What Is Construction Management?

what is construction management - what do construction managers do

Construction management is a term used to describe a service provided by construction managers (CMs), who are there to manage a project’s schedule and quality. They work with costs, the supply chain, and many other aspects of a build to help it get done on time (or early) and on or under budget. 

This job places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of one person, so those who do well in it are able to handle stress, make good decisions, and be great collaborators with their teams. Staying organized is a must, so all projects they work on can be kept on track.

Whether you are a construction manager now or you want to get into construction management in the future, it’s important for you to understand the role and how it’s evolving over time. 

In this blog, we’ll go over some of the basics about becoming a construction manager, such as defining construction management and what a construction manager does, how to get into construction management, and the difference between construction management and project management. 

By the end of this article, you should be able to answer if you want to pursue this role and know what you need to do to get started. Keep reading to learn more about this exciting and essential job. 

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What Is Construction Management? 

If you are interested in a construction management career, you should know that it is a job that works with a project owner to coordinate a project’s schedule, scope, safety, quality, cost, and function. The construction manager, also known as the CM, has the responsibility of overseeing a project. They have to work with all of the different parties involved in a construction project to make sure the project is delivered on time and, if possible, under budget. 

Construction management is best described as a professional service offered by a construction manager. That manager steps in to make sure the entire project goes smoothly. 

Key Functions of a Construction Manager 

To decide if you would like to become a construction manager or to understand what a construction manager should be doing, you need to break down their key functions. At the core, this is a supervisory and management role, which means that this person, whether it’s you or someone on your team, will be responsible for making sure the project goes off without a hitch.

Construction managers have a few key jobs to do when they’re working on a project. This is a varied role, which means that the construction manager has to be prepared to do some or all of the following duties:

  • Making sure that any project they’re in charge of meets all legal requirements, like local safety codes and building regulations 
  • Preparing estimates 
  • Preparing budgets 
  • Creating work timetables 
  • Monitoring projects and reporting progress to clients and the construction firm 
  • Bringing up budget constraints or concerns 
  • Responding to emergencies or problems with a project 
  • Responding to work delays 
  • Collaborating with construction teams, specialists, engineers, and architects 
  • Explaining technical information and contracts to other professionals working on the job 
  • Choosing which subcontractors to work with 
  • Coordinating work on a project

These are some, but not necessarily all, of the key functions of a construction manager.  

Construction management is not for everyone. Those who enjoy this role often have skills and qualifications such as excellent analytical skills or a good grasp of safety and building compliance regulations. They need to have excellent verbal skills to communicate with all the people working on a job, and they also have to have good interpersonal skills.

A Typical Day for A Construction Manager

As we said, construction management is an excellent career for those who love planning, leading, and working with others. You can think of a construction manager like the captain of a ship. They’re not just in command; they also work with the crew to chart the way, navigate any choppy waters, and dock safely. The construction manager works in a similar fashion on land.

Now that we have the job description let’s take a look at a typical day as a construction manager. First, know that there is no 100% typical day. Because you work on many different projects, each day will be at least a little bit different. However, you can expect to start the day early with a pretty full agenda. You might kick things off by meeting with clients to go over plans and signing off on contracts. Next, you’ll probably meet with your team to set up timelines, review resources, and make sure everyone is on the same page. You’ll spend some time on-site to support your team, make sure all requirements are being met, and put out any fires. Before the day wraps up, you’ll likely head back to the office to catch up on calls, answer subcontractor questions, and plan for the next day. 

Sounds like a busy job, right? This career isn’t for the faint of the heart, but it is a great fit for those who enjoy working on a wide variety of projects and with a wide variety of people. If the idea of sitting behind a desk all day and doing the same thing over and over makes you want to jump ship, then it may be time to jump on board as construction manager

How Do You Become a Construction Manager?

Now that you know what a construction manager does, you may be wondering how you can become one. To start with, most construction managers have bachelor’s degrees in business, construction, engineering, or other related fields, such as:

  • Construction management 
  • Surveying and civil engineering 
  • Construction engineering 
  • Building studies and building engineering 

Most people have bachelor’s degrees because these programs generally train them to do important tasks, such as cost estimation or project control and management. They learn through internships and have an opportunity to grow their skills before they ever get their degree in hand.  

If you don’t have a degree, don’t think that you can never advance into the role of a construction manager. A bachelor’s degree is not always required. 

Some people have associate’s degrees in construction technology or construction management instead. An associate’s degree with on-the-job training and experience may be enough for some projects, particularly if they are smaller.  

Apprenticeships are another route that could help you become a construction manager. They give you the exposure you need to work in the field and meet people to network with. Additionally, apprenticeship programs or internships could help you boost your resume, so you can make a better impression when you’re searching for a job.

Lacking an apprenticeship, internship, or degree, it can be hard to get this kind of role. However, those with only a high school diploma can become project managers. To get the role, they need many years of work experience to show they can handle all the tasks a manager is expected to do. If they are able to get additional certifications or work on a degree with their company’s support, those actions could also boost the likelihood of moving into a management position.

If you want to get a construction management role, it can be helpful for you to know an experienced construction manager who would be willing to take you under their wing no matter what your educational background may be. Most new construction managers work with another in a kind of mentorship for up to a year before handling projects on their own. Sometimes, firms require guidance for longer, so they can be sure that the new manager has the skills necessary to handle projects of all sizes.  

To strengthen your skill set, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends certifications from the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) and the American Institute of Constructors (AIC). CMAA offers the Certified Construction Manager certification while the AIC has Associate Construction and Certified Professional Construction certifications. 

It takes time to become a construction manager, but the payoff is there with an annual median salary of $104,900 and a strong job outlook

Must-Have Skills for Construction Managers

We’ve talked a lot about skills, and it’s true that construction managers need to possess many of them. However, you might be surprised that the most effective people in this role lean into a variety of hard and soft skills. It isn’t all about number crunching and schedules; you need to be able to communicate that information effectively to all sorts of folks, including employees, architects, and clients.

Here are some must-have skills if you want to be a top-notch project manager:

  • Communication: Be ready to express ideas, resolve concerns, and share information with a variety of people through a variety of methods
  • Decision-making: This is one role where you’ll need to make smart decisions quickly. You’ll want to be able to rapidly review the information and consult with the right people to do so.
  • Business acumen: Understand what’s critical to your company, how this project fits in, and how to engage your workers and stakeholders. 
  • Analysis: You should be comfortable working with all sorts of information, including figures, plans, drawings, contracts, strategies, and requests. 
  • Leadership: Know how to engage with your team, inspire confidence, encourage collaboration, and resolve problems.
  • Technical: Have a solid understanding of construction, engineering, design, scheduling, planning, and technology. 

Construction Management vs. Project Management 

Construction management and project management sometimes overlap, but there are some differences to be aware of.  

A typical construction project manager controls the cost, quality, and timing of a construction project. Managers could control entire projects or be in charge of just one part of a project. On the other hand, the construction manager focuses more directly on the build. Essentially, the construction manager is responsible for a tighter focus, while the project manager may oversee the process broadly. 

It’s possible for these roles to overlap, but the scope of work could be different depending on the company and the specific project itself. That’s why it’s important for you to go over the specific requirements of a project and to look into the requirements of a role that you might be looking into.  

Construction project management has been evolving over the last decade. So, what trends are shaping construction management's future? We had a few project management experts weigh in:

Unified platforms

"The construction world has been revolutionized in the recent decades, and become a fast-moving industry with condensed schedules, fast evolving standards, and regulations, which has resulted in a more technology dependent industry. To react to the time strain construction management must rely on modern technology to accelerate and streamline documentation, tracking, communication, budgeting, and change management. This makes construction desperate for a unified platform that can reliably bring all these aspects together and create a well woven and flexible information fabric." - Ashkan Sobhi, Asst. Project Manager - Standards & Technology at Brinkman Construction

A fast-paced digital environment

"Construction management is evolving into the fast-paced digital environment that current social media and information sharing has evolved into. Construction has entered the digital information era where efficiencies are possible allowing construction management teams to manage more projects than before. Sharing of information is instantaneous and learning how to leverage the tools available to reduce work is key in any successful project. Autodesk Construction Cloud is the perfect example of the tools available that if set up correctly can greatly improve a construction management teams efficiency to potentially reduce rework." - Eliseo Estrada, Project Manager at Granite Construction

Cloud-based workflows

"Cloud technology. We have been seen a shift in multiple software that used to be dedicated seat licenses and only on a few desktops in the past. After COVID, there has been a significant push to enter and see information/data remotely without being tied to the constraints of having to be in the office (server and local file access). Our projects are not at the office, so "the cloud" is the way to go. API Integration and having multiple technologies communicating is the next opportunity for our industry to make everything synchronized. It's bringing the software engineers to communicate with the project engineers." - Russell Padilla II​​​​, Project Manager at Guido Construction

Team-centric approaches and technology

"As the industry evolves, we're witnessing a notable shift in traditional construction management towards a more team-centric approach. From the owner to the general contractor, design partners, trade contractors, and suppliers, success hinges on the collective performance of every player involved—if even one company isn’t successful, their faltering can impact the entire project's success.

Beyond great leadership, a team’s success relies on the quick and accurate distribution of information. Technologies like Autodesk Construction Cloud streamline the process, allowing the entire team to efficiently access and track updated drawings, RFIs, submittals, and deadlines that can make or break a project." - Phil Schwarz, Senior Project Manager, Executive Construction Inc.

Construction Management Technology

Technology is changing, and the industry is using more tech now than in the past. 

Today’s projects are more complex than ever before, making it necessary to keep a close eye on the entire process from start to finish. You need to be able to connect with those who are working on the project, assemble and analyze data, and improve your workflows to make sure the projects you work on are done on time and on budget. 

As a construction manager, you will need to become familiar with construction management software to help stay on top of your projects. The sooner you can do this, the better versed you will be in the technology that you’re likely to see on the job. 

To boost your chances of success as a construction manager, it’s helpful if you learn to use construction management software like Autodesk Build. Cloud-based solutions, in particular, help you stay organized and connected with your teams, centralizing your data to help you get your work done more efficiently. 

Knowing more about this software—like the construction integrations you can use and how to secure your data—helps you: 

  • Save time and money 
  • Improve collaboration between your teams 
  • Make better decisions 
  • Add to the quality of your project

Being able to implement the software correctly helps to keep you competitive as a manager, or, if you aren’t one yet, could help you nab the job you want.  

How to Become a Better Construction Manager 

If you’re a construction manager now or want to be one in the future, you can take steps to prepare and become a better manager over time.

Prepare for the future. Now is the time to focus on developing your data and technical skill sets, because construction management is going to continue changing and evolving. Getting to know the software used by the companies that you want to work with and the right technological tools to keep you fully informed during projects you’re in control of helps you put your best foot forward and make a good impression on others.

There will be higher expectations for construction managers in the future, so being able to meet and exceed them could help you propel your career to new heights. 

If you're looking to learn more about the top strategies for today's modern construction project managers, check out our Master Class.

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.