How to Succeed in Construction Project Management: A Career Guide

This article from written by Grace Ellis discusses how to succeed in construction project management.

Tips for Beginning and Growing as a Construction Project Manager

When you were four, what did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe it was a doctor, an artist or a firefighter. For many of us in construction, we’ve always known deep down what we love and what we wanted to be: a builder.

While construction might not have been all of our childhood career aspirations, the majority of those who work in the industry today share a love of building. It’s amazing to see parts become wholes, to watch a humming construction site transform from a ground-level pile of materials into a beautiful high-rise, hospital, office building or campus. Even better than participating in the building process is working in construction project management and getting to help direct the organized chaos that eventually produces a cohesive product.

But paving your path in this industry can prove challenging, particularly in construction project management. Our goal? To make that path just a little bit easier.

To help guide your career in construction management, we’re here to provide some career tips for project managers. Whether you’re looking to make the transition from Project Engineer to Project Manager (PM), excel in your current role as PM or set goals while you make your way to becoming a Project Executive, here’s our guide to success.

Before the Job: How to Get Started in a Construction Project Manager Role

First, Is Construction Project Management Right for You?

In the most basic terms, the role of a project manager is to lead teams and keep projects on budget and time. According to the job description includes, “Construction project managers control the time, cost and quality of construction projects, from residential, commercial and industrial buildings to roads, bridges and schools. They plan and coordinate all aspects of the construction process, including hiring contractors and working with engineers, architects and vendors. A single manager might oversee an entire construction project, or multiple managers might oversee specific aspects of a larger project.”

Project managers also assess the site to ensure it meets health and safety requirements, interface with the customer and report on progress and serve as a resource for workers they manage.

In short, it’s a massive amount of responsibility and pressure. While a project manager role sounds great on paper to many – offering good money and significant career development – not everyone is meant to be a PM. It requires essential skills in leadership, communication, time management, coordination, problem-solving, accountability, and planning.

Moreover, owners are quick to blame when things go wrong, so project managers need to handle the pressure that comes with the job gracefully. To truly excel in a PM role, it takes someone with a strong mind and willpower to take ownership and problem solve when needed. If that’s not for you, that’s okay. Just ask yourself if you’re dedicated to pursuing this as a career versus just continuing this because it’s the next logical step to take.

Project Management vs. Construction Management

You may be wondering the difference between a construction project manager and a construction manager. While both roles are intended to oversee a process of the project, the scope of the work can be very different. Generally speaking, a construction manager is more focused on managing the construction build itself, while the construction project manager oversees the process more broadly. The project manager will also be involved in preconstruction, budgeting, vendor management, change orders, and more.

What If the Promotion Just Isn’t Happening?

Does it seem like you’re waiting in limbo for a promotion? If you’ve been working in construction for a while as an estimator, project engineer or in another role, but you’re itching to make the move up to PM, here are a few steps to help get over the edge.

Be Patient but Make Your Career Goals Clear

You can’t expect to make one career jump to the next instantaneously, and impatience will do nothing but turn your superiors off. There is value in proving you know how to wait. Nevertheless, ensure your career goals and plan are clearly stated to your manager to set expectations. Also, once again, accept small responsibilities or promotions, such as a move to assistant project manager, as wins towards your end goal.

Continue Your Commitment to the Job

Beyond a commitment to your day-to-day job duties, one smart way to showcase your value in construction is by jumping in to improve processes and productivity. If you see something that can be changed or improved, make suggestions for how to enhance workflows, bring new ideas to your bosses and other stakeholders and play an active role in getting others’ suggestions heard.

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