If you are starting a new construction project, you’ll probably want to begin by selecting a highly qualified project manager to work with. Project managers play a vital role in bringing construction projects to completion. However, this role is often misunderstood or conflated with the roles of other entities involved in a project. The result is a muddled understanding of what project managers actually do, and how that functions within the context of construction project management as a whole.
In order to answer the question of what does a construction project manager do, we’ll break down the role of a construction manager on a construction project. Project managers have a high degree of responsibility in ensuring that a construction project is brought to completion and that the final result matches the owner’s expectations for the project. Through coordination and oversight, project managers task the various entities involved in a project with their duties and ensure the completion of those duties in a timely fashion.
Picking the right project manager to work with can be challenging. Not every project manager will be a good fit for every project, and some project managers specialize in certain types of projects. The information in this article will provide an important backdrop from which you can make an informed decision about the project manager or construction management team you choose to work with. As you will see, project managers need to have an in-depth understanding of all aspects of the construction process, which includes the important pre-construction phase. Project managers also need to be adept at communicating, both to ensure that the owner’s wishes are clearly understood and articulated to other partners in the project, as well as to ensure that information is flowing between these different partners as well. In some ways, project management is a juggling act that requires a high degree of skill and a deep base of knowledge. Each project team member has different informational and operational needs, and meeting those needs so as to facilitate project completion is one important aspect of a project manager’s work.
A General Overview of Construction Projects
Understanding what does project manager do for construction requires first having a good understanding of construction projects themselves. Most people who don’t work in the construction industry don’t have a good grasp of how things are built in the real world. Here, we don’t actually mean the process of physically constructing a building, but rather construction projects in general.
The first thing to note is that construction projects are all temporary in nature. Why is this important? It’s important because, in almost all cases, construction is done by a team that is assembled for that specific project. For a project, you may have subcontractors who have worked with a general contractor before, or you may not. Similarly, the design team may have never worked with the architects and engineers, who may have never worked with the general contractors. At a basic level, this introduces an enormous amount of complexity into construction projects. Not only must each of these various entities work on the same project together, but they often need information from one another to do their job. This can quickly lead to problems when one team doesn’t know exactly what another team needs.
A second thing to note about construction projects is that generally one portion of the project must be completed before another can begin. This linear progression characterizes nearly all construction projects, regardless of if it’s a backyard remodel or a large public works projects. Certain events must occur before other portions of a project can begin. The design must be completed prior to procurement so that you have a firm understanding of what materials you are purchasing. A foundation must be poured before a frame can be erected.
The linear progression of construction projects has a couple of impacts that are important when considering what project managers do. First, it is very easy for a construction project to experience significant delays when one part of the project stalls. Think of this like traffic, where one car brakes, leading to all of the cars behind them braking and eventually leading to the congestion we experience on our freeways every day. Construction projects are similar in that small issues can create big delays down the road. Second, there are only limited opportunities to improve efficiency in the process of bringing a construction project to life. Understanding this and maximizing these areas of efficiency is an important aspect of what adept project managers do.
Project Manager’s Role in Construction Projects
Now that we have a basic outline of construction projects in general, you’re probably still wondering what does project manager do for construction? The truth is, successful project managers do a lot, making it difficult to pin down exactly what they do. Often, the project tasks of a construction manager will vary depending on the specific project they are working on and the needs of the owner. However, at a basic level, project management can be understood as the oversight and coordination of a construction project on behalf of the project owner. This is an important point about construction project managers; they work for the owner directly. Think of a project manager as the lead member of the owner’s team. Although there will always be input from the owner and other members of the owner’s team, the project manager themselves is largely responsible for ensuring that the project is executed faithfully and according to the budget and timeline.
In order to examine what a project manager may do on a given construction project, let’s take a look at what they may do during each particular part of a construction project. In general, there are three stages to a construction project. The first stage is planning, the second stage is design, and the third stage is procurement and construction.
During the planning stage, the project manager will meet directly with the owner to get a firm understanding of what the owner wants out of the project. This will entail an initial determination of project viability. The project manager will also work with the owner to determine the project budget, timeline for completion, and any other special considerations that must be adhered to. During the planning stage, it is incredibly important that the project manager actually listens closely to what the owner wants. The project manager will develop a strategic plan for the project at this point, creating the roadmap for moving forward with the project.
There is a certain degree of due diligence that must be present on behalf of both the owner and the project manager. The owner must ensure that they are working with a reputable project manager that has the experience necessary to successfully complete the project, while also demonstrating an understanding of what the owner actually wants out of the project. The project manager must assess whether the project is viable given the desired outcome, projected budget, and timeline for completion.
After planning has been completed the project manager will have a firm budget in place, project schedule, and the strategic plan created. At this point, the project manager will assemble a design team to begin working on the design for the project. Not all project managers offer design management services and those that do often come from a design or engineering background. Choosing the right architect is crucial, so working with a project manager that has demonstrated experience selecting and managing architects and engineers is a plus.
This stage also has a constructability review, whereby the project manager and engineers will verify that the project is actually buildable before it progresses any further. During this stage, the project manager will also secure the necessary permitting and entitlements, which are required before procurement and construction can begin.
Procurement and Construction
Most people think of the procurement and construction stage of a construction project as the entirety of the project, but in the real world, a large amount of work has already been done to make the project a reality. After the permitting and entitlements are completed, the project manager can move forward with securing the services of a general contractor. To do this the project manager accepts bids from general contractors. Once a general contractor has been selected, the project manager may also need to work closely with the general contractor to secure any necessary specialized labor that the project requires.
Once a general contractor has been selected the project manager will work on procuring all necessary materials for the project. They may work closely with both the architectural and engineering teams, as well as the general contractor, to ensure that all necessary equipment and material has been ordered and is ready for construction to begin. Once construction actually begins, the project manager will regularly observe the construction process and tour the job-site. Through these observational tours, construction managers are able to ensure that work is being completed according to the design requirements and project goals.
Project managers in the construction industry are involved in a wide range of activities bringing construction projects to life. Each construction project is different. Most projects involve entirely new teams of designers, engineers, architects, and contractors. Each project has unique needs, permitting and entitlement requirements, and of course budgetary and timeline restrictions. For each project, a project manager must serve as the force that guides a project from concept to completion. To do so they must work with a variety of different people from different backgrounds, with different types of expertise.
The variation that is present for each project a construction manager takes part in highlights the importance of some key characteristics of effective project managers. Project managers must not only be great communicators, but they must also be able to facilitate communication between others. The project manager must be able to clearly communicate with the owner, and listen closely to the owner’s wishes. At the same time, if each team member doesn’t have the information they need when they need it, the project will experience delays. Identifying potential problems with the flow of information is a critical, and often overlooked, part of what a project manager does.
A second key characteristic of effective project managers is a high degree of expertise with all aspects of the construction industry. Most great project managers come from a background in the construction industry, with some moving from general contracting work to engineering, and then finally working as a project manager. This prior job experience provides a depth of expertise that is necessary for a project manager to be effective at ensuring a project is progressing smoothly. At the same time, extensive experience within the construction industry gives the project manager the ability to quickly identify potential problems before they become costly delays.
Just as it is important to understand what a project manager does, it is also important to find the right project manager to work with. This isn’t always an easy task, but working with the right project manager can make all the difference in the success or failure of your venture. It is highly recommended to work with a project manager that understands the importance of communication, has demonstrated experience completing projects of similar size, scope, and complexity, and offers the full range of services you need to bring your project to life. To learn more about how project management can benefit your construction project, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today.
- Dykstra, Alison. Construction Project Management: A Complete Introduction. Santa Rosa, CA: Kirshner Publishing Company, 2018.
- Sears, S. Keok, Glenn A. Sears, Richard H. Clough, Jerald L. Rounds, and Robert O. Segner. Construction Project Management: A Practical Guide to Field Construction Management. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015.
- Dewey, Joseph, PhD. “Construction Management.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018.