Construction Career Paths: Superintendent vs Project Manager

by Alexander Fraser

As a project manager, learning to work with superintendents will make your job much easier. 

You will need to work with them frequently to coordinate construction project activities. They can also provide insight into how to perform specific construction tasks. 

Having good construction superintendents on your team can make your job much easier. 

When starting at a new company, it’s essential to develop a relationship with the superintendent early. It will make any coordination efforts go much smoother. 

This article will look at the responsibilities of a construction superintendent vs project manager. 

I will also cover the differences between the two roles. 

By the end, you will know the available career paths if you’re starting in construction. 

Find a career path you like and stick to it. This way, you’ll be able to advance quickly in your field. 

What are the Key Differences Between a Construction Superintendent vs Project Manager? 

While both roles hold leadership positions, their day-to-day operations are different. 

differences between superintendent and project manager construction superintendent vs project manager project manager responsibilities superintendent responsibilities

Some of the main differences are:

  1. Office vs. Field Work: The construction project manager will spend most of their time in the office, managing the overall job. The superintendent will be in the field overseeing the construction in progress. 
  2. Managing Overall Project vs. Specific Tasks: The PM will look at the construction projects overall, managing the schedule, budget estimates, and owner communications. Superintendents will supervise the construction activity at hand. They are looking at the details of how they can complete the work. 
  3. Client vs. Field Communications: PMs will act as the owner or general contractor’s primary point of contact (POC). The superintendent will be the POC in the field between other trades and the construction crew. 
  4. Hiring Subcontractors vs. Field Crew: The PM is responsible for selecting the subcontractor based on the scope covered, reputation, and price. They will issue a subcontract agreement to hire the subcontractor chosen. Superintendents are responsible for hiring field staff to support the construction project deadlines. 

The biggest difference is that the PM will have more office-based responsibilities. At the same time, the superintendent focuses on the tasks related to the field. 

What are the Responsibilities of a Construction Superintendent? 

We already know that superintendents are focused on the field. 

But let’s dive into what their responsibilities. 

Monitoring Construction in Progress

Superintendents need to be able to plan the work and the details required to complete it. 

Once the work has been planned, they can execute it and monitor the progress. They look for correctness, and that the work follows the local building code. 

Essentially they’re performing a quality control check on the work. 

This means that the superintendents need to have a background in construction. They need to understand how to build. 

The best way to learn how to build is with first-hand field experience.

I’ve learned that the best superintendents have worked their way up from an apprentice. They’ve learned many different building methods over the years to make them effective team supervisors. 

Safety Implementation on the Job Site

Since the superintendent oversees the job site, they must ensure their crew is working safely. 

As a superintendent, you should be familiar with the OSHA guidelines

Employers are looking for general superintendents possessing certifications like the OSHA 30 or OSHA 40. This shows you are familiar with site safety regulations. 

The superintendent will perform pre-task meetings. This will be the time to go over the potential hazards of the activity. 

A superintendent should be familiar with the details of a construction task. So they can identify all the possible safety risks with the work. 

Your responsibility is to ensure your workers finish their job safely and return home. 

Any injuries while you’re supervising them can look bad on you. 

Coordinates With the Project Manager to Meet Deadlines

There needs to be continuous communication between the superintendent and the project manager. 

Construction project managers will develop and maintain a project schedule. 

But the superintendent needs to work with the PM on the schedule. He should inform them of the feasibility and if they can meet the set deadlines. 

Determines the Crew Size/Resource Management

Once the schedule is out, it will be on the superintendent to find the necessary labor. They will hire more construction workers if they can’t maintain the schedule. 

The communication between the superintendent and PM will involve status updates on the work. 

Depending on the size of the project, this may happen on a weekly or monthly basis. 

If there’s any slipping in the schedule, the PM and superintendent must determine the corrective actions. This could be pulling overtime shifts or allocating more labor to the job. 

Coordinates with the Field Crew Members

As you know, the superintendent is responsible for what happens in the field. They will look after and communicate with the individual members of the construction team. 

Apprentices and journeymen can look to the superintendent to help with issues during the work. 

Sometimes, a foreman may be assigned to a project and can act similarly to a superintendent. He becomes a job leader for the field team if the superintendent needs to focus on various trades. 

The different roles will need to possess excellent communication skills.

The PM, superintendent, and foreman should communicate regularly on the job progress. 

Superintendents also need to be able to work with other trades in the field. 

This could be your subcontractor or another trade on the project. They need to communicate to avoid potential clashes with the work. 

For example, let’s say the electrician ran their electrical conduit where ductwork should go. The project plans show the ductwork in this location, so the electrician will need to reroute their pipe. 

I use this example because this happened at one of my jobs. There needed to be more communication because my team ran conduits where they shouldn’t have. 

Later I received a call from the GC telling us to move it. This was an out-of-pocket expense that took a few days to correct. 

That was a big lesson learned. 

Superintendents Must Complete Daily Reports

Contractors are required to provide daily reports on specific projects. As the name suggests, the report is done on a daily basis. 

The hours on the daily report need to match the certified payroll numbers. If they’re inaccurate, your company won’t get paid.

Daily reports document the work completed. 

It’s essential to show you met the job requirements for the project. But it also protects you when issues arise. 

The owner can’t point the finger if you did the work right and someone else is to blame. 

Some companies may require daily reports for documentation purposes. 

It goes back to cover yourself. Documenting the work will provide the backup needed when people start pointing the finger. 

Daily reports can take some time. Superintendents must practice time management to complete the report before the end of the work day. 

Superintendents Must Reviews Timesheets for Crew Members

At the end of the week, the construction crew members will submit a time sheet. 

This is a log of all the hours they spent on the job that week. 

The superintendent needs to review this for accuracy. Look at the hours spent each day and which cost codes are charged. 

If these items look good, you can approve the timesheet and push this onto accounting. 

What are the Responsibilities of a Construction Project Manager? 

Here is a list of the responsibilities of a construction project manager:

This Position is Primarily Based in the Office

Project managers can expect to spend most of their time in the office. 

You’ll have the occasional site visits to meet with customers and subcontractors or address issues. 

But you’ll be most efficient in getting administrative tasks done from the office. 

It’s good to check out the project’s progress in person. Showing face on a construction site is also great for developing relationships with the field crew. 

Don’t spend too much time on specific sites; you’ll never get work done! 

That’s why the superintendent role exists. They handle field problems. 

Regarding issues outside the scope of work, I’ll go to the job site to address the problem. 

A change order needs to be issued, which will be the project manager’s responsibility to obtain.

The Project Manager is the Point of Contact for the Customer

As the PM, you want to feed information to the customer to inform them of the project’s progression. 

Their main concern is making sure the project is completed on time. 

Any slips in the schedule due to unforeseen conditions need to be brought up immediately. 

Additionally, the customer can be a resource for the project. 

If you need their assistance for certain aspects of the job, it needs to be communicated to them. 

Here are some examples of coordination tasks with a customer.

  • Access to the job site
  • Material storage
  • Contractor parking
  • Project trailer location

Also, consider that your customer could be a general contractor. You need to maintain open communication with them on items such as:

  • Equipment procurement status
  • Submittal progress
  • Any RFIs on the project
  • The construction schedule

The Project Manager Creates Subcontracts and Purchase Orders

You’ve been awarded a project; you must determine if your estimate included any cost for subcontractors. 

The estimator will select the subcontractor they plan to use for the project. It’s your responsibility as the PM to determine if hiring them for the job makes sense. 

Some factors that can impact this decision are things such as:

  • The contractor’s reputation
  • The proposal price
  • The scope of work covered

If you’ve reviewed these items and find that they fit the project needs, you can hire the subcontractor. 

The best way to hire a subcontractor is by issuing a subcontract agreement. This will become the document that binds them to the job. 

Issuing Purchase Orders for Equipment

After the equipment submittals have been approved, you can order them. You’ll want to start with the long lead items first and work your way to collect the remaining items. 

Most vendors will require a purchase order number to lock in their price and release the equipment to production. 

The project manager will be responsible for making sure the equipment ordered is correct. You must ensure that the equipment meets the design and considers the site conditions. 

You don’t want to order equipment with a door placed on the wrong side because you didn’t check the job site.

The Project Manager Sends RFIs to Engineers

The construction process of creating an RFI involves identifying an issue and requesting an answer to it. 

Sometimes the design or contract drawings can be vague, and the intent could be more precise. 

As a result, the contractor must send an RFI requesting clarity on the engineer’s design. 

If one of your team members identifies a design flaw, this may be ground for a change order. 

At the end of the project, the contractor wants to ensure the work is done right.

The PM is also responsible for identifying design issues or receiving this information from their team. You will transfer the concern to the RFI document and submit it to the design engineer for review. 

Project Management Involvement with Billing & Invoices

As the PM, you’ll be responsible for billing the customer or GC each month. 

This is called progress billings. 

Each month you will be responsible for figuring out how much progress you’ve made on the project.

Work with the superintendents to determine this percentage.

You’ll then need to complete a document called a schedule of values. This will list out all of the construction activities with a dollar amount assigned to each. 

As you progress through the project, you’ll update this document and process it to invoice the customer/GC. 

It will keep track of the amount that has been billed previously, and that is owed in the current billing period. 

Project Manager’s Responsibility with the Construction Schedule

The PM must create a construction schedule during the pre-construction phase. 

This schedule will need to be sent out to the superintendent for review. They should give you feedback on the durations that you have set.

The superintendent should also be looking at the sequence of the work. They will look to make sure the tasks are in order for constructibility.

After the superintendent has checked the schedule, send this to any subcontractors you have. Allow them to provide their input so you can have an accurate schedule. 

Finally, provide the schedule to the project owners. They will expect that the construction progress follows this schedule. 

While the work is progressing, it will be the PM’s responsibility to keep the schedule updated. I suggest updating it each month for the project owner. 

The PM also has the option to produce a 3-week look ahead schedule. A look-ahead schedule is suitable for providing more detail on the construction activities. 

You should provide an updated look-ahead schedule to your field crew and subcontractors each week. 

Ordering Material as the Project Manager

Project managers will be responsible for ordering the job-specific equipment and construction materials. 

With my experience as a project manager in the HVAC industry, I’m responsible for ordering items like:

  • Air Handling Units
  • Cooling Towers
  • Dampers
  • Exhaust Fans
  • Supply Fans
  • Chillers

The project manager is the most familiar with the plans and specs. This means they will know if the equipment ordered meets the basis of design. 

As a project manager, you must gain a technical understanding of your work. 

This way, you know that the correct equipment was ordered for your project and it satisfies the project conditions. 

Education & Experience Requirements for Project Managers & Superintendents

Project managers will typically hold a college degree. 

This will be in either engineering or construction management. Personally, I have a mechanical engineering degree. 

Regarding your level of experience, most companies will expect you to have a minimum of 3-5 years in the construction industry. 

Superintendents will have started their careers as an apprentice within a specific trade. 

They will work their way up the ranks to become a journeyman. Once they’ve shown they can lead a team, they can work as a foreman or superintendent. 

You can also become a superintendent as an engineer. You will need to find a company that hires field engineers. 

The field engineer oversees the work and learns to supervise a team like a superintendent. 

After 3-4 years of working as a field engineer, you can expect a promotion to assistant superintendent. The next step is becoming a superintendent. 

Key Takeaway

When deciding your career path, you need to determine your work style. The main difference between these roles is superintendent is field-based, and the project manager is office based.

Are you more of an active person and prefer to be out in the field? Then go with the superintendent route. 

Project management could be for you if you are okay with working in the office from a computer. 

I hope that this article provided you with some insight into which role you will pursue. 

Before you go, I suggest you check out my article on “What is a Project Engineer.” You will better understand your job duties as you work to become a project manager.

Thanks for reading. 

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