When we think about construction work, we only see the physical aspect and how demanding it can be to be a part of the industry.
You don’t see the people who are hard at work in the office planning and overseeing the project as a whole. That’s where your project managers and project engineers come into play.
Their work helps the project run smoothly and makes the field guys the most efficient to continue building. Your field guys will ultimately make the company money; the project managers and project engineers help facilitate the work.
This article will compare the project engineer vs project manager. While these roles have similar responsibilities, they’re also quite different.
What is the Role of a Project Engineer?
The project engineer will focus on a specific scope within a project. Depending on your experience, you may also be required to run small projects.
Let’s go over some of the responsibilities of a project engineer:
- Scheduling: You’ll need to coordinate with both superintendent and subcontractors to schedule the work.
- Construction Schedule Management: This ties to scheduling labor; you’ll need to produce and maintain a construction schedule to share with stakeholders and the construction team.
- Supervising Construction: As the work progresses, you’ll need to observe and ensure the work completed satisfies the project plans and specifications. The intent is to maintain a certain level of quality when turning over a project.
- Project Billing: You’ll submit progress billings or invoices throughout the project to get your company paid for work completed.
- Project Documentation Management: You’ll need to manage and organize hundreds of construction documents throughout the job. There will be a mixture of digital and physical documents, but this is one of your primary responsibilities.
- Submittal & RFI Management: You’ll be required to produce and send in submittals as required per your project plans and specs. Any issues or questions that require an answer from the owner or design team you’ll address using an RFI.
The responsibilities that we covered provide a high-level overview of what you can expect to do as a project engineer. If you would like to learn more about the role of a project engineer, you can click here.
It’s important to understand that the responsibilities of a project engineer may vary depending on the company you’re working at. Understand your responsibilities by talking with your supervisor and clarifying their expectations.
Next, we will go into the responsibilities of a project manager. You’ll see many similarities between the roles, but you can expect to manage more work as a project manager.
We will cover the similarities and differences later in this article.
What is the Role of a Project Manager?
Here’s a list of responsibilities you can expect to perform as a project manager in construction:
- Planning and Scheduling the Project: At every stage of construction, you’ll be responsible for coordinating the upcoming work with your team. If there’s anything requiring coordination from numerous contractors, the project manager will assist with this task. They will also be responsible for developing and maintaining a construction schedule.
- Managing the Budget: You’ll need to develop and maintain a construction budget for the project. Reviewing the budget to identify pain points in the project to come up with solutions to prevent further cost overruns.
- Managing the Project Team: You’ll work closely with your superintendents and subcontractors to schedule construction work and address issues with your project. Work with your team to determine if additional labor resources are required to meet a specific project deadline.
- Communicating with Stakeholders: You’ll be your projects’ primary point of contact (POC). Your responsibility is to communicate with the project owner regarding the status of construction and any issues that arise.
- Overseeing the Construction Work: While you will oversee the construction work, you won’t always be on-site like a project engineer. You’ll need to use your resources to provide you with updates on the project’s progress. You’re most efficient while working in the office and completing tasks; being on-site is not the most effective use of your time.
- Managing Risks: As you plan for work to occur, you’ll need to identify the potential risks with each task. You’ll work closely with your project team to determine ways to mitigate the risks to safely complete the work.
You should know that a project engineer will also do many of these tasks but on a smaller scale.
We should now look at the similarities and differences between the two roles so you can understand why the two titles exist.
Similarities of the Project Engineer vs Project Manager
- Planning and Scheduling: You’ll schedule your field crew or subcontractors to perform work in both roles. Before doing any work, you must ensure you have all the materials needed and that your team understands the task. A significant amount of planning is involved when preparing for any new construction activity.
- Communication: You must have communication skills in construction. For example, you’ll need to provide project-related information to your field crew members. If you cannot communicate this to them effectively, they may make a mistake, affecting your budget.
- Problem-Solving: My favorite thing about project management is the problem-solving aspect. You’ll work closely with your superintendent and field crew to determine the best solution to whatever issue you may face. In construction, you’ll always have some issues you’ll need to address, the project manager or project engineer is expected to work on a solution.
- Quality Assurance: You’ll both plan and implement quality control plans for your project. The difference is that the project engineer will look for the issues to resolve in the field. You won’t often see a project manager in the field looking for punch list items.
- Technical Knowledge: People may have different opinions on the expertise a project manager/engineer should have regarding technical knowledge. With the technical know how, you can best explain and communicate with your team and owners. Yes, you can use your resources to relay this information, but you’ll be much more efficient if you have it readily available.
The Differences Between the Project Engineer vs Project Manager
For this part of the article, I’ll fill you in on my time spent as a project engineer when first starting in construction. You’ll see how this differs from my time now as a project manager.
As a project engineer, I ran projects with a much smaller scope of work. I would only work on at most two projects at once. Of the two projects, one would be in active construction and the other in the pre-construction phase.
The amount of work I was responsible for was intentional to allow me to focus my time and energy on the details of a single project. As the project engineer, I would have to go to the job site and observe the work in progress.
As you know, one responsibility of the project engineer is quality control. So, as you walk through and oversee the work, you’re also looking to see if it meets the project plans and specifications.
I did this to free up the project manager’s time to focus on numerous projects simultaneously.
Additionally, I would have to work directly with the subcontractors, helping to plan and verify the material they brought on-site. You’ll need to watch for this because some contractors can be negligent and bring the incorrect thing.
I also needed to manage and update the project schedule regularly, focusing mainly on the project I was working on. Since I was on-site full-time, I had the best understanding of how it was progressing. You’ll need to make projections with the schedule based on what you see in the field.
At this point, you may gather that the project engineer spends much time working in the field.
You won’t spend nearly as much time in the field as a project manager. You simply don’t have time to worry about the little details as much. That’s why you have project engineers.
A project engineer may also respond directly to a project manager as they may act as their eyes in the field. A good project manager should act as a mentor to their project engineers.
Lastly, I did not have to worry about managing a budget, which is always the responsibility of a project manager. The company that I was at did not have their project engineers performing this task until they became project managers.
Some companies may also require the project engineer to manage a budget; it just depends on the company.
My Time Working as a Project Manager
Now, compare what you’ve just learned about my time as a project engineer to what I do now.
First, I spend almost all of my time working from the office. As a project manager, you will not only manage a single job, so keep that in mind.
With the numerous jobs you’ll be running, there will be so much to keep track of that you can’t spend much time in the field.
I’m not saying site visits aren’t good; they can be vital for coming up with solutions to issues. Just keep in mind that if you don’t want to work 12+ hours each day, you should use your resources instead of going to the job site all the time.
Another difference is I am now responsible for handling all the ordering of materials for a project. As a project engineer, my primary responsibility was performing material takeoffs; the project manager would take it from there.
In the end, the responsibility of a project will fall on the project manager. They must know what is going on with the construction progress and monitor the job’s financials.
A project engineer can fall back on their supervisor to help, but the project manager may not have that luxury.
I don’t have much to say about the difference in the project manager role because they are so similar. You’re responsible for handling more work once you move from project engineer.
Career Path for a Construction Project Engineer
You’ll begin with an entry-level position right after graduating with a degree in civil engineering, construction management, or a related field. I have a mechanical engineering degree which is why I prefer to work for a mechanical contractor.
While it’s not necessary to work in the relevant field, I would advise it so you can apply some theories you learned in school.
In the early years, your main task will be overseeing specific aspects of projects and maintaining the all-important link between the construction site and the back office.
As you gain experience and expertise, you’ll have opportunities to manage smaller projects independently. Some project engineers may choose to specialize in a specific type of construction, while others may branch out into related roles within the construction industry.
With several years of hands-on experience, a construction project engineer is ready to move up the career ladder. They may choose to become construction superintendents or estimators. Some opt to continue their education, perhaps earning a master’s degree or obtaining professional certifications.
Ultimately, many construction project engineers aspire to become project managers. Their experience in the field, problem-solving abilities, and technical know-how provide an excellent foundation for this senior role.
Career Path for a Construction Project Manager
A construction project manager usually starts with a degree in construction management, civil engineering, or a related field. They might initially work as project engineers, gaining invaluable experience and insights from hands-on work at construction sites.
Their responsibilities become broader and more strategic once they transition into a project management role. They manage multiple projects at once, oversee budgets, coordinate with various stakeholders, and ensure the successful completion of each project.
Project managers have opportunities for further career advancement as they gain more experience. They can move into senior roles, managing more extensive and complex projects or overseeing other project managers. Some may move into executive-level positions, such as director or vice president of construction.
Career growth often depends on continuing education and staying abreast of industry trends and advancements for both roles. This could involve pursuing further degrees, obtaining professional certifications, or participating in industry workshops and seminars.
To wrap up, it’s clear that the roles of project engineers and project managers in construction are critical cogs in the machinery of the industry.
While the physical construction is often visible, the behind-the-scenes work performed by these professionals drives projects forward, ensuring efficiency, quality, and timely delivery.
The roles of a project engineer and project manager may seem to overlap significantly, and indeed, they share several key responsibilities, such as scheduling, communication, problem-solving, quality assurance, and technical knowledge. However, the difference in scale and breadth of their work is what sets them apart.
Project engineers focus on detailed, on-site tasks for a limited number of projects. In comparison, project managers oversee multiple projects with a more prominent strategic scope that involves more extensive stakeholder coordination, budgeting, and risk management.
Both roles present a defined career path in the construction industry, starting from entry-level positions, moving through the ranks, and eventually taking up senior roles. This progression often depends on gaining hands-on experience, furthering education, and keeping up-to-date with industry trends and advancements.
Whether you find yourself on the path of a project engineer or a project manager, remember that each role is vital to the overall success of a construction project, and your work contributes significantly to the built environment around us.
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