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Construction Managers




Nature of the Work | Working Conditions | Employment | Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement | Job Outlook | Earnings | Related Occupations | Sources of Additional Information


Significant Points

  • Construction managers must be available, often 24 hours a day, to deal with delays, bad weather, or emergencies at the site.
  • The increasing level and complexity of construction activity should spur demand for managers.
  • Individuals who combine industry work experience with a bachelor’s degree in construction or building science or construction management should have the best job prospects.

Nature of the Work [About this section] Index

Construction managers plan and direct construction projects. They may have job titles, such as constructor, construction superintendent, general superintendent, project engineer, project manager, general construction manager, or executive construction manager. Construction managers may be owners or salaried employees of a construction management or contracting firm, or may work under contract or as a salaried employee of the owner, developer, contractor, or management firm overseeing the construction project. The Handbook uses the term "construction manager" to describe salaried or self-employed managers who oversee construction supervisors and workers.

In contrast with the Handbook "construction manager" is defined more narrowly within the construction industry to denote a management firm, or an individual employed by such a firm, involved in management oversight of a construction project. Under this definition, construction managers usually represent the owner or developer with other participants throughout the project. Although they usually play no direct role in the actual construction of a structure, they typically schedule and coordinate all design and construction processes including the selection, hiring, and oversight of specialty trade contractors.

Managers and professionals who work in the construction industry, such as general managers, project engineers, cost estimators, and others, are increasingly called constructors. Through education and past work experience, this broad group of professionals manages, coordinates, and supervises the construction process from the conceptual development stage through final construction on a timely and economical basis. Given designs for buildings, roads, bridges, or other projects, constructors oversee the organization, scheduling, and implementation of the project to execute those designs. They are responsible for coordinating and managing people, materials, and equipment; budgets, schedules, and contracts; and the safety of employees and the general public.

On large projects, construction managers may work for a general contractor—the firm with overall responsibility for all activities. There they oversee the completion of all construction in accordance with the engineer or architect’s drawings and specifications and prevailing building codes. They arrange for trade contractors to perform specialized craft work or other specified construction work. On small projects, such as remodeling a home, a self-employed construction manager or skilled trades worker who directs and oversees employees is often referred to as the construction "contractor."

Large construction projects, such as an office building or industrial complex, are too complicated for one person to manage. These projects are divided into many segments: Site preparation, including land clearing and earth moving; sewage systems; landscaping and road construction; building construction, including excavation and laying foundations, erection of structural framework, floors, walls, and roofs; and building systems, including fire protection, electrical, plumbing, air-conditioning, and heating. Construction managers may work as part of a team or be in charge of one or more of these activities.

Construction managers evaluate various construction methods and determine the most cost-effective plan and schedule. They determine the appropriate construction methods and schedule all required construction site activities into logical, specific steps, budgeting the time required to meet established deadlines. This may require sophisticated estimating and scheduling techniques, and use of computers with specialized software. This also involves the selection and coordination of trade contractors hired to complete specific pieces of the project—which could include everything from structural metalworking and plumbing, to painting and carpet installation. Construction managers determine the labor requirements and, in some cases, supervise or monitor the hiring and dismissal of workers. They oversee the performance of all trade contractors and are responsible for ensuring all work is completed on schedule.

Construction managers direct and monitor the progress of construction activities, at times through other construction supervisors. This includes the delivery and use of materials, tools, and equipment; the quality of construction, worker productivity, and safety. They are responsible for obtaining all necessary permits and licenses and, depending upon the contractual arrangements, direct or monitor compliance with building and safety codes and other regulations. They may have several subordinates, such as assistant managers or superintendents, field engineers, or crew supervisors, reporting to them.

Construction managers regularly review engineering and architectural drawings and specifications to monitor progress and ensure compliance with plans and specifications. They track and control construction costs to avoid cost overruns. Based upon direct observation and reports by subordinate supervisors, managers may prepare daily reports of progress and requirements for labor, material, and machinery and equipment at the construction site. They meet regularly with owners, trade contractors, architects, and other design professionals to monitor and coordinate all phases of the construction project.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Construction managers work out of a main office from which the overall construction project is monitored, or out of a field office at the construction site. Management decisions regarding daily construction activities are usually made at the job site. Managers usually travel when the construction site is in another State or when they are responsible for activities at two or more sites. Management of overseas construction projects usually entails temporary residence in another country.

Construction managers must be "on call," often 24 hours a day, to deal with delays, bad weather, or emergencies at the site. Most work more than a standard 40-hour week because construction may proceed around-the-clock. This type of work schedule can go on for days, even weeks, to meet special project deadlines, especially if there are delays.

Although the work usually is not considered inherently dangerous, construction managers must be careful while touring construction sites. Managers must establish priorities and assign duties. They need to observe job conditions and to be alert to changes and potential problems, particularly involving safety on the job site and adherence to regulations.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Construction managers held about 270,000 jobs in 1998. Around 45,000 were self-employed. About 85 percent of salaried construction managers were employed in the construction industry, about 36 percent by specialty trade contractors—for example, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning, and electrical contractors—and about 38 percent by general building contractors. Engineering, architectural, and construction management services firms, as well as local governments, educational institutions, and real estate developers employed others.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement [About this section]   Index

Persons interested in becoming a construction manager need a solid background in building science, business, and management, as well as related work experience within the construction industry. They need to understand contracts, plans, and specifications, and to be knowledgeable about construction methods, materials, and regulations. Familiarity with computers and software programs for job costing, scheduling, and estimating is increasingly important.

Traditionally, persons advance to construction management positions after having substantial experience as construction craft workers—carpenters, masons, plumbers, or electricians, for example—or after having worked as construction supervisors or as owners of independent specialty contracting firms overseeing workers in one or more construction trades. However, more and more employers—particularly, large construction firms—hire individuals who combine industry work experience with a bachelor’s degree in construction or building science or construction management. Practical industry experience is very important, whether through internships, cooperative education programs, or tenure in the industry.

Construction managers should be flexible and work effectively in a fast-paced environment. They should be decisive and work well under pressure, particularly when faced with unexpected occurrences or delays. The ability to coordinate several major activities at once, while analyzing and resolving specific problems, is essential, as is understanding engineering, architectural, and other construction drawings. Good oral and written communication skills are also important, as are leadership skills. Managers must be able to establish a good working relationship with many different people, including owners, other managers, design professionals, supervisors, and craft workers.

Advancement opportunities for construction managers vary depending upon an individual’s performance, and the size and type of company for which they work. Within large firms, managers may eventually become top-level managers or executives. Highly experienced individuals may become independent consultants; some serve as expert witnesses in court or as arbitrators in disputes. Those with the required capital may establish their own construction management services, specialty contracting or general contracting firm.

In 1998, over 100 colleges and universities offered 4-year degree programs in construction management or construction science. These programs include courses in project control and development, site planning, design, construction methods, construction materials, value analysis, cost estimating, scheduling, contract administration, accounting, business and financial management, building codes and standards, inspection procedures, engineering and architectural sciences, mathematics, statistics, and information technology. Graduates from 4-year degree programs are usually hired as assistants to project managers, field engineers, schedulers, or cost estimators. An increasing number of graduates in related fields—engineering or architecture, for example—also enter construction management, often after having had substantial experience on construction projects or after completing graduate studies in construction management or building science.

Around 30 colleges and universities offer a master’s degree program in construction management or construction science, and at least two offer a Ph.D. in the field. Master’s degree recipients, especially those with work experience in construction, typically become construction managers in very large construction or construction management companies. Often, individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field seek a master’s degree in order to work in the construction industry. Doctoral degree recipients usually become college professors or conduct research.

Many individuals also attend training and educational programs sponsored by industry associations, often in collaboration with postsecondary institutions. A number of 2-year colleges throughout the country offer construction management or construction technology programs.

Both the American Institute of Constructors (AIC) and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) have established voluntary certification programs for construction professionals. Requirements combine written examinations with verification of professional experience. AIC awards the designations Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) to candidates who meet the requirements and pass appropriate construction examinations. CMAA awards the designation Certified Construction Manager (CCM) to practitioners who meet the requirements in a construction management firm, complete a professional construction management "capstone" course, and pass a technical examination. Although certification is not required to work in the construction industry, voluntary certification can be valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of construction managers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008, as the level and complexity of construction activity continues to grow. Prospects in construction management, engineering and architectural services, and construction contracting firms should be best for persons who have a bachelor’s or higher degree in construction science, construction management, or construction engineering as well as practical experience working in construction. Employers prefer applicants with previous construction work experience who can combine a strong background in building technology with proven supervisory or managerial skills. In addition to job growth, many openings should result annually from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

The increasing complexity of construction projects should increase demand for management level personnel within the construction industry, as sophisticated technology and the proliferation of laws setting standards for buildings and construction materials, worker safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protection have further complicated the construction process. Advances in building materials and construction methods and the growing number of multipurpose buildings, electronically operated "smart" buildings, and energy-efficient structures will further add to the demand for more construction managers. However, employment of construction managers can be sensitive to the short-term nature of many construction projects and cyclical fluctuations in construction activity.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Earnings of salaried construction managers and self-employed independent construction contractors vary depending upon the size and nature of the construction project, its geographic location, and economic conditions. In addition to typical benefits, many salaried construction managers receive benefits such as bonuses and use of company motor vehicles.

Median annual earnings of construction managers in 1998 were $47,610. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,360 and $70,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,970, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,480. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of managers in 1997 were:

Plumbing, heating, and air conditioning $47,000
Heavy construction, except highway 45,700
Nonresidential building construction 47,700
Miscellaneous special trade contractors   44,200
Residential building construction  40,600

 According to a 1999 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, candidates with a bachelor’s degree in construction management received offers averaging $34,300 a year. Bachelor’s degree candidates with degrees in construction science received offers averaging $36,600.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Construction managers participate in the conceptual development of a construction project and oversee its organization, scheduling, and implementation. Occupations in which similar functions are performed include architects, civil engineers, construction supervisors, cost engineers, cost estimators, real estate developers, electrical engineers, industrial engineers, landscape architects, and mechanical engineers.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]   Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information about career opportunities in the construction industry, contact:

For information about constructor certification and professional career opportunities in the construction industry, contact:

  • American Institute of Constructors, 466 94th Ave. North, St. Petersburg, FL 33702. Internet: http://www.aicnet.org

For information about construction management and construction manager certification, contact:

  • Construction Management Association of America, 7918 Jones Branch Dr., Suite 540, McLean, VA 22102. Internet: http://www.cmaanet.org/

Information on accredited construction science and management programs and accreditation requirements is available from:

  • American Council for Construction Education, 1300 Hudson Lane, Suite 3, Monroe, LA 71201-6054. Internet: http://www.acce-hq.org/

An industry employing construction managers that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Construction

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