The most critical member of any construction initiative is the project manager (PM). As the leader of a given project, the PM is in charge of every detail and must supervise all other full-time employees and contractors. The ultimate responsibility for oversight rests with the PM, and that includes monitoring incoming materials, permitting paperwork, regulatory compliance, quality control/assurance, scheduling, and budget/resource allocation.
However, the PM is not just in charge of guiding on-site operations. Professionals in this position will also be dealing with representatives from government agencies, vendors/suppliers, and clients. If you have a passion for construction and a talent for orchestrating highly complex projects, you may be well suited to handle the wide-ranging duties of a PM.
Construction is one of the few industries where an individual can still work their way to the top with nothing more than on-the-job training and a lot of effort. However, more and more large construction companies are requiring that their PMs hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in construction management, construction engineering, or a related subject. While these education demands are becoming more universal, industry-specific certifications are also increasing in prevalence. Depending upon the type of construction a company specializes in, further training in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards or designation as a Project Management Professional (PMP) may also be required.
While a college education, program certificate, or industry certification can expose an individual to estimating, cost control, risk assessment, safety management, and contract administration, most employers will still be looking for at least five years of experience. So, if you’re an entry-level construction professional, you shouldn’t expect to become a PM on the strength of your degree alone.
Two skills/traits supersede all others when it comes to excelling in project management: leadership and communication. Being able to direct a large group of people and maximize the personnel working on a project are vital. Equally important is the ability to get this crowd of architects, vendors, contractors, skilled trades professionals, and general laborers onto the same page.
In addition to these overarching qualities, effective PMs must offer a firm attention to detail, exceptional ethics, an unrelenting commitment to quality, and the dedication to see a project through to completion despite the pressures of adhering to a strict budget and schedule. Not only does the buck stop with the PM regarding the project’s quality and adherence to client specifications, they also hold the lives of all their team members in their hands and are liable for the safety of any workers on site (as well as the eventual users once the project has been completed). For this reason, focus, attention to detail, and integrity are all needed because a PM who cuts corners is likely to get someone hurt or killed.
Because the PM is ultimately accountable for a project’s success or failure, they will often be required to work incredibly long hours to get the job done on time. If a project falls behind schedule, it may take extra hours to catch up, meaning the PM will not only have to arrange for crew members to work overtime, he/she may have to pitch in as well to get things back on track.
Although the construction industry suffered a significant downturn during the recent US economic recession, the future looks bright for this occupation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for PMs is $82,790 and there is expected to be a 16% increase in opportunities by 2022, which translates to approximately 78K new PM openings.
This level of growth is considered faster than the average for all occupations nationwide, and construction specialists who have college degrees and/or additional certifications will have the best prospects as the demand for employees with knowledge of the latest innovations in green building and energy efficiency expands along with the need for more residential, industrial, and commercial structures.