When we envision construction workers, we picture them in hard hats and high-visibility T-shirts. So, who are the individuals in button-down shirts or polo shirts? Indeed, they aren’t performing hard labor in that attire, are they?
That person is most likely the project manager. They oversee every aspect of the project. You won’t see the field workers in business casual attire because they would ruin their clothes by the end of the day.
But how does one become a construction project manager, and how long does that take?
This article dives into the requirements for becoming a project manager and the time it takes to achieve this position.
You may not be pleased with the answer when discussing how long it takes to become a project manager. There is no definitive timeline to becoming a project manager; it depends on your experience, effort, and a little bit of timing.
For me, it took three years before I became a project manager. I would consider myself rather fortunate to have received that job title after such a short time.
I started as a project engineer, and after three years, I moved to another small company where they only had project managers. While I was excited to begin the new role, it was also terrifying to know that I was solely responsible for the success of a project.
As a project engineer, you can rely on a project manager if you have questions or doubts about anything related to the job. While I had a supervisor I could contact when I had questions, I ultimately had to make the final decision, which could make or lose the company money.
With time, you become more comfortable making those decisions as you understand how to make informed choices. It will come with experience and patience as you learn new things about the construction trade you’re dealing with.
Before I go any further with my personal experience, let’s cover the project manager role in more detail so you can get a feel for the position.
What is a Construction Project Manager?
A construction project manager is an individual who oversees a project from its inception to its completion. They ensure the job is completed on time and within budget. (You’ll hear this phrase mentioned frequently in project management, but it’s an ongoing goal to strive for on projects.)
What are the Responsibilities of a Construction Project Manager?
As the project manager, you can expect to perform the following tasks:
- Planning and scheduling
- Budgeting and cost control
- Risk management
- Communication and coordination
- Quality control
If you’d like to learn more about the responsibilities of a construction project manager, you will find this later in the article. You can also click here to jump ahead.
Timeline to Become a Project Manager: Steps to Achieve the Position
Education and Training
You should aim for an engineering, architecture, or construction management degree. Any of these will help you get your foot in the door.
I have a mechanical engineering degree and entered the construction industry without much trouble.
In my first interview, the interviewer asked if I had any experience or knowledge of construction management. They don’t teach you anything about construction if you’re in school for engineering. At least, that wasn’t the case for me.
With experience in construction management, you can enter the role much quicker and understand your assignments. While I don’t think it’s necessary, it would be helpful to get a head start.
Experience in the Field
Now that you have your degree, it’s time to enter the construction world! You’ll start in an entry-level position. My first role was as a project engineer (PE).
You’ll have a supervisor who will act as your mentor to teach you what is needed to run a project on your own. Your mentor could be a project manager or senior project engineer, depending on the company size.
As the PE, you’ll have many responsibilities as the project manager (PM), just in smaller quantities. The more you can take on, the sooner you’ll be able to step into the PM role.
You’ll be involved in every construction phase, from pre-construction to project closeout. Expect to perform tasks such as handling submittals, processing RFIs, creating construction schedules, and more.
The best way to learn was to experience things firsthand, and if I got stuck, I would ask my mentor questions.
I wasn’t like that from the start. I needed a lot of guidance before I was ready to take on tasks on my own. Once I understood how construction worked, I could begin to handle the jobs independently.
You’ll also get much more time in the field as a project engineer. When you’re in the field, take the time to learn the construction process. When you understand the sequencing of the work, you can better plan out a project.
When working for a subcontractor, you must understand how your work aligns with everyone else’s. To do this, you must have a good understanding of how to construct something.
You should also understand the difference between a general contractor and a subcontractor. I have an article on this topic if you want to learn more about it.
You should know that the GC manages the project overall, and the subcontractor is a more specialized contractor who focuses on a few or a single trades.
How to get the most out of your work experience
If you want to progress quickly, then you should remain open to taking on work. I’m not saying become a “yes man” and take on everything, but push the limits on how much you can handle.
When you feel you’ve maxed out your bandwidth on projects, you must be upfront with your boss or supervisor. They don’t want you to fail (at least the good ones don’t), so let them know if you begin to struggle.
For example, I did fieldwork as a technician in my last company. My title was still project manager, but I took it upon myself to also learn the more technical side.
As you might already know, the project manager should spend most of their time in the office. They’re most efficient in the office rather than doing the fieldwork.
Not only was it a great learning experience, but by being involved to that extent, I showed that I was willing to help my supervisor and field guys. I was gaining their respect in the long run.
Working in the field gave me experience that most project managers won’t get. I gained a deep technical understanding of the trade I was involved with and became very knowledgeable.
That knowledge allowed me to stand out and become a more sought-after candidate. Because of that, another company approached me, where I work today as a project manager.
I displayed my capabilities and remained open to working even if I had to learn a bit to perform my job, which paid off.
I’m not saying everyone will have the same experience as I did. It’s just an example of what happens when you do your best to get a job accomplished. Others will recognize your hard work.
How long does it take to become a project manager in construction?
So, as we covered earlier in the article, there is no definitive timeline on how long it will take you to become a project manager.
It can involve luck, timing, and hard work to land in the position. I got lucky; I went to a smaller company with no project engineers, only project managers.
I got thrown right into the action, and it was a sink-or-swim opportunity. I don’t advise this for everyone because it was stressful for me. Going down this challenging route allowed me to learn accountability and how to manage jobs on my own quickly.
If the position taught me anything, you can learn while on the job.
You’ll need to learn how to adapt and make sure you ask questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. You shouldn’t feel like you need to know everything.
Once you can be comfortable with that, you’ll be more open to taking on tasks you haven’t done before. It will be challenging at first, and you’ll feel a lot of resistance since it’s new, but get through it once, and it will only be easier the next time.
The best thing you can do is be patient. If new opportunities arise that allow you to take a step up, then go for it. What have you got to lose?
Ok, let’s say you’ve made it as a project manager. Here are some responsibilities that you can expect in the role:
Responsibilities of a Project Manager
Planning and Scheduling
As the project manager, you’ll be responsible for figuring out how and when you will perform a task on a project. You’ll knock out the activities one by one as you go through the project to complete it.
You’ll need to work closely with the superintendents, figuring out if you have the manpower to get the job done. Once you have your team scheduling to begin work, you must confirm that the client is on the same page. Both sides must prepare for construction work to occur; keep that in mind.
Budgeting and Cost Control
Another primary responsibility of the project manager is dealing with the finances.
When awarded a project, you’ve agreed to complete the work on a fixed number given during bid time. To come up with that number, your estimators must analyze the plans to determine the labor and material costs to complete the project.
Once awarded the job, you can take the values plugged into the estimate and convert that into a budget.
You’ll be required to monitor this budget because it will tell you when things are going wrong on the job. Not only that, but it tells you the profit margin you can expect with the job.
Ownership and your boss will occasionally wonder about the profit margin, so it is best to be familiar with how your projects are doing financially.
Much of project management involves analyzing the risk involved with different construction activities and decisions you make. With everything that happens, there’s a level of risk that could cost the company money. Your job is to reduce that risk by making informed decisions instead of impulsive ones that are high-risk.
You’ll come across problems all the time in this industry. As the project manager, your field guys may come to you to decide how to proceed with some issues. That’s what you want because it allows you to weigh all the options before providing an answer.
If your field guys do whatever they please all the time when issues arise, you might not have much left in your budget at the end of the job. I am not saying they’re incompetent, but their main priority is to get the job done regardless of whether it is the most cost-effective way.
Communication and Coordination
Construction is all about communication. How well can you explain or transfer information to someone else to ensure the person understands the task?
Everyone is different; how one person might understand what you said could be the opposite of someone else’s. That’s what can make this job difficult; you have to be able to explain something simply so anyone can understand.
With communication comes coordination. As the project manager, this is a crucial responsibility and skill to master to succeed.
Understand what is required to complete a task. You can ask yourself questions such as:
- Who needs to be involved?
- What work needs to be completed beforehand?
- Does the owner need advance notice that the work is commencing?
- Is any sort of outage required, or will building operations be affected?
You’ll need to ensure you cover everything before proceeding with a task. If not, you could get some unhappy occupants or a general contractor.
Who doesn’t want a quality product? After all, your customer is paying good money to receive something built well.
As the project manager, you can expect to perform site visits occasionally. Ensure you’re also inspecting some of the work during these visits. If you see anything that does not look correct, you’ll need to point it out to be corrected.
There are other forms of quality control frequently used in the industry. Things such as punch lists or functional testing show an owner that you’re performing your due diligence in providing a quality product.
Everyone must practice safety both on and off the construction site. As the project manager, you must know what safe working practices look like.
You must bring up anything you see as a potential hazard or unsafe work practice when on-site. When someone gets hurt, it’s the responsibility of the entire team.
The person must be aware of each activity’s hazards and how they can perform it most safely. If those around that person allow them to practice unsafe work, they are just as responsible for the injury.
If any of this sounds exciting, you might have what it takes to become a project manager!
The job is gratifying, I’ll admit. While not always stimulating, you will be placed in challenging situations. If you love problem-solving, then project management can be your perfect role.
Becoming a project manager in construction requires a combination of education, experience, and hard work. There is no definitive timeline for becoming a project manager, as it can vary depending on individual circumstances. However, with dedication and perseverance, anyone can achieve this goal.
Here are some key takeaways from the article:
- A degree in engineering, architecture, or construction management is typically required to enter the field of construction project management.
- Gaining experience in the field, starting from an entry-level position, is crucial for understanding the construction process and developing the necessary skills for project management.
- Be open to taking on new challenges and expanding your skillset to enhance your chances of advancement.
- Learn to adapt and ask for help when needed.
- Be patient and persistent in your pursuit of becoming a project manager.
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