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Trades 101: Should You Become a Construction Project Manager?

Everything You Need to Know About This Growing Field

Construction project management is a high-paying job that’s increasingly in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see 46,100 new project management jobs in construction by 2026, and even at a starting salary you can expect to make a pretty comfortable living. 

Sounds pretty good, but is it the right job for you? We rounded up all the facts you need to decide.

Who Would Excel in This Job?

"The great thing about construction is the diversity of backgrounds for everyone. Construction is a vast industry that promotes a team mentality to be successful. People who like to problem solve, be part of a team, develop innovation, be collaborative are those who seem to fare well in the construction industry."

Richard Miller | Ohio Northern University, Department of Technological Studies

What Does a Construction Project Manager Do?

Construction project managers handle the planning, budgeting and supervisory aspects of a construction project. They work closely with clients to make sure the work meets their specifications and coordinate the labor of all contractors on the job. 

Construction project managers are also called: site managers, project superintendents, building project managers, project coordinators, project engineers, construction engineers or general contractors (this term applies to self-employed individuals).

You may also see civil engineering included under the construction management umbrella. This is because civil engineers often start out by getting a degree in construction management. Anthony Mirando with the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Kent State University explains that “a CM degree is not as math-heavy as engineering, but has similar career opportunities.”

“One of the main differences between construction engineers, civil engineers and construction managers is that a civil engineer can stamp drawings (if he or she is a professional engineer). Pay, career outlook, opportunity, etc. are relatively the same."

Anthony Mirando | Interim Program Coordinator, College of Architecture & Environmental Design

Typical construction manager responsibilities include:

  • Working with architects, engineers and other specialists to plan the project.
  • Creating cost estimates and negotiating contracts with clients.
  • Setting the project budget.
  • Establishing timetables for all work on the project.
  • Acquiring the necessary materials, tools and permits.
  • Renting dumpsters, portable toilets and other temporary equipment needed on the job. 
  • Interviewing and hiring laborers and subcontractors.
  • Getting all workers up to speed on their assigned projects and explaining contract terms.
  • Monitoring quality assurance and ensuring compliance with all legal and safety requirements.
  • Troubleshooting problems and responding to emergencies as they come up.
  • Regularly reporting on progress to clients.

Why Are People Drawn to This Job?

“We need to encourage people to explore this line of work. There are great opportunities and it’s a satisfying career because there’s a tangibility aspect to it. We can walk by a bridge or a building and say, ‘I did that.’ There will always be a need for construction engineers. We will always be building and re-building.”

Ben King | Ohio State University, Agricultural Technical Institute 

How Much Does a Construction Project Manager Make?

Project managers often make a good living even when new to the field. The career also allows for upward mobility as your experience and skillset grow.

Median Low-End Salary
(Median pay of the lowest-earning 10% of the industry)
Median Salary
Median High-end Salary
(Median pay of the highest-earning 10% of the industry)
$54,810
$91,370
$159,560

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

*Many projects managers also earn bonuses in addition to their salaries.

Construction Project Manager Job Requirements

A good construction project manager needs a mix of skills from industries outside of the construction field itself, including architecture, engineering, business, mathematics and marketing. 

Most firms have the following requirements for a construction project manager:

  • For firms that specialize in large-scale, complex projects: a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, architecture, building science or engineering. 
  • For firms that focus on smaller-scale projects: an associate’s degree in construction management or construction technology.
  • A training period working as assistant to an experienced project manager. Depending on the firm and its specialties, your training period can last anywhere from a few months to several years. 
  • State licensure where required. Check your state licensing board for whether a project manager must have the same licenses as a general contractor.*
  • Certification from the Construction Management Association of America or the American Institute of Constructors. Certification isn’t required but helps prove your expertise to potential employers.

PRO TIP: It can be a smart move to get licensed even if your state doesn’t require it. As demand for project managers grows, more states are likely to start requiring licenses in the near future. By getting yours now, you won’t have to worry when the law changes.  

While you don’t necessarily need a degree to get a job in this field, those who do move through the hiring process and the firm much quicker. People without a degree who want this type of role often become self-employed general contractors instead. However, many smaller, local firms are relaxing their requirements for hiring new construction engineers because there is so much demand. These companies will give applicants a test to judge their common sense and reasoning skills. If they pass the test and a drug screening, they may be hired and given on-the-job training. 

What Can You Expect Starting Out in the Field?

"Most normally, a graduate of a four year program starts their career as an assistant site super or project manager, field engineer, or in some capacity where they have the opportunity to hone their skills with the more experienced leaders.This is not to say that some won't start as estimators, schedulers, project control, or logistics type of positions, but many opt for the field and the challenges that come with project construction."

Richard Miller | Ohio Northern University, Department of Technological Studies

Challenges of the Job

While project management is a stable career path, it’s not always an easy one. Project managers will face stressful situations every day, from keeping the many moving parts of a construction project running smoothly to thinking on your feet to solve unexpected problems.

This job also often has long hours and may require you to be “on call” to deal with issues that come up outside of your normal work schedule.

Project management isn’t the right career for everyone, but can be fulfilling for those who thrive on challenges and enjoy a fast-paced environment.

Construction Engineering Opportunities

Construction Engineering vs. Civil Engineering

Those looking into construction management may also be interested in a career as a civil engineer. This position focuses on the design and layout of infrastructure projects, then hands things off to a construction manager to plan and budget the project and supervise its construction. These two types of construction engineers work closely together to complete a job.

If you are more interested in physically building the projects designed and managed by construction engineers, a position as a carpenter may be more suited to your skills.

So, You Want to Be a Construction Project Manager?

If you’re ready to make this job your career, check out our list of the top schools for a construction education and learn more about other construction degrees you might be interested in. Already started your degree? What’s your biggest challenge so far?