Construction Engineering Management: A Guide

construction engineering management

Some people might think engineers are only involved in the design phase of construction projects. And while it's true that engineers play a crucial role in designing safe and functional structures, there is a particular breed of engineers who make a massive impact during the construction stage of the project. 

This article will shed light on construction engineering management—including its fundamentals, top execution challenges, and best practices for success.

What we cover:

What is construction engineering management (CEM)?

Construction engineering management (CEM) is a specialized discipline that applies technical and scientific knowledge to the entire lifecycle of construction projects, from design to execution.

CEM combines the principles of engineering (which emphasize design), and construction management (which focuses on supervising and executing the construction process).

In some cases, construction management engineers are brought in to improve the client's project delivery processes. The CEM professional oversees workflows, enhances team communication, and implements best practices to complete the project successfully.

Some of the most common areas of focus within CEM are:

  • Residential construction
  • Commercial buildings
  • Electrical systems
  • HVAC design
  • Large infrastructure projects such as wastewater systems, bridges, etc.
  • Airport design and aerospace manufacturing

Construction engineering management vs. civil engineering

Construction engineering management and civil engineering are closely related but distinct fields within the construction industry. 

Civil engineering focuses on designing, planning, and analyzing infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads, dams, and buildings. Civil engineers apply scientific principles and technical knowledge to create safe and efficient structures.

On the other hand, construction engineering management bridges the gap between design and construction. CEM pros are involved in both the planning and execution phases, ensuring that structures are built on time and within budget. 

Key responsibilities of a construction engineering manager

What exactly do construction engineering managers do? As it turns out, CEM professionals play an important role before and during the construction phase. Let's explore their key responsibilities in greater detail. 

Survey the jobsite

The CEM pro's job starts even before the project officially breaks ground. They're typically called to the jobsite to survey the environment and assess site conditions.

During this stage, the construction engineering manager identifies environmental issues and ensures everything meets local codes and laws. They generate reports and collaborate with contractors, third-party associations, and government offices to obtain necessary permits and approvals.

The goal at this stage is to iron out critical details before construction begins so project execution can go on without a hitch. 

construction engineer surveys jobsite

Assemble a team of engineers

The CEM professional organizes a team of qualified engineers who possess the expertise required for the specific project needs. They facilitate effective communication and coordination among team members so that project milestones are met effectively.

Tour the site

While construction engineering managers are typically stationed in the office during construction, they also go out into the field to inspect the work and ensure that everything meets the project's standards. 

During this time, they may identify and resolve on-site issues, ensuring teams are aligned and everything adheres to the project timeline and budget.

Common challenges of construction engineering managers

All construction projects come with challenges, and if you're a construction engineering manager, here are some of the common hurdles you'll face. 

Budget constraints 

CEM pros must ensure that the project stays within budget. It's a tricky balance that involves meticulous planning, accurate cost estimation, and effective resource allocation. 

If you're in this role, you should be prepared for unexpected expenses and changes in material costs. These issues will require you to find cost-saving measures without compromising the project's integrity.

Safety concerns

Construction safety must always, always be a top priority. As such, construction engineering managers enforce strict safety protocols, conduct regular site inspections, and ensure compliance with safety regulations. 

Project delays

Anything from adverse weather conditions to supply chain disruptions can cause project delays. Oftentimes, delays aren't a question of "if" but "when." 

Navigating project slowdowns requires proactive planning and scheduling. The best construction engineering managers develop contingency plans and adapt quickly to changes, so projects experience minimal delays. 

Quality control

Construction engineering managers must implement rigorous quality control measures, conduct regular inspections, and make sure all work meets the specified standards and regulations. 

Balancing quality with budget and time constraints can be challenging, but it's definitely doable with the right tools and practices—more on this below.

Strategies for successful construction engineering management

Now, let's examine the strategies teams can implement to ensure the success of their CEM and, ultimately, the project. 

Implement effective project planning and coordination

Thorough project planning and coordination are crucial for the success of any construction project. This involves creating detailed project schedules, setting clear milestones, and assigning responsibilities to team members.

Pro tip: do these things as early as possible. The sooner the CEM comes into play, the better prepared the team will be to handle challenges and avoid delays.

Leverage technology

Construction engineering managers oversee multiple people and project components. Staying on top of it all will be a challenge without adequate tools. This is where technology comes in. To streamline project management, equip teams with a construction management solution that can automate tedious tasks, provide data visibility, and tighten communication between teams. 

technology construction engineer

Foster teamwork

Speaking of teamwork, a cohesive team is better equipped to handle challenges when working towards common goals. That's why CEMs must promote a collaborative environment that encourages teams to communicate openly. This can be done by encouraging regular touchpoints and cultivating a sense of purpose among stakeholders.

Prioritize safety

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: safety is paramount no matter what type of project you're working on. 

As such, implementing proper safety protocols is a must. Having teams attend training sessions can also help reinforce safety practices and reduce risk.

Construction engineering management resources

Are you interested in getting into construction engineering management? Or maybe you're already a CEM pro and want to level up your construction management skills. No matter where you are in the CEM journey, there are always resources you can tap into.

Consider the following.

  • Obtain the Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate: Offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), this certification is highly regarded in the construction industry and covers essential project management principles.
  • Become a Certified Construction Manager (CCM): This certification is delivered by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA), and it recognizes professionals who have voluntarily met the standards for expertise in construction management as defined by the organization.
  • Check out Autodesk University: Autodesk University has several resources to beef up your construction engineering management skills. For example, this class on Becoming a Construction Manager Superstar teaches you how to use Autodesk to manage projects better and create a 4D and 5D management system.
  • Take online courses: Platforms like Coursera, edX, and LinkedIn Learning provide courses on construction project management, safety protocols, and more.

The future of construction engineering management

While no one can predict the future, we're confident that CEM will become even more critical in the coming years. As projects become increasingly complex, firms will need construction engineering managers who can bridge the gap between design and construction.

With that in mind, the folks who will succeed in this role are the ones who have a firm grasp of both technical and management skills. Tech-savvy CEM pros will also have a leg up, as they can leverage advanced tools and technologies to enhance project efficiency and outcomes.

Bringing it all together

Having the right construction engineering manager—especially for large and complex projects—will benefit construction projects tremendously. 

So, if you're a firm looking to enhance project execution, invest the time in finding the right construction engineering manager. 

Conversely, if you're a CEM professional, now is the time to invest in your know-how and skills. Developing your knowledge and gaining the right experience will set you apart and open more exciting career opportunities.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.