you’ll need to be able to analyze your possible options and make a decision you stand by. You won’t be able to take back your decision typically, so you’ll need to make the right choice, don’t overthink it!
I highly recommend working on these critical skills to improve as a project manager. It will only prepare you for the next level.
Of my six years in construction, I still fine-tune these skills daily. There’s no perfect way to do it; but you’ll figure out the most effective way with some experience.
Once you find what works, stick with it and build upon that process.
Career Path for Construction Project Management
Looking at the career path of a project manager, let’s begin with where you will start and what the end game could look like.
As we already know, you’ll start working as a project engineer (PE). Here you’ll work under a senior PE or PM.
Depending on the company that you’re with, you could be promoted to senior project engineer or assistant project manager. I have seen companies with both roles, but only at the larger construction companies.
You’ll have the same responsibility as a project manager, but they may reduce your workload to a level you can manage.
After senior project engineer or assistant project manager, you’ll become a full blown construction project manager. But wait, this isn’t the end of your career journey!
You can eventually become a senior project manager, like the project engineer role. You’ll be expected to handle projects of much greater dollar value.
The next step, I have seen it go a few different ways. Some project managers will become estimators, operation managers, or vice presidents.
I want to eventually work my way into the senior project manager role and see where life takes me.
Note that the higher you go on the ladder, you’ll now need to focus on the company’s development and not so much on the projects. You’ll need to learn team management, which is never easy.
Now, we can get to the important part. How much money can you make as a project manager?
How Much Can You Make as a Construction Project Manager?
To start your career as a project engineer out of college, you can expect to make $70,226 as your salary. Remember that this is the median, so it’s not a guarantee, but I think it’s a good starting point.
I started well below this figure. Do I regret accepting a position at such a low salary? No, without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Luckily I had a great mentor who taught me much about construction. I carry those lessons with me to this day.
I have worked my way up to a six-figure salary, and I only expect that to increase as I gain more years of experience.
When you become a project manager, the median salary is $115,318. Which is a respectable amount in any state that you live in.
One trade-off is the amount of time you will spend in this position. While your salary is good, you won’t only work 40-hour weeks. Depending on the company’s size and mentality, you will typically work more than 40 hours.
I have a friend who works for a corporate construction company, and he’s told me about 100+ hour weeks that he has done. While this is extreme, you should know each company functions differently, so do your research before joining a company.
At the highest level of project management, you obtain the senior title. The senior project manager role comes with a median salary of $149,077.
You can expect to work in the project management role for about five years to achieve the senior position. The duration is not a fixed number, you may be able to earn the role sooner in your career. It all depends on your performance.
If you can show an employer you have what it takes to run multiple large dollar-value projects, then you could potentially become a senior PM sooner.
While the salary can be one driving factor to becoming a project manager, it shouldn’t be the only one for you. You should love the project management process and find aspects of the role you can enjoy.
For me, I enjoy the collaboration process. I can appreciate it when the project team works together to complete a job and I see the result. I like learning about the different systems and how things work in general.
These things keep me engaged with my career and what I look forward to in my job. There are also mundane tasks, but it’s just part of the job.
Steps to Become a Construction Project Manager
Now that we’ve covered numerous topics on how to get into construction project management, I figure let’s summarize this into a list of steps.
- Higher Education (Bachelor’s Degree): Enroll in a Bachelor’s degree program related to construction management, civil engineering, architecture, or a related field. Get involved with project control and management, design, construction methods, and materials, contract administration, cost estimation, building codes and standards, and safety.
- Work Experience: Get some hands-on experience. Start with an entry-level position, such as a project engineer, to gain experience and understanding of the industry.
- Master’s Degree (Optional): Although not always necessary, some individuals opt to further their education by obtaining a Master’s degree in construction management or a similar field. This can give you an edge in the job market and prepare you for higher-level management positions.
- Certification: Consider earning certification through an organization like the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) or the Project Management Institute (PMI). While only sometimes required, certifications can make you more attractive to employers and may lead to increased job opportunities and higher pay.
- Progressive Responsibility: As you gain more experience and knowledge, you’ll gradually take on more responsibility. This could involve managing small projects or portions of larger projects. Over time, you’ll be given more extensive and complex projects to manage.
- Continuous Learning: The construction industry constantly evolves, so it’s essential to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies, practices, and regulations. Attend industry seminars, take continuing education courses, and participate in professional organizations to keep your skills and knowledge current.
- Develop Soft Skills: Besides technical knowledge, construction project managers need good communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. You can develop these on the job, but you might also consider specific training or mentoring relationships to develop these skills further.
Here’s a infographic to take with you and refer back to in the future.
With patience, you can become a construction project manager yourself. Understand that construction is a vast industry with so many different trades you can enter.
So, if you’re struggling to enjoy project management in one trade, maybe consider going to another.
I work for a mechanical contractor because my degree closely relates to this trade. I can apply some of the concepts I’ve learned in school in this position.
I also found working with HVAC controls fascinating, and I never would’ve experienced that without branching out to another company.
Construction project management is not for everyone. Being a successful project manager takes some drive, but it’s the most rewarding job I’ve had yet.
Before you go, check out my article on the role of a project engineer. There you will better understand where you’ll start out in the project management career.
If you find that you enjoy the project engineer role, then you won’t have any problems making your way to becoming a construction project manager.
Thanks for reading.
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