Construction Manager vs. Project Manager: What Are The Main Differences?


In the construction industry, the surveillance of the process and proper management is crucial as, without it, the risk of project failure or heavy construction rework increases. That’s why construction companies put so much effort into ensuring quality oversight of the work. There are two main positions responsible for it: the construction manager and the project manager. 

Understanding the distinctions between a construction manager vs. project manager will help you comprehend the process of work administration in the construction industry and learn what it takes to complete a construction project. In this article, we’ll go through a construction manager vs. project manager comparison, explaining the key responsibilities of each role and their main differences. 

We’ll start with the: 

Construction Manager: Full Overview of the Position

Definition

Construction management is the overseeing of the building project’s construction stage. The construction manager is responsible for supervising the entire construction process and ensuring that the project gets completed on time and within the project budget

Most of the construction managers in the industry have worked as experts in the building trades, like carpentry, plumbing, and so on. Their daily activities can include planning the work schedule, buying the necessary materials, and ensuring safety and health standards on the site. 

Although in some construction projects, they might be involved in the project from the beginning, in most companies, the construction manager’s scope is limited to only the construction phase. Most of the work of construction managers takes place in the construction site as they oversee the day-to-day operations, making sure everything follows the initial planning. 

Today, as the role of education grows, most construction managers are required to have a BA to be qualified for the position with a construction background or working experience in the industry. 

Salary of Construction Managers and Project Managers

Salary

In 2020 the median salary of construction managers in the US was around $97,180 per year or $46.72 per hour. Today, however, the average salary is around $77,694. But of course, how much the construction manager earns highly depends on their level of experience and education.

Required education & certifications

As we’ve already mentioned, more and more companies are demanding a relevant BA degree from construction managers. The undergraduate degrees that relate to the construction industry include: 

  • Civil Engineering or Engineering 
  • Architecture 
  • Construction Management or Construction Science 

Most companies will also encourage their construction managers to obtain a Master’s Degree to expand their knowledge even further. 

Having practical skills is crucial for this position, so the managers will usually be required to have at least four years of experience. However, there are always exceptions. For instance, if a person has eight or more years of experience in the industry, the company might overlook that he does not hold a BA degree.

 Usually, though, those who do not have a four-year education are better qualified as subcontractors or general contractors. 

Skills 

There is a list of both hard and soft skills that construction managers should hold. Some of the most important ones include: 

  • Solid Understanding of Technology

2022 promises to be a year of exciting technology trends for construction companies. From drones to 3D printers and AI machines— the industry is looking for new ways to enhance performance and speed up the entire process. But these changes come with their challenges, as it means the general contractors and construction managers have a lot of work to do. 

For instance, if the construction company wants to use a 3D printer, it should ensure that its construction manager has at least a general understanding of the technology to oversee the process accurately. So a good construction manager should be tech-savvy to quickly learn all the how-to-s of the technologies used in the field. 

  • Organizational skills 

Supervising the entire project and ensuring that it goes according to the project schedule and does not cross the construction budget is not an easy task. It requires focus and strong organizational skills as the construction manager will have to handle different responsibilities simultaneously. That’s why organizing the tasks according to the priority will help reduce stress and improve the efficiency of the project. 

  • Team leadership and management 

Construction projects are all about teamwork. So the construction manager should know how to work in a team as a team member and leader at the same time. He should encourage and help all the workers to reach the common goal. With good collaboration and direction, all the issues will be promptly solved. 

Responsibilities

Here are some of the most common responsibilities for construction managers

  • Supervising and managing the construction team 
  • Assigning tasks to the field workers 
  • Overseeing the day-to-day fieldwork 
  • Communicating with the material suppliers and clients 
  • Ordering the required material and updating the material inventory with new ones when necessary 
  • Creating project schedules for the team members 
  • Estimating the costs for specific construction tasks 
  • Reporting on the project’s process to the project manager 
  • Ensuring the project meets all the requirements 

Scope of work and duration

Usually, the construction managers will not be involved in the first stages of the project. Although they might participate in the budgeting stage, their primary work occurs in the construction stage

This means, they will participate mainly in the building phase of the project, which approximately will take at least 6-8 months for large construction projects and a couple of weeks for small construction projects, like building the roof, or framing the house. 

work organization of a construction manager

Organization of the work 

This is the part in our construction manager vs. project manager comparison where both positions mostly use the same tools. They both have to create a project schedule, ensure there are no overruns in the construction budget, and engage in risk and quality management. 

From the technical aspect, they need a tool that can incorporate all of it in the same place. So most of the time, both the project managers and the construction manager will use project management software to help them organize the work more efficiently. 

Authority levels

Although the construction manager has a lot of responsibilities, the project managers hold more authority, as they are the ones to supervise construction managers.  

Work environment

The main difference between a construction manager vs. project manager is the environment they work in. The construction manager mainly works on the construction site overseeing the building process, and rarely visits the office. 

Project Manager: Full Overview of the Position

Definition

If construction managers are responsible only for the construction part of the project, the construction project manager has greater responsibility. He oversees the entire project: from the pre-construction and initial planning phase to the execution, completion, and approval. He is the one who participates in the client meetings to understand all the requirements and specifications and ensure that the project meets them all. 

The project manager’s job is mainly to secure that the project is delivered on budget and on time. He works closely with the contractors, designers, and engineers to track the process, quickly identify issues when they arise, and provide a solution. 

Their daily tasks include setting deadlines, attending team or client meetings, tracking the project budget, providing updates and reports. Although they might visit the construction site from time to time, their main work is in the office. In the case of project managers, having a construction background is not strictly required; what’s important is that they have high organizational skills and working experience as a PM. 

Salary 

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a construction project manager is around $89.474 per year. And for the very experienced ones, the pay might be as high as $143K per year

Required education & certifications

If a four-year education was not rigidly demanded by construction managers, the project managers almost always must have at least a BA degree. However, as we’ve already mentioned, it doesn’t have to be connected to construction if they have working experience in the industry

In some states, project managers might need a license to complete the building tasks, such as approving the building codes. PM-s usually also get a certificate related to project management. Although having a certification is optional, it helps them stand out in the highly competitive market. 

certification process of a construction project manager

Skills 

Just like the construction manager, the project manager, too, has to be a team player and a leader at the same time and hold high organizational skills. 

However, as they have more responsibilities on their shoulders, they also should have a list of other skills to ensure a technically sound and high-quality project in the end. Some of those skills include: 

  • Financial management  

The project manager works with the construction budget more closely, so he should know how to manage finances properly to avoid overruns. Managing the budget is one of the biggest responsibilities for the project manager, as even small mistakes or changes can cause significant financial problems later on. Therefore, making forecasts, tracking the costs, and finding new financing opportunities is a must for a good PM. 

  • Risk Management 

Have you ever heard of Murphy’s Law? It is the belief that if something can go wrong, it will. For project managers, Murphy’s Law should be more than relevant. Coming up with all the “wrong” resolutions will help the project manager assess and be prepared for all the possible risks, eventually giving quick solutions to them if they happen. 

  • No to micromanagement 

If you are the one supervising the general construction project, you should be able to think big. In the construction industry, micromanagement is one of the biggest enemies of efficient work. A good project manager should trust the construction managers and other colleagues to take care of the smaller tasks. They can’t really be the supervisor of building trades: getting to all the details and small assignments is a pure waste of time. 

Responsibilities

Here are some of the most common responsibilities for the construction project manager

  • Discussing the new project design with the client 
  • Creating the construction budget and plan 
  • Choosing the location of the project and securing the land for the building 
  • Working on a project timeline and setting deadlines for each stage 
  • Hiring team members, including the construction manager 
  • Estimating the costs of different elements in the project 
  • Supervising the entire project and ensuring on-time completion 

Scope of work and duration

Project managers are involved in the construction project from the beginning until the end. They are participating in all the stages of the work. 

This means they will be engaged in the planning, design, building, and project completion phases, all of which together can take as long as one and a half years to complete if working on large projects. For small projects, the PM-s will still need at least a couple of months to finish. 

Organization of the work for Construction Manager and Project Manager

Organization of the work 

Project managers are so involved in the organization of the construction project that they will have enough knowledge to found a construction company on their own by the completion of the project. 

That’s why not to get overwhelmed with all the tasks and data; they work with construction project management software. However, compared to construction managers, they engage with it more as they are the ones who create the initial schedule, assign the tasks and supervise the overall process.  

Authority levels

As we’ve already mentioned, project managers have greater responsibility and hence more authority over the project. They are the ones to hire construction managers and supervise their work. 

Work environment

The work of the project manager mainly takes place in the office. They might visit the construction site from time to time or go out for meetings, but most work is in-office. 

Can a construction manager be a project manager?

It all depends on the construction manager’s skills and education. If a construction manager has a BA degree or even has obtained a Master’s and extensive working experience in the industry, he might be promoted to a project manager. However, he will probably first work as a PM assistant or associate before being hired as a project manager. 

Main differences between the two roles

Let’s do a quick sum-up of our construction manager vs. project manager comparison: 

  • Construction managers work in the construction site, while the project managers mainly work in the office 
  • Construction managers are involved only in the construction stage, while project managers oversee the entire project
  • Construction managers report to project managers, so they have less authority in comparison. 
  • Construction managers are not strictly required to hold a BA degree, while the expectations and requirements from the PM-s are much higher, so without having higher education, they can’t compete in the market. 

Final Thoughts 

Both project and construction managers have a significant role in the construction project. Without them, it would be very hard to complete the project successfully. That’s why the pressure on them is very high, so they absolutely need assisting digital tools for keeping track of all the processes. 

Of course, in big projects like construction ones, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll make mistakes as, in the end, we’re all humans. But at least we can try to reduce them with construction project management software. 

If you’ve never used one before, you can try our free plan at Buildern and see how it works for your company.